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And the Rest is Silence

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It’s eight days after the Saviour and the rescue people are packing up. They don’t think they’re going to find any more survivors after the earthquake – that still hasn’t got old. Even in the midst of the disaster, the Order pulls together and begins damage control. There’s a lot of damage to control.

 

Kyrie has taken to wearing jeans like the tourists. It’s angering the traditionalists, but Kyrie doesn’t care. She’s made it through worse than their comments and their sneers. Maybe there always was a rebellious little badass in there or maybe she’s trying to redefine herself in the face of everything she knows collapsing. Nero has to admit, he likes the curve of her ass in them and glint in her eye when she wears them.

 

He likes the curve of her ass and the glint in her eye when she’s out of them.

 

It’s late when Nero finally makes it home. Kyrie reheats the stew she’s made while Nero hangs up his jacket and pulls off his glove. He pulls Kyrie close and hugs her with a deep sigh. “You smell so good.”

 

“What was this meeting about?” she asks. Her voice is muffled against his chest.

 

“Same as the other 8000 this last week. What happened, what did I do, what do I know, who the fuck am I to Dante and how’d he catch on to it and what they’re going to do with me.” Nero sounds and looks exhausted and Kyrie pulls back to stroke his face.

 

“Sit down. That stew won’t take long to reheat.” she looks over to the bubbling pot. It smells delicious and Nero is starving.

 

 “I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up,” he admits. “Keeping my story straight.”

 

Kyrie pulls away to dish up a large bowl of the stew as Nero cuts doorstep slices of bread to mop up the thick gravy. His rebellious little badass is a badass cook. “Well, be careful,” says Kyrie. “One wrong move and you’ll mysteriously disappear.”

 

“I’m not stupid, Kyrie. I know that,” he says a little harshly. He tries to take the sting out of it with a kiss, but Kyrie wasn’t offended in the first place. It’s wearing on all of them and her threshold for annoyance has rapidly shot up this last week.

 

“Sparda’s balls, but the sooner we can get out of here, the better,” says Kyrie, dishing up a small bowl for herself.

 

The door crashes open and Nero’s on his feet, Blue Rose drawn.

 

“What in all the nine hells has been going on here?” demands the dark-haired woman, dumping her bags in on the floor. She’s wearing a gold on white dress like Kyrie hasn’t worn all week. “I had to charter a boat back from the Mainland and why the hell can’t any of you pick up a phone? I’ve been worried sick! Where the hell is Credo? Still at HQ? Damned idiot works too hard. No good to man nor beast if you don’t rest.”

 

“Empty night, Violet. It’s so good to see you!” Kyrie’s glomped the woman and they hug each other tightly.

 

Nero holsters Blue Rose and catches Kyrie’s eye. Their peace has been shattered and now they’re about to shatter Violet.

 

Violet pulls back from Kyrie and looks her over properly. “Why are you dressed like a tourist?”

 

“It’s easier for getting about while the Island’s like this.” The lie trips off Kyrie’s tongue too easily. Violet nods before turning her attention to Nero, drawing him into an equally warm hug. “I’m so glad you’re safe. I’ve been trying to call, but the phones are down, even the tourist phones.”

 

Nero pulls his sleeve down over his right hand. “It’s a mess, Violet. The entire Island’s a wreck. The Order’s going to have its work cut out fixing it and they’ve got to elect a new Sanctus.”

 

“I can imagine how that will go. I take it you’ve been getting lobbied left, right and centre? Kyrie, any more of that stew on the go? I haven’t eaten since Naples.” Violet eyes the pot hopefully.

 

Kyrie gives a weak smile and gets her a bowl and some of the bread Nero hasn’t inhaled. “I imagine when you report tomorrow, you’ll get the same.”

 

“More than likely,” replies Violet. “I’ll be able to vote though if Credo stands. I imagine he would, being the Supreme General. One of the advantages of not being married to him.”

 

She’s too busy eating to notice the loaded look that passes between Nero and Kyrie.

 

“Do you think Credo will be home tonight, Kyrie?” Asks Violet.

 

“Probably not,” she replies smoothly. It should bother her, but she can’t deal with Violet tonight. It means dealing with her own feelings and Kyrie doesn’t know if that day will ever come. “Violet, don’t think me rude, but it’s been a long week and I’m shattered. I just want to have my supper and go to bed.”

 

“I take it Nero’s been staying the night?” asks Violet.

 

Kyrie nods. She doesn’t offer anything further. Nero just keeps his head down and mops up gravy that’s so thick it’s practically another food group.

 

The silence stretches out until Violet’s finished her supper. “I’m going to go to bed now,” she says as she gets up. “It’s been a stressful time for all of us in our journeys, but the Saviour is with us always.”

