Chapter 1

Nero walked along the scarcely populated streets of Fortuna, casually glancing in all directions while ignoring the bell that tolled from atop the church. It was dusk and the setting sun painted the pale architecture with a soft peach glow, giving an innocent beauty to the town as it's inhabitants hurried home.

The young man scowled at the sound that had went from a weekly occurrence to a daily one within the last month. It seemed pathetic to him that Fortuna had been forced to implement a curfew. Even more pathetic was the harsh reality that the city's population was not safe in the streets of their own hometown after dark. The injustice of it angered him.

Nero had contested the wish of The Order Of The Sword to install a curfew, but they had – of course - ignored him. Not that he could blame them. The officials were doing what they felt they had to do to keep the citizens safe. Yet, he still cursed them for cowards. Hiding behind politics and ignoring to approach the threat head-on. Even if they didn't know what the threat was, the failure to take a stand showed weakness.

As of yet the creature had remained unseen. The demon struck under the cover of darkness, killing it's victims and vanishing like smoke. The bodies of the murdered were left to lay at the base of the large fountain outside the church. Always in that same spot. Like a morbid calling card of sorts. The killer was a master of stealth and speed. And it was cunning. That made for a dangerous combination. It was unlike any devil any in Fortuna had encountered.

Many believed the sudden escalation in reported disappearances were related to the new foe. Since it's arrival, four of the city's inhabitants had went missing. What was so strange is that none of the runaways happened on the same night of a siege. Some argued that the creature was carrying off the young people and killing them in solitude for some reason, hoping that the bodies may someday be found as closure for the families of the maybe victims. Others believed the demon had eaten the missing whole, bones and all. Everyone agreed that the lost had no hope of ever being found.

Nero was determined. Determined to find what it was that had put his, Kyrie's and the rest of Fortuna's lives in danger. He was able to convince Balwin – the new captain of the Holy Knights that had replaced Credo – to send a small task force to investigate. That had been two weeks ago. No one had heard anything since. It was silently conceded that the mission was folly and fallen were mourned.

Then they got the news. A survivor was found. Falor, the commanding officer of the party, had returned to Fortuna.

Nero was on patrol when he'd gotten the message. He was insistent on being present for the interrogation. He quickened his pace as the renovated headquarters building came into view. His eyes barely grazed the too familiar structure as he hurriedly entered the main door and made his way to the conference room.

Not much had changed in the last year. After the defeat of the false savior, people had carried on for a while in confusion and misguidance. Then things began to calm and life had went on. But nothing had really changed. It had only adapted. The devout sill worshiped Sparda, as it was He (through His Son) who had saved them. Nero got very little credit for his part in the affair. And that was fine with the youth. He disliked the attention.

Nero opened the door to the large room and stepped in avoiding the gazes of the other members of The Order as he went to stand in the corner by himself. The meeting had already started and Balwin shot him a quick glare for the interuption before looking back at Falor. The other three knights shook their heads in disapproval.

"Continue," the captain ordered in a voice not lacking kindness.

"There were five of them," Falor said. His tone sounded steady and even, displaying his bravery under trauma. Yet his complexion was pale and his eyes had none of their usual luster. "Four females and one male. They looked human. One of the young women favored Belina's daughter. She went missing last week. We assumed they were all runaways."

Nero snorted from his place in the corner. Balwin shot him a warning look. That was all he would give before having the youth escorted out of the room. It was no secret that he disliked the boy's insolent attitude. Yet he held his tongue in most cases for no other reason than Nero was one of the best warriors under his command. Some arrogance could be acceptable, but both superior and subordinate knew where to draw the line. Nero crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.

"You were saying," the captain said to Falor.

"We asked them to disburse. One of them – a blonde I did not recognize – declined. She said she was under orders to search Fortuna and recruit some of it's population."

"Under orders from whom?" Balwin asked.

Falor looked at him. "The Master," he said. "That was the answer she gave."

Nero glanced at Falor. "What are they looking for?"

Balwin sighed and stood to face the youth. "I'm the one who's conducting this interview, Nero."

Nero dropped his gaze. He knew he was pushing and that Balwin's patience was wearing thin with him. The authoritative tone the captain had taken was his third strike. He was lucky to still be in the room so now would be a good time to back off.

"Sorry, sir," he said, but not without just a hint of disrespect. "Thought it might be important."

Balwin slowly nodded. "You may answer Nero's question, Falor."

Falor turned to Nero. His eyes studied the young man intently, lingering momentary on the exposed right arm. The demonic claw flexed and Falor met Nero's eye. A slight smile played at the man's lips.

"She didn't say."

Nero kept his disbelief to himself. He wasn't on the most friendly terms with any of the Order's knights, but the way Falor was watching went beyond mere incivility. And at that moment, Nero didn't trust him at all.

"Is that when they attacked?" Balwin inquired.

"Yes," Falor replied. He continued to stare Nero.

"With what weapons?"

Falor finally pulled his eyes away from the youngest knight. "The only weapon a vampire needs," he answered. "Their teeth."

Nero knew the attack was coming before it happened but he still wasn't fast enough to save one of the guards. Falor ripped out the man's throat so quickly no one knew what was happening. A fine crimson spray arched from the guy's vein and splattered the oak table. The newly created vampire that had once been a member of The Order Of The Sword put his mouth to the wound and began to drink.

Nero drew Red Queen, revved the fuel injection, and charged. The sword penetrated Falor's chest, the blade driven with such force that only the motor and the hilt were all that protruded from the man's ribs.

Falor glared at Nero with red eyes. "Filthy demon!" he growled.

His fist collided with the boy's jaw and sent him backwards across the room. Nero stood, then ducked as his own sword was thrown at him. Red Queen buried itself into the wall where Nero's head had been seconds earlier. He reached for the weapon but was forced to dodge an advance from Falor.

Nero jumped back and watched the vampire. Falor glared at him displaying long, pointed incisors. Nero glared back. He felt his devil bringer throbbing, aching to unleash it's hidden power. He suppressed it not willing to endanger the lives of the other members of The Order trapped in the room.

Falor crouched and prepared to charge the young man. Nero dove out of the way and quickly made a move toward Red Queen. The vampire spun with unmatched speed at the same time Nero was bringing up his sword. It was purely by accident that the blade struck a fatal blow. As Nero swung outward to defend himself, Red Queen neatly sliced the advancing vampires head in a diagonal line from jaw to scalp. Falor fell. The severed part of his head fell with him, spinning for a moment like a morbid top before resting on the tile floor.

Nero stood at the ready for a few seconds. He relaxed upon realizing that Falor wasn't going to recover from this wound. He looked about the room. The guards were gazing at him with a mixture of awe and residual fear. The boy looked away from the unwanted stares of the others and replaced his sword in it's sheath. He turned and quietly made his way to the door. The door opened with a soft groan and Nero paused. He gave the captain a considerate glance and spoke in a tone lacking all emotion.

"Now we know how to kill 'em."

Balwin regained his composure like a man suddenly remembering he was in charge of his own actions. He nodded once to Nero and dismissed the youth with a wave of his hand. As the door shut Nero heard him giving orders to have someone clean up the mess and call a meeting with the authorities of all the surrounding towns.