A/N: I have taken liberties with what Lucifer looks like. Because, in my honest opinion, he looks like however the hell he wants to look. Demons are shapeshifters, liars, and conpeople. Because, after all, he's the father of lies - and his true face might just drive people into institutionalizing themselves. So here's chapter 9 - sorry for the brevity of chapter 8. I was distracted by stuff goin' on and whatnot, and waiting for the right inspiration to drive the rest of this story. Like how to introduce other key players in John's life without making Dante seem flimsy by comparison.


Chapter 9

The spear glistened on the light guttering out of Dante's single shotgun blasts pummeling again and again into the other two Higher Demons making merry with the helpless humans struggling to slide fresh clips into fire arms that had shown the distressing brevity of the human ingenuity's effective radius. Movement became a slow crawl, time decaying each second into a crystal clear slideshow of inevitability. As the spear came crawling through the gun smoke pouring from Ebony's sleek dark muzzle, John had time to reflect.

I've survived worse things than this, he thought determinedly. Surely getting skewered isn't the worst possible thing I can think of that could happen, short of getting my nuts caught in my pants zipper.

Then out of the depths of his mind, there was a face that blotted out the spear. It developed from the smoke, swirling and twisting, revolving like the vortex of a hurricane from space. Resolved itself into a face. The last face in the world John Constantine wanted to see. A painful jolt shook John to his core yet thrilled him at the same time.

"Hello, John," crooned the sibillant Lucifer. "I couldn't help but notice you're about to become a stick ornament."

"Hello, Lucy." The First Fallen looked rather self-assured. John didn't have a clue what it could be about. No, really. It couldn't be that in a few moments, John could be on his merry way to Hell and that's why Lucifer was paying him a visit - greeting his journey with a friendly face to start off. "I'm kind of busy right now, getting turned into John-on-a-Stick and all. Can you leave a message?"

Lucifer continued to smile, but his black eyes resumed their uncanny penetrating stare. John was now in the midst of conversating with the floating ephemeral smoky face of Lucifer as if he were in a fever dream moments before meeting his death. "I'm just excited to see what you'll do to stop this little problem of mine. You see, I have my own plan to win this world. But this is not the way it's done. However, I can't be bothered - family problems at home. And, oh - seeing as how you're already cleaning up this teeny weeny mess, I've decided to leave you to it - and see how long before you break the boundaries of our little agreement."

"What do you mean - break the boundaries?"

"You've gotten full of yourself, taking on such a big load." Lucifer's face twisted into a sadistic little grin. "What a masochistic little pisser you've turned into! I'm sure by the time the world had chewed you up and spat you into my arms, you'll be as dried up as a raisin. But if you decide you want to check out a bit earlier, that can certainly be... arranged." The Father of Lies licked his lips in a slow, hungry manner, as if the taste of John Constantine's suffering was the only thing left on his ageless, black little mind.

"I don't know. I think I'd rather prefer to be a recovering stick ornament for now." John became breathless, the pressure of holding onto that moment between one breath and the next crushing, suffocating, radiating pain and discomfort throughout his entire body. Time was slipping out of his tenuous grasp. The moment had gone on for too long, and he felt Lucifer pulling away from him, amused at the human's arrogance and suffering. Then the gunsmoke lost all coherent shape and consistency; a swirl of red wind came roaring around his ears, enveloping all else - and John Constantine felt a piercing sensation in the thick, wet meat of his shoulder and screamed while his vision faded completely to black.


Dante saw everything. The distraction proved just great enough to pull his attention from John Constantine for enough time that, assuming the three Higher Demons were focusing only on the Federal paranormal agents, one of them managed to make a bumrush for the exorcist while he was picking away pathetically with Ebony - a gun that seemed far too big and strong for his fragile human hands. He could almost wince at every broken blood vessel from the kickback, every strained tendon. While he was completing a full piriouette with Rebellion spearing the first Higher Demon through the shoulder and bringing around completely to sever its arm at the elbow, he let out an arrogant bark of laughter. The spear landed point first into the asphalt.