 

She leans down and kisses both teenagers on the cheek and wishes them goodnight.

 

Nero opens his mouth to speak, but Kyrie shoots him a dirty look. He goes back to removing the pattern from his plate with the last of the bread.

 

Kyrie moves the pot from the stove to the fridge. Nero stacking the bowls in the sink and setting them to soak. He chuckles as a thought hits him. “It’s like we’re married already. Next we’ll be decorating the nursery.”

 

His smile fades as he realises they very well could be decorating the nursery in 9 months. “Kyrie – “

 

Kyrie gives a small smile as she shakes her head. “I had that taken care of when we were first planning being together. I found somewhere on the Mainland through one of the magazines and they put something in my arm that lasts for years.”

 

Nero kisses her. “How did you get to be so crazy-prepared?”

 

“I’m just that awesome,” she smiles, kissing him back.

 

“I’m a little bummed. I’d love to have a baby with you. Gotta pass on these good looks.” Nero’s face and voice goes hard. “One thing’s for sure, at least our baby isn’t going to be dumped on orphanage steps.”

 

“If I get pregnant here, Nero, we’ll probably never get out. And I’m not having a baby here. We can’t have a baby here. We definitely can’t have a baby here. When we go, we’re never coming back. We’re cutting all ties. I’ll change my fucking name if I have to.”

 

It’s the vehemence in her voice that gives him pause. She hasn’t raised her voice, but the look in her eyes makes his blood run cold. He knows where part of it comes from – it’s not the sacrifice of their potential future to raise their baby in the place they were raised – but the precariousness of their situation in a society that holds them partially responsible for destroying 30 years of careful plans and the resulting power vacuum. But there’s something else underlying it and he doesn’t know what.

 

“I’m tired, Kyrie,” he says. He’s hit his limit for bullshit today and just wants to bring his world back down to him and her. “Can we just go to bed?”

 

Wordlessly, Kyrie holds out her hand and leads them to her room.

 

***

 

Violet walks around Credo’s bedroom. There’s a fine layer of dust that hasn’t been cleaned up and there’s a faint musty smell, which is to be expected if the windows haven’t been opened for a week. She’s just glad that the house clearly escaped damage in the earthquake. She’s seen the centre of town and it’s wrecked. It’s going to take millions to rebuild. She’ll see about that tomorrow, especially now the rescue people are going back to the Mainland.

 

She goes to her side of the room and pulls out a nightgown from a drawer. She changes and gathers up her clothes to take them to the bathroom and put them in the washing basket. Credo’s uniform that was there from before she went is still in the basket and his shaving kit, the one she had made specially for his birthday several years before is still there. It’s bone dry.

 

Violet begins to feel a sense of dread as she looks around the room. No one has been in this room for a week. Credo has not been home for a week and much as he trusts Nero with Kyrie, he would not have left them home alone for that long. Kyrie would have been ordered to a friends’ house and Nero would have gone to his rooms in HQ. Credo’s had to deal with emergencies before that lasted several days and he’d always found time to come back for his shaving kit. He said it was the most precious thing that anyone had ever given him and keeping it with him was a little piece of home.

 

Credo is vain, almost as a vain as a woman and Violet has teased him about it on numerous occasions. He is always perfect and precise in his manner and appearance, even when, especially when disaster strikes. Credo’s ability to impose order on chaos is the reason he’s Supreme General a full decade younger than any other leader. It’s why he’ll probably be elected Sanctus.

 

With a mounting sense of horror, Violet goes to Credo’s wardrobe and counts the uniforms she finds there. He does have rooms at HQ, with fresh clothes, but he would still have found time to come home. The musty smell in the room has amplified in the confines of the wardrobe and it smells like something is decaying in the row of pristine white clothes and gleaming boots.

 

Violet gags with the strength of it and falls to her knees. In her heart she knows.  She knows. The grief wells up and she cries out with the mass of it. Dimly she hears Kyrie’s door open – she knows the sound of all the doors in this house and she only heard one door open and two sets of footsteps come running.

 

They burst into the room, Nero with his gun drawn and only wearing his boxer briefs, Kyrie wearing Nero’s t-shirt. She dimly notes Nero’s right arm, but that’s not important right now. Kyrie drops to the floor beside Violet and hugs her tight as she sobs like the world’s ending.

 

Nero just sits down on the bed, Blue Rose beside him. Kyrie, he notes, doesn’t cry. There’s not even tears. “Get some coffee,” she mouths to him as she holds Violet close against the sobs wracking her body.

 

By the time Nero’s come back, Violet has calmed down. Her face is red and blotchy and Kyrie has got her a glass of water. Nero passes both women their coffees and Violet gasps as it burns her.

