Author's note: Sorry, I only watched Constantine the movie; I haven't read the graphic novel or whatever the movie was based from. It's kind of something I've wanted to try out. I know almost next to nothing about Constantine other than what I've seen in the movie, so you'll have to bear with me for a bit. Also, I'm making most of the places up and I'll try to make it as suspenseful as I can... I'm new at this kinda thing.
Born to Bleed
The door hinge squealed open as a man in a dark overcoat and a rumpled, two-day-worn suit walked onto the grisly scene. He casually lifted the yellow tape across the doorway and stepped under with a slight cough. His unpolished, scuffed shoe accidently kicked a limp, pale arm hanging just beyond the threshold. The man's dark hair hung over cunning, clever dark eyes that narrowed as he took in everything, nostrils flaring at the stench of decaying bodies, his hands hanging at his sides before they restlessly dipped into his overcoat pocket. A cold wind blew in from outside, momentarily relieving the scent of death from the room.
A second man walked over, his suit pressed and clean and a green look about his cleanshaven face and hawk-like eyes. He was tall, lanky, and a holster sat at his hip. He flipped open a badge and offered a glimpse at his Federal Agent identification. "Constantine?"
The dark-eyed man looked over. "Who's asking?"
"Agent Vascoe with Homeland Security. Are you John Constantine?" the man persisted.
"If I wasn't, I wouldn't be interested in talking to you." A cigarette glowed hanging between his lips now. His eyes narrowed as he took in the scene again, inhaling - the tobacco cleared the scent of death away. "What exactly am I supposed to be looking at?"
More specifically, Constantine wanted to know why he was called out of his home in the city to this shithole church in the middle of February in the middle of nowhere. He wanted to know what the pile of bodies around the room, slowly rotting with no apparent trauma on any of them, had to do with demon exorcisms. He stared at the gathering of dead, ranging from the young to the oldest in sight, a man in his mid-fifties, graying hair neatly cut, his head leaned back with pink foam dribbling from the corners of his mouth. They all wore whatever you would expect your average farmer folk would wear this time of year; some of them still wearing winter jackets, hats, scarves.
It was a small church on the far end of Eastunder. Back when Constantine first moved here, he used to drive out to the creamie shop on the main road and get himself a butterscotch flavor twist. It was February now. The creamies was closed and the road had just been ploughed, and outside in the chilly air, the snow still fell.
"Mass suicide by poisoning," Agent Vascoe murmured, reaching for his breast pocket for a handkerchief. He put it over his face. "We suspect some kind of religious cult was involved... although this is a Christian church."
Constantine looked around a bit more closely. "You want me to find your culprit, go ask your Charles Manson wannabe. He's probably the guy with the biggest grin, laughing his way to Hell right now."
Agent Vascoe scowled, apparently not finding that funny. "Listen, Constantine. I don't know what kind of curio shop you run there, but I was told you were the best guy to call in these kinds of situations-"
"They were wrong. What you've got here is some folks who took the Bible bit about poison too literally. Anyone could tell you that." Although Constantine's voice was thick with venomous contempt, his time was not entirely wasted. He walked through the collection of dead, stepping over each body quite casually. Although he saw no demons floating around here, reaping from the deaths, he was confused. Suicides usually went straight to one place: Hell. It was against God's will to take your own life. Usually, demons themselves came to collect the souls of those who did so. But he could smell no sulfur and saw no unnatural shadows hovering at the edges of the room, cursing Constantine's name.
He walked to the altar, where a wooden cross hung with a purple velvet cloth was illuminated by electric candle light from below. John Constantine hovered between remorse and annoyance at the cleverness of demons. Peering down at what lay on the altar, he at least understood how the poor believers of this mistaken faith had offed themselves.
There was an almost empty punch bowl of clear liquid sitting on a plain white table cloth over the altar. Assuming it was water, then there were small unlabeled sealed packets opened beside a stack of paper disposable cups. There was nothing here suggesting a supernatural occurence. Instead, he looked around the modest altar for other clues. Nothing. He knelt down, ignoring the body laying near the altar after a quick glance. It was a woman. She held the hand of a man beside her. A gold ring circled around the man's left hand.