Dante was getting impatient. He heard Vascoe shouting something too but it was all a too-little-too-late kind of thing. Something important later, not a very high priority when the exorcist was screaming and firing that monster gun that was breaking every tiny bone in his hand with every bucking bronco recoil. The Higher Demon currently engaged with Dante staggered, screaming wordlessly in that terrible voice that made most men's ears bleed like needles had been thrust into their eardrums. With a final kick, he turned on his heel away from the falling enemy and charged toward the wall, springing like a jaguar from the pavement. Sheer gravity could not keep the half-demon earthbound, and unearthly momentum drove hi as he ran diagonally along the wall. Beneath him, he could see everything perfectly in the ethereal darkness. The sidewalk was spattered with blood and dusted with a fine layer of charred Death. His eyes traveled to the exorcist. John was actually eclipsed by the swirling knight's cloak and the glint off the tip of the spear as Dante reached into the guitar case still swung across his back. He swung it around to his front in mid-charge, pulled out a second piece of weaponry - a glittering silver-blue three-ended nunchaku. The guitar case skittered and stuck itself into the gutter, safe for now. Not important. Pick it up later.

John, he thought. You think you might be immortal until the time of your death, but if this is your way of getting back at me because of the stunt I pulled... this is going too damn far.

He smelled the particular brand of cigarettes burning in his nose. His throat closed on the words he wanted to scream when he saw the Higher Demon, unimpressed by Ebony's lead rain, rear back with that gorey spear. Instead of screaming, he thrust down the urge to scream helplessly and put it into action - a surge of energy pounding through his arms, legs bunching like a jaguar's, about to take that twenty-foot leap - and he cleared forty feet. Cerberus whipcracked, serrated hooks catching on the thick hood covering the demons face. Dante swung around in a half-circle from the momentum, a vertical pendulum, the cloth twisting around. The nasty talons of Cerberus sank into the Demon's flesh and it screamed.

Dante completed two and a half full circles, the sound of twisting bone and tearing flesh filling the air - but the spear had been thrust forward and nailed Constantine right in the shoulder before Dante landed and pulled with all of his might. The Demon's head was now at a fantastic unnatural angle, which made it much easier for one final tug and the head cracked off like an old walnut. It rolled, revealing nothing more but a face twisted into a perpetual snarl - like those Japanese samurai war masks generals wore to put the fear into their enemies.

The rest of the demon's body crumbled into ash and dust, falling apart more slowly than the Death demon and the demon that had attacked Jackie in her dealer's room.

Dante grabbed John, grabbed the spear by the blade as it stuck half-way out of John's flesh, and pulled. A spurt of hot, human blood made his glove and his hand slippery. He dropped the disintegrating spear with a derogatory curse. Dante snatched black Ebony from John's numb, bruised fingers and holstered it - it was hot against the small of his back. He circled both arms around John's chest, dragging him backward and toward the shelter of the alley. He left him there, putting pressure against his wound, feeling the rising sourness of panic in his throat. I'm not a doctor, he thought over and over again. Worse, I'm not even really human so I don't know how to treat actual wounds

You would think I would learn, with all the time I keep on my hands and my closest friends.

John wasn't moving beyond the motion of breathing air. Even then it was quick, gasping little breaths like pain was arresting his natural rhythm to the extreme. If he went into shock, Dante didn't have the faintest clue how to fix it. He hunted demons. His realm of expertise stopped at putting them down like dogs. There was no hope for the Angels, either - and the only hope he had left to figuring out how to stop Shadow Dust was to keep John alive, because he was the only one he presumed could travel freely into Hell and thereby discover its source and stop it from ever coming into this world again.

Pssh. A human can go to Hell more readily than a half-demon. Crazy world.

So after he was certain the Demons weren't following him - and he had to take several shortcuts and dangerous leaps with John tagging along to ensure that - he doubled back to the apartment where they had all been staying.

The place remained untouched. John's clothes were still in the bag. The entire place from the lobby to the bedroom felt electric, smelled of fresh human perspiration and toothpaste, strangely enough. John was bleeding all over the carpet before he could even get him into the bathroom to take off his clothes. The only Angels left were the ones staying behind to guard and look after the equipment. One of them was the woman whose journal John had kept a looking after. The human pair judged from their expressions that Dante and John were the only ones coming back from this expedition - and John looked like shit.