 

“Watch, it’s hot,” he jokes and she smiles weakly.

 

“Thanks for the warning.” Violet sets the cup down on the carpet. Credo would have had kittens at that. “What happened?”

 

“I’m not sure on the details,” says Kyrie. “But I’m told he died when the Saviour statute fell over. He was trying to save people there.”

 

“That’s Credo. Did you know he proposed again before I left? He gave me your mother’s ring, but I’ll give it back to you if you want.” Her face crumples in tears again as Nero marvels at Kyrie’s straight face.

 

“No, Violet. He meant that ring for you and I want you to have it.” Kyrie casts a look up to Nero. He can see it pains her to pass up that ring, but he can see the undercurrent from earlier in her face. “You were married in all but name and I’ve always thought of you as my sister in law. I want you to wear that ring and my mother’s wedding ring.”

 

Violet wipes her eyes. “I will. So you don’t want me to move out? I don’t have any right to live here, legally this is your house.”

 

“You can stay as long as you want,” says Kyrie. She glances at Nero and Violet catches it.

 

“I’m not going to dictate to you and Nero. If you’re together, you’re together. I can’t comment. 15 years with your brother without benefit of clergy.” Violet sighs. “Just remember, not everyone here is going to be understanding. I had to put up with being called all the whores under the sun and accusations that I bewitched Credo.”

 

Violet tries to stand up and Nero holds out his right hand to her. She takes it and lets him pull her upright. She makes no sign about it being demonic, but there is something on her face. Recognition? Nero brushes the thought aside – she’s just lost her common-law husband. She’s not really going to be caring about anything.

 

“I’m going to sleep, now,” she says. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Kyrie gives her a final hug and she and Nero go back to Kyrie’s room. They’ve just settled down when it hits Nero. “Violet never asked about Credo’s body.”

 

He feels Kyrie stiffen beside him. She’s still ambivalent about her brother, but Nero’s not putting any barriers up between them. “And you think?”

 

“She knows there isn’t one. She knows about the Ascension Ceremony.” Nero turns to face Kyrie. In the dark, he can just about see her face. What light there is catches her eyes. “She knows Credo was a demon.”

 

 ***

 

Kyrie has gone to work as Nero and Violet stand in front of the Opera House with the statue of the Saviour lying prone before it. The Opera House has been shored up by scaffolding and they’ve began to clear up the fountain. There are piles of dead and dying floral tributes left by those grieving and a hijab belonging to each dead Fortunese is tied to the fence. Some of these have a simple message and a name. Some have full prayers or poems written on them.

 

Nero’s seen it before, so he watches Violet’s reaction to the scene. She’s solemn as she walks slowly around the plaza. It’s almost as if she’s reading every prayer and every message. Nero doesn’t rush her. He’s happy for the legitimate excuse of escorting Supreme General Credo’s fiancée. He’s in no rush for the latest round of questioning.

 

Finally, Violet comes to the head of the Saviour. “Where was the last place you saw him?” she asks and again, it strikes Nero as a strange choice of words. Not “Where is he lying?” He’s not sure if she’s subtly hinting that she knows he knows but Nero isn’t biting. He can’t take the risk.

 

Nero walks her over the rough place where Credo fell. Violet lays a single white rose and he notices that she’s wearing Kyrie’s mother’s wedding and engagement rings. Though simple and elegant in the Fortuna style, they’re ostentatious for Violet, who favours plainer dress and jewellery than the standard Fortunese. The only piece of jewellery she wears that’s remotely flashy is the gold bangle with elegant scrollwork engraved on it. It’s set with small red stones, but he doesn’t know what they’re called. He’s never seen her with it off, though he’s never found the significance of it. He knows Credo didn’t give it to her – she has photos from before Fortuna and she’s wearing it there.

 

Her plain dress and pious demeanour belie the wild past she must have had. Her body is covered with scars and tattoos, which she’s always explained as her wild youth before Fortuna and meeting Credo.

 

His musing’s brought to an end when Violet walks over to him. She’s been crying, but she hasn’t bothered to wipe away the fresh tear tracks. “You OK?” He asks.

 

She shakes her head. “I thought I’d feel better when I saw it, but I don’t.” Violet looks around. “So many people.”

 

“Fortuna will rebuild, Praise be to the Saviour,” Nero says carefully.

 

“Ever be it so,” she replies, rote and flat.  She gestures to the Castle. “They’re waiting on us.”

 

Nero looks up at Lamina Peak and sighs. Neither speak on the journey over.

