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To Hunt and to be Hunted

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Nero walked briskly through the forest near the outskirts of Fortuna, the urge for action itching in the back of his brain. He done something bad, he knew that. He wasn’t sorry though as he hefted the stolen order sword over his shoulder. It was too big for his small frame. But adults didn’t make swords for 8 year-old children. It wasn’t his fault. 

Besides, he could smell them. The stinking demons. They were close. He could practically taste them. His right hand was trembling as the itch in his mind grew stronger. The urge to hunt. The urge to kill.

He hadn’t planned to go hunting for demons today, or at all really. Couldn’t be bothered. After all, most 8 year-olds didn’t concern themselves with such dangerous matters. At least that is what Nero could observe from the other children his age at the orphanage. He wasn’t around them often though as they all picked on him. The mere fact of his white hair and being a bastard child set him apart from the other children. Most children at the orphanage on Fortuna Island were orphaned because their parents were killed by demons. The occasional illnesses too. And then there were the bastard kids.

Conservative and strict to an extreme degree, the Order of the Sword controlled most aspects of people’s lives on the island. They told people what they should believe in, restricted how many children families were allowed to have, and controlled who married who. You had to have your marriage approved by the Order to make it official. Relationships that weren’t approved by the order and children who came from those relationships were looked down upon. Especially the children who were born to prostitutes. That what Nero was, or at least so he’d been told. It was a custom for the local prostitutes to leave their children on the doorsteps of the orphanage when their birth control failed or had unsuccessful abortions. That was how Nero was found, wrapped in a dark blanket on the doorstep.

A cold gust of wind whipped at his cloak and nearly blew his ceremonial hood off. Nero chuffed and pulled the strings tighter with his left hand. He was close now, he knew it. He could feel it. With a smirk, he readjusted his grip on the large sword slung across his shoulder.

“Come on,” he said as the impulse to move and destroy something made him shift his small weight from one foot to the other, “I smell you. Come on out you stinky, rotten, pieces of shi-”

A shadow moved on his right.

With cry Nero lunged at the just visible demon, slashing his sword in a downward arc as he ignited the blade. The demon screamed in pain as it was severed in two. Nero followed up his swing by turning his momentum to another demon twice the size of him. He nicked its side and the demon recoiled in pain, hissing and croaking.

“Did that hurt?” Nero mocked as he suddenly thrust his sword through the monster. Swiping its claws, the demon reached for the small child’s throat. The sword heated up and inflamed the creature in a fiery blast. Nero heaved the sword up and around so the demon impacted the ground on its head; exploding into dust.

“Boom!” he yelled as the crazed impulse filled him up completely. Nero laughed and gleefully darted towards the next demon. He loved this. How had he not done this before? This made life worth living because he never felt more alive than at this moment.

He decapitated a dark, toothy demon in one leap as his small body launched itself into the air higher than he’d ever tried before. His hood flew off and his white hair flew in all directions.

This was fun.

He punched clawed blades out of the way, darting underneath the next monster’s guard and landed a burning slash up and through.

This was…

Screaming a war cry, Nero flung himself into the air with his flaming sword held high above his head. Three small demons tried to scamper away but were unable to avoid the explosive, burning backlash from the impact of his sword on the ground.

Wait.

Nero tackled a demon and punched his fist into its face. The blood spray splattered his cheek and darkening his white hair. He sliced the sword partway into the demon and pulled the handle. It sparked and burned slightly before making a clicking sound. The boy glanced down at the weapon, irritated as he relented his position to stand up and away from the gory demon. He flicked his hand that was drenched in blood to better dry it off.

“Stupid thing wasn’t even properly filled,” he grumbled, glaring at the blade and inspecting the fill gauge. Empty.

Pausing momentarily for the first time since the fight began, Nero shook his head as his thoughts became more organized. He didn’t notice he had tunnel vision until it left. Glancing around the clearing and observing the remains of carnage slowly dissolving, it came to his attention that he’d never done anything like this before in his life.

He’d had some basic defense training as all children did in Fortuna. Afterall, small hordes of demons regularly plagued the island on a yearly basis. The Order of the Sword had deemed it necessary that all citizens have some form of basic combat. Not that they taught anything that would help against demons. It was all to make people feel safer without teaching them any useful methods. Only those who showed an aptitude for fighting were taught more useful tactics, but only if they joined the Knights of the Order. Nero showed enough promise, but didn’t care for the order so he hadn’t bothered going back for more lessons. He got into enough fist fights to satisfy him. At least before today.

Nero had only played with wooden bokken and heavy sticks before this. It had all been play. He shouldn’t be capable of...of this massacre. He had just...taken a knight's sword while while the patrol guard dozed on duty. Because he needed it. He didn’t know why he thought he needed it.

 

It was just…

 

Just…

 

Such a small, little demon. Don’t you look delicious?” said a nasty voice from right behind Nero.

He jumped and backpedaled as he came face to face with a half arachnid half human-like demon who laughed as he scrambled to keep his distance.

You smell familiar, child ,” the demon cooed, advancing on him. “ You smell like betrayal…”

“And you smell like garbage, but hey, what do you expect from trash like you?” Nero snarled as he held his sword in front defensively.

She laughed and beckoned him closer with two spidery legs, “Come here, little snack. Your soul will taste delicious if have even a speck of Sparda’s blood.”

Nero growled and dashed forward, slashing at the outstretched legs. He nicked one but was blindsided by a swipe that knocked his feet out from under him. Clinging to his sword, he rolled away just as a claw smashed down right where his body had lay. The boy scrambled to his feet and had to bring up his sword to block a blow from an armor covered leg, the weight of which caused him to fall to one knee.

So hasty ,” it taunted as it pressed more weight onto Nero’s blade, “ but you can keep squirming, I like it when my prey fights back.”