Once again, John fixed him with a deathglare. "Go back and do something!" he demanded with that terrible accusatory tone. "They can't fight them off."

"That's right," Dante agreed. "They shouldn't have gotten involved. I had everything covered, until the cavalry arrived. That's why they hired us, remember? Look how well you turned out."

"Did you see anything strange?" John whispered, moaning in pain as the half-demon peeled his dress shirt down away from his shoulders, forcing him to flex his arms back. He was sitting on the edge of the bath tub now; the flourescent light hurt his eyes, sent stabbing pain through his temples. Blood looked stark, almost black, on sanitized white porcelaine. His dark hair was stringy with salty sweat and not a single thing he said seemed to sound loud enough in his ears. Was he mumbling? Probably.

Did he care? Not really.

"Like what?" Dante growled, fumbling around in John's suitcase. He pulled out the first aid kit from where John had tossed it right before he had stormed into the bathroom, right before Dante had come in and invaded his space. "Other than your ass getting kicked."

"Nothing." John grimaced as soon as Dante attempted some reasonable bed side manner with a glowing endorsement about his condition.

"I think you're gonna die."

"Thanks, Doctor Demon." John pulled himself together at last, shaking off the haze just long enough to tear off some tape and get a good decent look at what the demon's spear had done to him. It was not only bleeding now but leaking a respectable volume of puss. His eyes blurred and nausea threatened to take him on a trip to the porcelaine throne. He swallowed it down. "It's infected real bad... I'm not sure if medicine will help. Try the peroxide."

Dante knew how to read labels, so he grabbed the first bottle - which happened to be the brown one on the sink. He poured it over his arm. It got on the floor and on John's pants, so now they were both wet and smelly.

"Is it supposed to bubble? Kinda looks unhealthy."

John just blew out air with discomfort with the F consonant, then tipped his head away. "It fucking smells."

"I don't know what else to do." Dante whined over-dramatically - his indication that he was pulling his leg, at least halfway. "I don't have anything, except - except - " He patted around in his pant pockets. "Left my guitar case behind. I'll get it later. Aha!" He pulled something glowing and green from one of his back pockets. It was a star of some kind - a crystalized form of energy the likes of which John Constantine had never seen before. It stank like sulfur, though it was almost sweet as well. Still made him nauseous looking at it.

"It works on me just fine."

"Wh-What do I do with it and how the hell is it supposed to help me then?" John glared at it distrustfully. His heart labored in his chest and he gripped near his wound, squeezing out more puss and various unpleasant-smelling liquids.

"It's a Devil Star. You consume it and it returns a certain level of well-being back to ya. I don't get how they work either, but whenever I find 'em I use them whenever I get banged up pretty bad."

"I'd hate to see you get banged up, if this is how I look when I just get poked."

"Just eat it."

"Eat it?"

"You're poisoned; do you wanna die or do you wanna eat the funky devil food?"

"I don't really feel like eating food from an alternate reality, thanks."

"Do you want to stay like this, or you want to get back on track - without the skewering?"

John closed his eyes. The pain was still just barely manageable. A few tylenol and he would be just marvy. But no way was he about to eat that damn piece of funky green shit.

"If you eat a piece," John growled through gritted teeth. "I'll have some as long as you have some too."

"You DO realize that even if it IS poison, it won't kill me as much as it will kill you. And in order for it to work, if it was healing, you would have to eat the WHOLE thing."

John clenched his blood-stained fingers. "Fine. Fine. I'll eat it. Just give it to me."

"So long as you say ah."

So Dante fed John Constantine little chunks of the Devil Star until it was all gone. Each time, Constantine made a face as if he were eating something three times as sour as lemon rinds, struggling against the urge to just spit it out again. Perhaps the potent Devil Star was too strong. In a few minutes, though, the puss ceased to flow and even his wound began to close over with some astounding celerity. The two sat in silence for a long time.

Finally John rubbed at his own face, groaning with discouragement.

"They're all dead. They've got to be. Every single one!"