 

***

 

They part ways in the entrance hall of the castle. There’s Holy Knight staffers and bureaucrats everywhere. Most are in uniform, but there are more than a few in suits and they’re not wearing hijabs. Violet catches Nero’s eye and he shakes his head, just a very small movement. “It’s been like this all week,” he murmurs. He makes it look like they aren’t talking.

 

 A young woman walks over to Violet, clasping her hands in the Holy Knight salute. “Alchemist Alighieri, Madam, if you would follow me,” she says. She isn’t dressed in an order uniform and her heels click on the marble floor.  She steps aside and waits for Violet to follow her. She’s got a lanyard that identifies her as Ms Kye, Umbrella - Ouroboros EU PLC. There’s a logo of a red and white umbrella on it.

 

“May the Saviour be with you on your journey,” Nero says as he claps his hands and exaggerates the bow more than he normally would. His skin is crawling with the eyes he imagines on him.

 

Violet repeats the movement and the blessing before following the woman with the clicking heels silently across the floor. Nero watches her go before the Leader of the Committee for the Protection of the Faith comes for him. He was third in Command under Credo and Credo hated him. Called him a rat-faced weasel who cared nothing for Fortuna that would sell his mother to advance his skin.

 

“Ah, Knight Balzan. We’ve been waiting for you. You’re tardy today,” General Falzon says in his oily voice. He reminds Nero of Agnus and it makes his flesh crawl. He feels like a mouse being played with by a bored cat.

 

“Supreme General Micellef’s fiancee returned to the island last night,” replies Nero. Godspit and shit, but it’s hard to tamp down his natural impulse for snarky remarks and be more circumspect. “She was unaware of his fate. I escorted her to his place of passing.”

 

“Fiancee? She finally agreed to marry him?” Falzon is slightly taken aback. It clearly bothers him that he didn’t know this important tidbit. Nero hopes he hid the small flair of smugness at even scoring this one small point.

 

“Before she went to attend business on the Mainland. They were going to announce it when she returned.” Nero can’t help but stand straighter so he towers over the Leader. He’s only 19 and 6 foot 1, so he figures he’s got a few more inches to go.

 

Falzon recovers his composure - Credo’s engagement wouldn’t have been earth-shattering news and it doesn’t matter now anyway. “Well, we’re late enough as it is.”

 

He walks at a fair clip towards an ornate room, Nero having to walk fast to keep up with him. The groups of people around the hall part and still their conversations as he passes. Nero catches some of their pitying looks and some of their suspicious looks, especially from those more senior who know more of the story.

 

Nero feels like he’s walking to his execution. To be fair, he could be.

 

The door shuts behind him with a sense of finality.

 

***

 

Violet is bid to sit at the only empty seat at the committee table. There’s about nine other people there. Some Violet recognises from Fortuna, some from the Mainland. They aren’t wearing hijabs. Ms Kye offers her tea or coffee and some cakes from the stand. They smell delicious, but Violet isn’t hungry. The other woman goes to the other empty seat and prepares to take notes.

 

The others seated at the table chat amongst themselves for a bit, before welcoming Violet. A man with a similar lanyard to Ms Kye speaks and everyone else falls silent. “Alchemist Alighieri, so good of you to join us. Our condolences on your loss.” He shuffles some papers and Violet can see her photo on the top page. “Your record is impressive and Agnus spoke highly of you. You are aware of the events of the last week, I take it?”

 

“The earthquake, sir? How badly were the labs damaged?”

 

“In this room, we don’t need to lie about these things.” He smiles. “But I do like that you are straight to business. This is indeed the kind of qualities we would require in Fortuna’s new Chief Alchemist.”

 

“Chief Alchemist? Is Agnus dead as well?” Violet casts her eyes down. “I shall miss him. He was a truly talented man and I learned an awful lot from him. He’ll be hard to replace.”

 

“But not impossible,” cuts in another of the suits. They’re all wearing lanyards with that red and white umbrella on it. He leans forward. “Sadly, the nonsense last week has set back much of our research. We need someone who can pull the project back together while moving forward.”

 

“All of his projects?” violet says, slightly aghast. “He was working on many things right across the board. What about the rest of the staff? There were many talented alchemists who were higher than me.”

 

“We think you would be the best man for the job, so to speak. Will you take it? You’ll have a blank check for your work, even the ones Agnus diverted for his own research.” The first man speaks again. He’s got a strange accent and is overly theatrical. The other panel members are rolling their eyes at him, but they aren’t questioning him, so he’s clearly very powerful.

 

The Order members are watching her intently. None of them have broke their gaze to look at papers or computers. It unnerves her, like they’re waiting to catch her out.

 

Violet looks down at the table, then at Credo’s rings. She doesn’t touch the bracelet, even as she twists the unfamiliar rings that feel so strange on her fingers and she’s reminded of something her climbing instructor said to her once. Mountains are more dangerous on the way down, because everyone focuses on up so much, they forget that down is just as dangerous.