Under the altar, he found that someone had left an unopened packet on the floor in their haste. He picked it up and shook it. It sounded like it was filled with powder.
He turned to Agent Vascoe and waggled the packet. "The only sin here is sloth. Take this to your forensics team, Agent Vascal."
"Vascoe," he corrected stiffly, pulling on a blue rubber glove and sliding the packet into a little plastic bag. He then handed it off to another person. "I'll need your fingerprints, Constantine!"
But the man in black was already heading out the door, flicking ashes into the freshly fallen snow before disappearing into the filthy city cab that would take him home.
A day later, the news hit the town like a boulder. But the Stranger had no idea who was talking about it until he came inside from the cold to read the responses of the cattle.
The restaurant was a bit more crowded than he would have liked. Numb fingers made him aware of the cold, but he had more important matters occupying his mind. Though every movement caused him pain from being outside all night, he reminded that failure to report anything at all was worse than suffering a bit of frostbite to give an accurate account of the town's status. He forced himself to seat at a booth near the window, even though he was not much for the view. The daylight hurt his eyes and the snow falling outside did little to reduce the feeling of cold.
The snow had been falling everywhere since yesterday. The little TV was on, and a news station was blaring. The man who sat in the window booth ignored it, waiting for a bracing glass of brandy before he would again head outside.
However, the longer he spent nursing the drink, the more he overheard the conversation of the couple nearby. They were young, college bred students, bundled with cups of cocoa and enjoying the novelty of eating in a small town restaurant on their way to a snowy vacation.
"I can't believe that happened here," said the youthful woman, her face pinched and academic. "Right when we're about to have our vacation."
"They're ruling it now as a mass suicide?" The guy shook his head, then lowered his voice and said something about the sanity of the rest of the people here.
"Sounds really familiar. Ick, do we really have to talk about this?"
The man sat quietly in his booth and hovered between wanting to run and wanting to stay very still and just enjoy his brandy when it came. If anyonre recognized him, it would only take a couple sentences to make the connection between his arrival and the new sermons at the church, a small number of whom people had stopped attending.
Almost half-way through his first glass, the Stranger felt a stab of pain between his verbra. He straightened his back at once, muffling a cry just in time. It was a call to return. Gasping a little with each movement, he put some crumpled money on the booth by the drink and started out the door. To make his report, he would have to go into the woods again. He only hoped that the snow would fall quickly enough to cover his tracks.
In the dusty, blue-gray gloom of Devil May Cry, the phone began to ring.
The bathroom door was already open. Dante Sparda, proprietor of Devil May Cry, opened his eyes and stared at the offensive darkness blocking his sight. Memory was slow in coming, but he pulled the music magazine off of his eyes and lifted his stiff neck from the back of the chair. He glared at the telephone, then reached with a foot to flip it off the hook and onto his palm.
"What?" he asked in annoyance, not with accordance to his usually cheerful greeting.
"I-I'm sorry. It's Enzo. I got a call from the FBI. The fucking F-B-I! Do you believe it? Something about a mass suicide in Eastunder. Bunch of folks in a church offed themselves with some kind of weird powder, but they can't identify it and the guy was saying it's outside their knowledge, so they need someone... familiar with supernatural stuff to look at it."
Dante yawned, scratching his stomach where his belt had been cutting into his belly a little. "They willing to revoke some of my traffic violations?"
"Um... I don't think so. But because of the 'urgency of the matter', they're willing to pay you right up front if you come take a look and tell them what is up with the stuff. Tell them if it's been magicked or if some smartass smuggled it out of the Demon World."
His eyes closed against the brilliance of the snow outside his huge windows. Against his better judgment, he muttered, "Fine." It had to be something good if the damn government was yanking him out of his bear cave. "Where is it?"