Dante's head fell, shaggy white hair covering his eyes but not the way his mouth drew tight in a frown. John tried to figure out what Dante was upset about the most - being unable to save at least one Angel agent or being unable to bring at least one piece of evidence back from the encounter. All they knew at this point was some serious major powers were at stake. If whoever in Hell or on Earth had sent three powerful Higher Demons to drive away Dante and John Constantine, then it was an operation that had a lot at stake - too much for one group of well-to-do, government trained paranormal "experts" to handle.

Funny thing about demons, too. Where there was one, there was always more. And when there's more than one, there's more trouble than a bunch of humans should get into. However, the fact that so many lives had just been lost gave Dante a bit of a jolt. He had come to like the little rag tag group of folks. The only ones left to survive were the ones keeping watch on Jackie and they were probably too busy hammering away a report to their government superiors about how royally, utterly, unequivocably screwed every one of them was. If it wasn't their lives about to kick the can, it was their souls going to rot in the eternal bowels of Hell, assigned a particular torment to eat away at their minds for the rest of God's eternity.

So John stood up and threw on his shirt and jacket once again, swayed a bit with a rocking dizziness that almost swept him off his feet, and coughed, "Let's find Jackie and get her and whoever else has a death wish to get back there."

"Go back?" Dante snorted. "What the hell do you wanna go back for? Do you think those Devil Stars come cheap? Hell, no! They get more expensive the more I try to buy 'em. And it's not like they're just lying around like garbage." The half-demon stood up. "No. I'm taking Jackie, and you're on the first flight back to New York."

John Constantine stood up and grabbed the half-demon by the coat collar, growling, "Over my stinking corpse, half-breed. How many ways do I have to say it? This is my case. Not yours. You're just tagging along being all entertained? I didn't ask for you. I didn't ask for anything." A hot, bubbling fire rose just under his breastbone; Constantine was willing to bet it was rage and not just acid reflux again. "I--"

There was a peculiar beeping noise. John hesitated, as if he thought the sound familiar. Then he ran to his suitcase and answered his cell phone at last, and his heart practically leapt for joy.

"Constantine, why the fuck haven't you been answering!? I've been calling you all night! I've got some more news. It's great stuff, John, it might help you out. Okay. So, I'm a genius and generally awesome and stuff, right?"

"Uh." John fumbled for cigarettes, balancing the cell phone between his ear and his shoulder. The position made his entire left side cramp. Dante leaned in the bathroom doorway, his head cocked like that of a dog hearing the tell-tale familiar decibels of a dinner bell. He was listening to the voice on the phone of course.

"I'll take that as a yes. So, um, I found out something. Did a little digging. Turned up some real gold about the origin of Shadow Dust. It was used a long time ago in ancient rituals to commit one's soul to a Demon's, but in order to do so, someone had to use a powerful demon's essence to produce it. Crystalizing demon chunks, basically. Ingested or used any other way, you turn into a mannequin for any demon to just walk in and use like a suit rental."

"We already figured that out; anything else?"

"They don't use the ritual these days. I keep reading about these things called 'potentialers'. Things that are older than the legend of Sparda. These things can only exist in Hell... but they're said to unleash the potential in anything related to Hell."

"What exactly does that mean?"

"I don't know! That's what you're supposed to find out!"

"It was a rhetorical question. I know." There was a long, heavy pause and John ground his teeth while he fingered his pack of cigarettes. "Thank you. Talk to you again soon. And please... if you value your life... be careful."

"I will, Mr. Constantine. You take care, too. You sound a bit rough - are you sure that Dante guy is looking after you?"

John sucked in a breath to snarl that no, once again, he did not need looking after. His cheeks flushed red, which made him dizzy because he had lost some blood. Then he turned and glared at Dante, as if it was somehow entirely his fault. He said, in clipped brief syllables, "Take care, kid." Then he hung up. The phone disappeared into his coat.

"Let's get Jackie. We can argue about what to do next from there. All right?"

As soon as they stepped into the hallway, the two humans left looked at Dante, not John, for some kind of direction.

"Write a report. And tell the boys holding Jacquelyn that we're coming to get her, ASAP."

"W-Where is everyone else?"

"Vascoe is - who knows where. But I can assure you, everyone else is dead." John puffed anxiously at a cigarette - when had he even lit one up? The nervous inflection in his voice gave his emotions clearly away. "And as soon as you're done with that, get the hell away from here as fast as you possibly can."