 

“I think that Credo would have been delighted at this opportunity and in his honour, I accept.” Violet says it in a steady voice, with just a slight tremble. She’s careful to make herself sound scared, but resolute.

 

“Excellent!” says the theatrical man. “Ms Kye will become your assistant and shall arrange anything you need. Tomorrow, you start your new life, but today, you celebrate your good fortune. You must take lunch with us. I insist!”

 

The men from the Order don’t cut across him and remind him that Violet is in mourning and that’s interesting in itself.

 

***

 

Nero’s meeting feels more like a court martial than an investigative committee meeting. He’s escorted to a vacant chair sitting in the centre of the room, away from the top table on the raised dais. There's a banner with the insignia of the Faith Committee hanging on the wall behind the table, mirroring the insignia on the chests of the Committee members and their staff.

 

He remains standing until ordered to sit between the massive Knights who flank him. He’s not made to give up Red Queen or Blue Rose, so that’s something in his favour, he supposes. His right arm is burning under his sleeve, but at least the glow isn’t showing through his thick purple longcoat.

 

Falzon ignores Nero for a full 15 minutes while he consults the other 8 panel members. It takes every ounce of Nero’ self-control to remain still and expressionless, but he’s under no illusions. The Committee for the Protection of the Faith have the power to run him through where he stands. There’s faint brown stains in the marble floor under his feet. Nero hasn’t come this far to fall now. He wishes Dante was here and he indulges in a quick fantasy of the two of them hacking up the Committee. All of them are Sanctus’ men.

 

And there was him thinking that kill Sanctus, kill the rot. He didn’t appreciate that men like Sanctus don’t work alone. They’re like fucking Hydras. Kill one head, get another three free.

 

Nero isn’t used to playing the long game. But he recalls the latest contributor to the brown stains he’s standing on. Falzon took a fancy to his wife, she tried to report him for harassment, Falzon had him up on heresy charges that didn’t even have that good a standing. Credo had been the man’s Speaker, but hadn’t been able to stop Falzon goading him so much he tried to attack him. Falzon had challenged him to a duel on the spot. Falzon was a master swordsman, the husband just a merchant. Falzon engineered it so Credo couldn’t be his champion, could only give him his sword and watch helplessly as Falzon played with him for a full five minutes until he ran him through.

 

The wife was now in Falzon’s bed, terrified that she’d be turned out with her children because of the heresy charges had forfeited her home and business.

 

Nero stands wrapped in his inner thoughts until one of the guards coughs. He snaps his attention to Falzon and visibly swallows. He sees Falzon notice and smile. Good. Let him think he has his foot on Nero’s throat.

 

“Holy Knight Nero Balzan of the Order of the Sword, the Committee for the Protection of the Faith has reached its conclusions of your involvement in the events surrounding the demise of His Holiness and the destruction of the Hellgates and the plan to purge the sin from this world and lead all to glory at the hand of the Legendary Dark Knight Sparda.”

 

Falzon did that all on one breath. Nero has to admit he’s impressed.

 

Nero draws Red Queen from his back, rests his clasped hands on her pommel and bows his head, but not so much he can’t see Falzon through his bangs. “I am in Sparda’s hands.”

 

“This Committee finds His Holiness was unwell and placed under the thrall of Chief Alchemist Agnus, who persuaded him to meddle in forces that were beyond his ken. Funds meant for our research projects were inadvisedly appropriated for projects that put the True Faith of the Dark Knight Sparda at risk from blasphemies of those outside Fortuna. Should the Statue of the Saviour have left this island, Lord alone knows what would have happened. We are a simple people and our magic could not have stood up to the might of our neighbours on the Mainland and the British bases on the neighbouring islands.”

 

Nero doesn’t look up as Falzon pauses.

 

“In this regard, Knight Balzon, Fortuna and the True Faith owe you a debt of gratitude for preventing an even bigger disaster than the one we’re facing. However, you did bring about the death of His Holiness and have a hand in the destruction of the city and the disruption of our projects. I still haven’t ascertained your involvement with the staff of Devil May Cry. It’s clear that someone brought them here, someone who knew enough to place Gloria high within our ranks to bring His Holiness’ plan to fruition and if not you, then who?”

 

Nero hopes his face remained expressionless when Falzon mentioned Devil May Cry. He must have come up against them when he’d been on the special jobs of acquiring the Devil Arms, demons and other artefacts for the Order. Strange fate, indeed.

 

“However, we have no proof of treason and we cannot condemn a man without proof.”