John Constantine had pocketed one of the empty packets and got a liquid sample from what was left in the very corners of it, in his own modest laboratory to investigate it. Very few things escaped John Constantine's suspicion. He had ordered Agent Vascoe with a phone call to fax him the material make-up of the powder poison. It came back inconclusive.
John loved science as a kid. It gave him answers about the world around him that were not so terrifying as the one he had discovered for himself. His eyes saw what few other humans could escape without losing their sanity. Sadly, one might even say he was used the horrors of Hell. They walked around him almost daily, going about their evil business, fighting their war. John Constantine's only business was to keep demons from overpopulating Earth.
He gently shook the liquid sample of the powder in a little vial. He wondered if it would be too dangerous to take it himself. After all, he had killed himself before. Two minutes dead had made him destined for Hell anyway. Maybe he could pop in and say hello to old Lucy and explain that he was having a bit of a science experiment and "could you please let me go back to turn the bunsen burner off?"
He shook his head and grunted. If he remembered anything at all about Lucifer, he would not let John go if he happened to stumble into Hell for too long. If this stuff really was as poisonous as it seemed, it would be better off to test its origins without eating it. The only way to do that was to match it against Holy artifacts... and pray for a survivable side effect.
He prepped a solution of holy water with silver from a blessed cross melted down and put it in a safe, cleansed metal container. With a ginger hand, he got a sample of the poison with an ampoule. With but a drop, it might not be enough to see any kind of reaction - if any.
It might still be just a simple man-made drug that did not match any database record in the federal archives.
He applied a drop, and waited a safe distance. He tried not to feel too ridiculous wearing the goggles. He felt a nauseating sense of nostalgia for high school chemistry - which he failed. He waited ten minutes, then applied another drop... and the smoke rose slowly but noticably. He tried not to breathe it in. But the smoke intensified, curling toward the ceiling. A rogue breeze suddenly came in through that damn drafty window and he sucked in a breath - too late.
An hour later he got up off the floor and staggered to the phone, which was ringing. He groaned, "Constantine."
"John, it's me."
"Reynold?" He was one of his new obsessive followers - a nerdy occult drop-out who had a small college degree under his belt. He was twenty-four and believed if he followed Constantine around long enough, some of his gifts would rub off. Constantine could (and refused to) spend hours explaining to him that it did not work that way and if Reynold actually paid attention in his theology courses, he probably would not want Constantine's breed of karma.
Of his few and far between uses, the boy sniffed out work. He sometimes got him interesting tabloid articles that did not fit the usual 'style' of that month. He hunted down paranormal activity like a hound, almost as relentlessly as he played World of Warcraft.
"Something really fuckin' weird is going on. I heard that you got called in by the Feds to look into that mass suicide in Eastunder. So I got online and started Googling about that. Then I searched for related issues going on. I even had to join a weird fanzine about some drug or whatever."
"So?" John Constantine was doubting Reynold's nose on this one.
"I'm just saying."
"You're not saying much except you spend way too much time Googling on the internet. Get to the point."
"Are you okay? You sound like crud." Crud?
John struggled to put voice to his thoughts, but only achieved some frustrating vagueness. His head was rolling across the floor - or so it felt. The solution on the table had stopped smoking at least. Which reminded him of what he was trying to say.
"I was testing it."
"The drug. Poison. Powder, whatever. From the Eastunder church."
"You stole some? Badass! But - wait - you still haven't told me if you're okay."
"Don't worry; you don't need to come out of your gamer's cave to play nursemaid." Constantine checked the time and rolled down his one sleeve.
"Do you wanna hear about what I found out or not?"
"Fine. I'll humor you for a second." Even if it wasn't related, the information would enlightening about other topics - like how misguided, ill-meaning humans tried to use crap like reiki and transendental meditation to "reach God" and ended up sticking their toes into Hell instead, resulting in some serious paranormal foot fungus, so to speak.
"The drug of choice is new on the street and on this site, they call it shadow dust or something."
"What's it look like?"