He grunted as he struggled against the pressure. This was out of his league. The itch to fight and destroy was drowned out by fear. There was no winning this battle. He needed to escape. The demon moved its legs closer to his body so it could snatch him as he was focused on not being crushed. He had to move.

 

Now!

 

Tilting his weight, he diverted the blow to his left as he smacked the broadside of his blade into the demon’s face, stunning it.

ARRGHH, YOU WRETCHED BRAT!” the demon screeched, staggering to the side.

Nero ran.

He had to get toward the thicker part of the forest. The demon was too big to follow him in there. It was just a few dozen yards away. Breathing hard, he concentrated all his energy into moving his legs. The ground shook as he heard the monster thundering in pursuit. There was a sudden absence of the sound in which he threw himself to the side just as the massive spider creature smacked its leg where he’d been.

Come here, little snack,” She hissed, drool oozing down her pincers as she lunged again. Nero brought up his right arm with his sword to block but wasn’t fast enough.

There was a moment where he felt the pain of the armored leg against his forearm to cause him to drop his sword before he went flying backwards. There was no way to slow down his momentum or correct his body as he tumbled through the air. He could only hope didn’t land on his neck. 

Something caught him around the midriff, nearly winding him. He was held tight against the chest of someone as they landed a short distance away from the demon. Nero glanced down at the arm wrapped around his torso and saw that the sleeve was part of a blue coat.

“It was a mistake to think you could get away with hunting a descendant of Sparda,” the cool voice of the person holding him said. The man pointed a long katana at the spidery monster. “A mistake from which you won’t live long enough to learn.”

YOU!” screamed the demon, furiously stamping her eight legs before raising them viciously.

“Me.”

The world blurred around Nero was he was teleported along with the man above the demon. They landed on the creature’s back and the man decapitated the demon with an easy stroke of his blade before gracefully leaping off. Nero watched as the demon fell to the ground and twitch horribly before slowly dissolving. The blue coated man walk a few steps away from the decaying corpse before gently setting Nero on the ground. He clambered to his feet and fully looked at his rescuer.

The man flicked the blood off his sword before expertly whipping it around and fully sheathing it with a loud click. His pale blue eyes met Nero’s as he tilted his head slightly, as if curious. He looked regal and reserved with his white hair combed back but with a few stray curls falling on his forehead. He wore a black vest and matching sash around his neck accompanied by a long, embroidered blue coat. The sheathed katana was held his left hand.

“It would seem you lack the proper training in order to battle a demon of that level.”

Nero blinked and looked off to the side where the demon was decaying.

“It wasn’t--I didn’t mean to…” he trailed off; unable to describe why he’d decided to go out today and kill demons.

“No. It wouldn’t appear you did,” said the man coolly, raising an eyebrow. He turned to look at the stolen sword a few feet away on the ground.

Nero walked over and stooped to pick it up with his right hand. As soon as he stretched it out pain streaked through his limb and he retracted it deciding to go with his left arm instead. He brought the blade up and secured it over his shoulder. Nero stared at the man again before huffing and turned to walk back to town. The man followed.

They both walked in absolute silence for twenty minutes. Trees slowly started to thin out and the road they were on started looking better maintained. Nero spotted a gnarled branch to an older tree that a cloak was resting on. He knew it hadn’t been there before. The man walking next to him snagged it as they passed by and put it on after tying the katana to his side. The boy studied his strange companion for a moment.

“You’re not part of the Order,” Nero stated as he narrowed his eyes, “why were you here in the forest?”

“I was following you,” the man replied, icy eyes landing on Nero’s face. “The age of eight years is important for people like you and myself. Trouble always seems to follow those who inherited the power of Sparda.”

“The power of Sparda?” the boy repeated before he turned away and aimlessly kicked a stone with his foot, “What even is that?”

“It’s what makes us better than those around us,” he replied and keeping pace with Nero’s dawdling walk. “It is something only gained by demonic birthright. You inherited that power the moment you were born.”

Nero knew who this man was. Instinctively and from an observational standpoint, there was only one person this man could be.

“Why did you come here?” he looked the man in the eye, eyebrows furrowed. “You’ve never bothered before, so why now? Are you going to take me with you?”

The man stopped and Nero did as well. They both stared at each other before the former sighed as he looked away from the boy. “I would have taken you with me from the start if I had thought it would be safe. It’s still too much a risk. This island is fortified against the larger demons that typically hunt you and me. The mainland is still too dangerous for you.”

“I see,” Nero replied. “So I have to become stronger. Strong enough to kill bigger demons.”

The man inclined his head and concurred, “Becoming strong enough to handle demon lords should be no trouble for you if you embrace your demonic blood. You’ll become powerful enough to handle anything. Being too connected with the human world will hold you back.”

Nero folded his arms; holding his right with his left. Power, huh? That sounded good. He started walking towards the city again but the man gently stopped him by grabbing his shoulder.

“Nero,” he said as he’d crouched down to the boy’s eye level, “if I’m unable to come back for you or if you find yourself in imminent danger, I want you to go to this place and hand this letter to the man who works there. You’ll be safe with him.”

He pulled out from under the cloak a sealed envelope with a business card taped to the front. In bolded letters it read out Devil May Cry and beneath it an address of a place located in one of the largest cities on the mainland. Nero took it and put it in his back pocket, nodding absently. The man released his shoulder, stood up, and eyed Nero for a little while longer.

“Next time, train first before you give into your demonic urges to hunt,” he said. Then turned and started walking down a hidden small path in the grasses that lead towards the sea.

“So you’ll come back when I’m stronger?” Nero hesitated before adding, “Father?”

The man turned his cloaked head slightly, not stopping.

“No promises.”