 

Nero stiffens. “He’s going to sentence me to trial by ordeal. He’s going to rig it. Oh fuck, Kyrie.”

 

“Nor do we know why you and Sister Kyrie Micellef were able to power the Saviour and we feel this needs further investigation.” Falzon is building up to his judgement. “I’m given to understand there where very specific conditions for this to happen and while I have my suspicions as to how this concerns you, I am not in a place to utilize them.”

 

Nero tries to look innocent, but it’s not a look he’s good at.

 

“The judgement of this Committeee is thus,” Falzon takes his time, ensuring he’s racking every last ounce of fear from Nero’s nerves.

 

Nero realises though, he’s not as scared as he should be. He’s oddly calm about the whole thing, considering he could be about to be sentenced to death. It’s taking every ounce of strength to hold the submissive pose and keep his fool mouth shut.

 

Falzon frowns a little, as if he can sense Nero’s not quite playing the game. He continues. “At your young age, you have already given good service to the Order, despite your suspected apostasy. Your talents as an engineer and swordsman are not in question and will prove valuable to this Order in the times to come, particularly as we face a shortage of skilled adults in the recent disaster. Nearly a third of Fortuna’s skilled population have passed over.”

 

Falson pauses and he’s sure he just heard Nero mutter, “Get to the fuckin’ point, man.” One of the guards is trying to hide a smile. Falzon doesn’t let it bother him, just files it away for future reference.  “Credo Micellef – “ and Nero does look up here, taken aback by the use of the name without the title – “gave you far too much leeway and freedom. This served us well on the special missions you were sent on. However, your experience is more valuable to us here. From tomorrow, you will wear your uniform and not this clown outfit. You have a lot to prove to us, young man, but you may make a fine Knight of Sparda yet.”

 

Nero says nothing. He’s just latching onto the fact they’re not executing him.

 

Falzon’s waiting for a response and his eyes narrow when he doesn’t get one. “Credo’s relationship with that Mainlander was unseemly, but I will rectify it posthumously for him. I declare that they were married on the date she first shared his bed and never left it.” He turns to another member of the Committee and instructs him. “See to the paperwork. Doubtless, this will be of comfort to our new Chief Alchemist, that she has a home to call her own.”

 

“You’re disinheriting Kyrie?” Nero gasps, incredulously. “It’s her parents’ house!”

 

Falzon looks like he’s ignoring him, though he clearly isn’t. He’s seen out the corner of his eye Nero’s hand move from the top of the hilt to the body, as if in readiness. Falzon rates his chances, even against this…boy. “It’s been drawn to my attention that Sister Micellef’s response to her brother’s death is to reject the teachings that her beloved brother died for. This cannot continue. We must all pull together in a time like this and find comfort in the Saviour’s gentle teaching.”

 

“You can’t do this to Kyrie! She’s done nothing wrong!” Nero’s stepped forward, just one foot, though the point of Red Queen hasn’t left the floor. Maybe that’s what saves him. “Calm yourself, you’re no good to anyone dead.” It’s not his voice, but he knows it somehow. He feels genuine fear as Falzon smiles his predator smile. It’s the most genuine thing he’s ever seen on the Leader’s face all week.

 

Red Queen scrapes the floor and it’s the grating noise that makes him look down and see the brown stains on the pristine white marble. “Kneel, boy.” Nero drops to his knees, placing Red Queen in front of him. He speaks and he’s not even sure it’s him. “My Lord, I beg your indulgence in this difficult time.”

 

He doesn’t take his eyes off the stains and speaks so quietly that he’s not sure Falzon can hear him.

 

Falzon carries on like he hasn’t heard anything. “A woman, particularly a young woman, is no good on her own. She needs the guiding hand of a male figure in her life. I may appoint myself her protector.”

 

“No, please,” Nero whispers. He’s honestly, genuinely terrified, more than he was inside the Saviour. “He’s trying to goad you. Hold your tongue, boy.”

 

One of the other Committee members, General Agius, clears his throat and Nero wants to hug him. He was a friend of Credo’s. “We’re issuing judgements that don’t relate to the boy directly. Let him speak. He might have some ideas of his own and it is our wish to mould him to a Knight worthy of Sparda himself.”

 

Falzon stalks over to him to Nero, looking at the kneeling teen. Nero keeps looking at the floor and Falzon’s boots. He wonders if Falzon’s going to have him kiss his boots. He’s heard enough about him that killing a man to get to his wife wasn’t the worst thing he’s done. Falzon puts his hand under Nero’s chin and forces him to look up. Nero’s usual reaction to something like this would be to put the guy on his ass, but that would get him killed here and clear the path to Kyrie. He’s sure Kyrie must be Falzon’s endgame.