"Um. Users write that it looks black powder, like gunpowder or finely ground pepper. It's hard to say 'cause people who use it say it tastes like different things, like food or drinks they like. It royally messes other people up. I read up like, some people talk in different languages, walk on water, breathe fire. Pretty trippy stuff."
The description matched; the stuff was pretty unmistakably black. "You've just described a shitload of others hallucinogenic substances, Reynold. Except the part about tasting things. Anything else?"
"Hold on. I'm reading through it now."
"How else can it be taken?"
"Oh, yeah! Mix it in water, orally, or intraveinously." Reynold hesitated. There was the sound of rapid typing as on a computer keyboard on the other line. It went on for a few seconds, then Reynold said, "Sorry. I'm doing like, ten things at once. But that's all I had to say so far. Do you want to me to keep looking for stuff about it?"
"Find other names for it, cross-reference, do whatever. Fax 'em to me and don't let anyone else see what you're doing. Thanks, Rey." He rubbed his eyes after pulling off the rubber gloves with his teeth. As soon as he hung up, the phone rang again. This time it was from Agent Vascoe himself.
"Agent Vascoe. Mr. Constantine. We've found the source of the powder. It's... troubling. Did you get the fax?"
"Yes. I'm surprised. But supernatural drugs are not my specialty... Agent Vascoe."
"The drug isn't your concern right now. You have a new job now. We're calling in a... specialist, if you will. We've got reports about a man who became a new elder at the church where the suicides took place, but tracking him down in this weather is becoming problematic. We need him to find the guy, but we also need you to perform the necessary exorcisms should it occur."
"Can't you just find out where he's holed up? Can't be too hard in a ditch of a town like that."
"It's not that simple. He's disappeared. The last time he was spotted was leaving a restaurant, then someone else said they saw him go down the street. Another person says they say him leave the street and down under the bridge, into the woods. Dogs can't find his scent, can't track him at all."
"Sorry. Can't help you."
"That's what our specialist is for. You're going to be working with him."
John Constantine grimaced. When Vascoe mentioned specialist, he could only envision an older, slightly fatter version of Reynold boasting a large crucifix, a bag of supernatural gadgetry, a stern look and wireframe glasses to loan him a more learned expression. "Great. Who the hell is he?"
"A devil hunter named Dante Sparda. He's flying in from New York."
"Quite a mouthful. How come I've never heard of him if he's so great?"
"I honestly don't know. He doesn't usually travel outside of his county to work. It's a hotspot for demon activity and he gets a lot of business there."
John sighed dramatically, still reeling a bit from his experiment. "When do I meet him?"
"Five minutes. We'll pick the both of you up in a few hours to get started; the weather doesn't indicate it's going to let up any time soon and driving is difficult."
"He's coming here?" John went rigid. He hardly knew the guy and he was going to show up and he had to entertain him for a few hours while the Feds grew a pair just to drive through a little snow? "Thanks for the warning. And I thought he was driving from New York."
"I was trying to call you before but you didn't pick up for hours."
John looked at his watch again. Shit. Instead of being nine-o'-clock at night, it was nine in the morning. His stomach grumbled and he looked at the door, a moment of dread washing over him. He had no idea why, but he liked to keep his methods of devil relocation between himself and his private suppliers.
"Constantine, I'd advise you to work closely with him on this one. There is a chance that another, bigger mass suicide is being organized as we speak. This is a dangerous substance we're dealing with and any time lost risks more lives."
What Vascoe didn't say and perhaps didn't even know was that time lost meant more human souls going to Hell... because of this strange shadow dust. Someone was handing it out to mortals and forefitting their privilege to Heaven against their will.
John Constantine knew intimately the price for suicide. He saw with his own eyes the place Lucifer had set aside just for him in that burning land of eternal fire. If he could save someone from it, he would. But there would be no saving the already Damned who were there now. Every last man, woman and child in that church had suffered countless months in there - for time moved differently in Hell than it did in the world of light.
His stomach constricted when he thought of any more going out like that. "I better go play nice, Agent Vascoe."
"Thank you for your assistance. The president appreciates your help."