 

“Do you have something to say in your defence, Knight Balzan?” Falzon asks mockingly.

 

Nero doesn’t know where the words come from, but they’re surely not from him. He thinks he can hear the voice in the back of his mind speak and he’s just repeating it. “A woman needs a child to steady her, General Falzon. Kyrie and I would have been wed now, were it not for Credo wanting us both to be 20 before I put a ring on her finger.”

 

It’s not even Nero’s speech patterns, even in these formal circumstances.  It’s also a lie. Credo had just about got his head around them dating, much less raiding his wine cellar and fucking on her bedroom floor.

 

Falzon looks like he’s mulling the idea over. “A wedding, hmm? Might just be what Fortuna needs in this time of crisis. Very well, as soon as we’re able, you and Sister Micellef will be married. It should boost morale and persuade more parents to let loose the reins. We need the young to have children and bind them more fully to Fortuna. Disasters like this can often cause them to seek a new life on the Mainland. I knew I saw something in you, Knight Balzan.”

 

He returns to his seat and bangs a gavel on the desk. “You have heard our judgements. Go forth and may the Saviour be with you on your journey.”

 

“Get up and get out of here, boy. Make sure you look grateful. You have no power here and don’t let them forget it.”

 

Nero painfully pulls himself to his feet, sheathes Red Queen and bows in the direction of the Committee. He walks slowly out of the chamber, hearing Falzon say something to Agius, but he’s not sure what.

 

He has no idea how his legs don’t collapse.

 

***

 

Violet is sitting in the graveyard watching another funeral take place down the bottom end. They’ve had to knock down the wall and move into the next field and they still haven’t moved the Saviour yet. There’ll be more in this cemetery when that monstrosity gets hacked up. Speaking of which, no one has explained to her yet how it got from HQ to the Town.

 

The world is spinning and she grips the arm of the bench for a moment.

 

“Alchemist Alighieri are you alright? Public drunkenness isn’t something you’re known for, even if you do have good news.” General Agius sits down beside her. He’s holding a wilted bouquet.

 

Violet looks at it. “I’ve thrown up in that bin, so maybe best in that one,” she slurs, indicating a bin the next bench over. “Ar..Ar…Areeeoush from that company moted me and dint unnerstan how I can’t chew steak. Kep plyin me wit really fucking good French wine. And I know my wine. Had to, living with Credo.”

 

“Well, you’ll be getting some news about that soon. I don’t know if you should sober up before going home or get drunker,” Agius sits down next to her, tossing the flowers into the bin with a high arcing throw. “Still got it.”

 

Violet makes a concerted effort to at least sound sober. “What’s going to happen with Nero? Why is he under inves...investigation anyway? Earthquakes are part of living here. I wasn’t here for the fun,” she reminds Agius when he gives her a quizzical look.

 

Agius looks around to make sure they’re completely alone. “They got the Saviour working.”

 

“You’re fucking joking.” Violet sounds completely sober now.

 

“The way you said. The Sparda bloodline. Not the son, though.” Agius has dropped his voice so low, he’s mouthing the words. “Someone else. Nero.”

 

“He was born here, though,” replies Violet. “Sparda lived here for centuries. I’m probably the only person on Fortuna who’s not descended from him.”

 

“And the amount of souls from Fortuna flowing through it hadn’t worked so far. It had to be something about Nero.” Agius is insistent.

 

Violet shakes her head and immediately wishes she hadn’t as she throws up in the bin. Agius offers her some of the water he’d used for his fresh bouquet. She accepts it gratefully and rinses out her mouth. “It could be that it had to reach a critical mass and Nero was the one that tipped it over. It’s not something we’re going to know until I get into the labs and see what I’m working with. And you’re assuming General Falzon will want us looking at it. He might want us to concentrate on the outside projects for Umbrella.”

 

She swigs the water. “They’d be the ones I’d concentrate on, particularly until he’s fathomed out who’s going to be installed as Sanctus.”

 

“Sanctus is a free vote,” protests Agius.

 

“Once Falzon’s vetted the runners,” replies Violet. “Any clue as to who’s running?”

 

“Not yet and, no, I’m not even considering it.” He looks at Violet oddly. “What’s it like, not having a past?”

 

“I don’t know,” she replies. “I haven’t got one. What’s it like not having a future?”

 

“I don’t know,” he replies. “I haven’t got one.”

 

“She’s not even in that grave you keep putting flowers on every day.” Violet gestures in the general direction of the Agius family vault. The wine’s making her garrulous. Violet is normally far more reserved than this. “You don’t even know where the fuck she is.”

 

“She may as well be dead, could be for all I know. Nobody vanishes for 20 years without leaving some kind of trace.” Agius looks at the grave. “I just needed somewhere to go. I talk to her more now than I did when she was alive. But she listens better now.”