"Don't thank me just yet, asshole." He hung up without saying goodbye because just then his doorbell buzzed. He left the phone by the cradle, walking to the door to unlock the series of bizarre locks inscripted there. For some reason, he hadn't thought to look through the peephole, or he would have been prepared when the door opened.
He should have looked first because what he saw nearly made him shit his pants. Luckily he pulled a holy water ball and threw it with dead-on accuracy at the demon's face. John had to look twice to make sure he hadn't been mistaken, although every nerve in his body was buzzing with adrenaline. He HAD seen a demon standing there, but when he looked again, all he saw was a man in a red coat and a black turtleneck shirt, leather straps criss-crossing his chest to a massive inconspicuous case over his back. The water cascaded from the tip of the man's nose and snow white hair, which hung over a pair of now very livid blue eyes.
"A handshake would have been nice," commented Dante Sparda. "Is this some sort of tradition you people hold here?"
John stood in front of the doorway, panting. He looked more closely at the man, and - just for an instant - something shimmered over Dante's eyes - turning them red, glowing, unnatural. The holy water dripped harmlessly off his fine, white skin.
John whispered, "Holy shit."
"Maybe it would work better in a glass. Or - no, this is holy water." Dante wiped his face off with his gloved hand, careful of the broken pieces of glass. He fixed John Constantine with a long look, understanding quickly dawning on him. "So you can See me."
"You're a fucking halfbreed." John had no mind to remember proper etiquette when dealing with a ringer like this one; half-breeds were not so uncommon in Constantine's line of work. In fact, they were almost the front line of the holy war between God and the Devil. However, there were certain rules they had to abide by... and if he remembered them correctly, this one was clearly not abiding by any of those.
Dante's eyes hardened. He glanced at the archaic symbols carved into the doorframe before he casually stepped inside. "And you're a fucking human. Uh, when do I get to throw water at you again?"
"Vascoe didn't tell me shit about you being half-demon."
"And you're mad because you were a little underinformed. I've been there. Sucks, doesn't it? Oh, and don't feel bad, because Red-White-and-Blue doesn't know either."
"A little uninformed!" John glowered at the half-demon. Every instinct to set him on dragon fire was itching at him. "Are you really Dante Sparda? Is that even your real name, you piece of shit?"
Faster, of course, than John could even See, the white-haired man gripped him by the shirt collar and lifted him clear of the floor, leaving his feet kicking helplessly. His cool blue eyes glittered with what John only hoped was just amusement and not murder.
"If you want to play nice with me, you're going to have to promise not to try any of your fancy weapons on me. I didn't get flown all the way down here, sit two hours on a plane so they could tell me to wait one hour more, get driven here by a man who can barely speak understandable English and missing most of his teeth, just to have a small, weak, untalented man call me names all day long. It's not good for my work atmosphere, okay?"
"Fuck you," John said.
Dante replied, "Fair enough. But if you want to make this even simpler, just stay right here. I'll be back before you know it and all this'll be taken care of. I'll even put in a good word for you."
"This is my job!" John protested. He felt a creeping itch crawling up his lungs. He started coughing as soon as Dante put him down. With shaking fingers, he stumbled away toward his table and lit up a black clove cigarette; a second later he pulled his chair out and sunk into it, puffing away.
Dante watched him for awhile. Then he said with just a bit more gentleness but lacking none of the venom from before, "You're not like other humans I know. Just the same, I want you to know you're not going to survive tramping around in the woods like that. I'm not going to babysit you. You'll just get in my way."
John muttered, looking out his windows, into the snowy world beyond, "I know I'm living on borrowed time - and trust me, I've got some left. I'm going out there, whether you want me to or not."
Dante closed the door behind him and walked over to the science equipment set up. He picked up the vial of liquified shadow dust with its secured stopper. He rolled the little vial over his knuckles while he blithely explored the rest of Constantine's sanctum, glimpsing things here and there. Evaluating everything.
John hissed, "Hey. Do you mind?"
"It's more than I expected," Dante commented, ignoring him completely as spied a small little box. He picked it up and shook it. "What's thi--" The box let loose a horrible screaming sound. Dante chuckled, but put it down quickly. In a few seconds it went silent.
John watched him furtively, getting no more comfortable with him walking around and touching his shit. A half-breed was only half-susceptible to anything in this room. Dante seemed to ignore everything, including the careful sigils he had inscribed on his doorjam to prevent unwanted demonic entry.
"I don't get it. Why are you involved?" John growled. He poured himself a scotch on the little table.
"The war. God versus Satan. Demons versus angels. The eternal struggle. Aren't you not supposed to directly interfere?"
Dante Sparda looked gravely at the hidden cupboard that had his various paraphernalia regarding exorcisms - books upon books on his shelves, followed by notebooks filled with John Constantine's own findings and confirmations. He said, "I don't really follow what you mean. I'm a devil hunter because it's what I do."
"It's not what you were born to do."
"Neither were you, buddy."
"Not angels and certainly not devils and especially not their half-breed spawn."
Dante decided to ignore that little insult slide - just this once. He humored the man, while turning to look at him finally. He really was not much to look at. He looked haggard but hardened, knowledgable judging by his extensive readings. He had a dozen books written in latin as far as Dante could tell. He knew John probably did not pay much attention to the family histories of demons, so the Legend of Sparda may have escaped his interest. He had dark hair, intelligent eyes, and a slight build suggesting his work did not really call for a lot of physical activity. And if Dante had bothered to look closer, he would see around him a definitive, oily aura, a stink of sulfur that was only on the surface - a taint of the Demon World.
"My father chose to help mankind. He slew the Demon King, sealed off the Demon World and with it, his power. When my mom concieved us, maybe he was already human - but some of the rules that apply to demons don't apply to me. Other than that, all I know is, I hunt demons where I find them and sometimes I even make money off it. Go me."
John Constantine looked pensively at Dante for awhile. "It's weird. I want to believe you, but most half-breed demons have the propensity to be liars. No, wait. Just hear me out. I'll believe you for now." He glanced at the massive case sheathed to Dante's back, the cherry on his cigarette glowing harshly. "You've seen all my stuff. Now show me what's in that case on your back and, uh, whatever else you may be hiding from me."
With ease, Dante seemed more than happy to comply. He pulled a string near the top of the case that opened a slit wide enough to free the blade and unsheathed a massive double-edged sword almost as tall as Constantine himself. The greasy winter sunlight danced over its polished surface, and the intricate design on the pommel rather fascinated John - only for a second. The skull was grisly, grinning, toothedly leering at those who met its sharp edge. It looked heavy, but whatever Dante said he was, he handled it with terrifying expertise.
John suddenly felt very small and very susceptible to dying by that sword. Dante saw the color drain out of the other's face and laughed.
"Don't worry. I try my best to avoid sticking humans with Rebellion - unless you make me. Then I have Ebony and Ivory. There's a lot I could say about them, but I'll keep it brief for you. These are my babies. And no, you can't touch them." He sheathed the enormous cleaver in the case at his back and pulled back his jacket back to show off two modified firearms sitting comfortably on his hips in worn but well-oiled leather holsters fastened across his hips and over his shoulders. One gun was gleaming chromed white, and the other was a matte black.
Constantine looked around at his measly office after he had glanced at Dante and his weapons. It had taken him six hours to be driven to Eastunder village proper. He had a six hour drive back there again, only he had to share the space of a vehicle with this strange, uncouth half-blood for company. He started smoking another cigarette, ignoring Dante's questioning look and hoping he wouldn't be like everyone else and not-so-sneakily interrupt, "You really shouldn't smoke those things."
Thankfully Dante was not human enough to be that annoying. With the soothing nicotine coursing across his rattled nerves like a balm, he had could finally think with some form of coherence. He hoped that the fed driving them would let him smoke in the car, even if he had to let the window down and freeze them to death. He hoped that he could bring enough of his trade tools to survive the drug bust.