 

Violet smiles as Agius turns back to her. “Answer my question. What’s it like having no past?”

 

Violet draws a deep breath as she considers her reply. “I’ve been Violet Alighieri for as long as whoever I was, so it doesn’t feel as much like a void as it used to. No one’s looking for me. I’m on every database on the Mainland, so if they were looking they’d have found me by now. Sometimes that still hurts. There’s a lot of inconsistencies about myself I’d like to know. I’d like to know how old I really am. That said, considering the state I was found in, sometimes I think it’s better not to know.”

 

Agius looks thoughtful, before patting Violet on the arm and leaving the cemetery.

 

“This day could not possibly get any stranger,” Violet mutters before she throws up in the bin again.

Chapter Text

Fortuna, 2 decades ago.

 

He walks down the empty street in Pilgrim’s Robes, marking him out as a foreigner. The breeze blows the hem aside as he walks, revealing flashes of blue trousers, brown riding boots and an expensive blue leather coat. He walks with the quiet, confident nature of a man ever watchful, but confident in his ability to take on life.

 

The demons come and he smiles like the predator he is. He flicks up his sword from her scabbard and it’s all the warning they get.

 

***

 

“It’s research, not heresy,” says Verity, shuffling the tarot cards. “I have to have a working knowledge of magic systems, even if they aren’t compatible with the Saviour’s Word.”

 

Peter and Credo look at each other. Peter shrugs. They’re wasting time until Verity’s much prettier sister Aggripina is finished her studies for the day. Both young women have gone to train as Archivists, but 18 year old Pinny is a few years further on than 16 year old Verity.

 

Peter has been making sheep’s eyes at Pinny for weeks now and she’s not biting. “Maybe you’d be better off making a love potion. Something that’s actually useful,” says Peter.

 

“I’ll be making more than love potions by the time I’m finished,” says Verity. “Alchemy is where magic meets science. I just have to get through my Archive training first.”

 

“So which one of us are you going to do first?” asks Credo.

 

Peter snorts at the unintended innuendo. Credo colours, but Verity hasn’t noticed, head down over her cards and their book of meanings. Peter motions towards Verity and makes an unmistakably sexual symbol. Credo pushes Peter off the table.

 

Verity looks up in shock, pushing back her chair and dropping to her knees beside him. “Are you alright, Knight Falzon?”

 

“Sparda’s Balls, Credo – what the hell was that for?” snaps Peter, springing to his feet. He puts out a hand to Verity and helps her up. “Your forgiveness, Miss Agius for my language. Simply horseplay between friends.”

 

He kisses her hand and it’s a lingering kiss that’s inappropriate for the situation. Verity gives a nervous laugh and tries to pull her hand away. Peter holds on to it for just longer than he should.

 

Credo clears his throat and Peter lets Verity’s hand go. She hides her discomfort by shuffling her tarot deck. Credo tries to watch without staring. Her fingers are long and slim and very deft as they shuffle the outsized cards. They have a slight bend in them, she’s shuffled them that much.

 

“So what are you going to do?” asks Credo.

 

“I’m going to shuffle the cards and then lay out a spread that will cover the next year,” Verity explains and begins to lay them out on the table, face down.

 

“Why are they face down?” asks Credo.

 

“So I don’t confuse their meanings until I’ve gone through the whole spread,” she replies, intent on her work. Her head’s bowed, but Credo can still see the curve of her cheek and the dark sweep of lashes as she lays out the cards. She bites her bottom lip as she concentrates and Credo wonders why his collar suddenly feels tight.

 

Verity picks up her book to be ready to interpret their meanings when she realises she’s brought the wrong book. “Be back in a minute,” she says as she runs off down the street.

 

She doesn’t run far. Fortuna is warm and she wears a long red dress with a white hijab covering her dark hair, so nobody runs much anywhere and especially not her. Her father’s instilled that she must act like a lady in all things.

 

That’s when she sees him.

 

Head down in his Pilgrims Robes, she can still make out his sharp features and his generous mouth.

 

Deep in thought, he doesn’t notice her as he passes.

 

Verity notices him, though and she turns to watch him go, eager for every little detail about him. She looks after him until he’s lost in the crowd.

 

She never does pick up that book.

 

***

 

She wanders back, eventually, to her cards. Credo is still sitting there, scanning the crowd and checking his watch. He looks relieved when he sees her. He stands up as she approaches and gives a small bow.

 

“What kept you, Miss Agius? I was beginning to become concerned.” Credo pulls out her chair for her and she sits down. “Did you retrieve your book?”

 

“I-er-met a friend and we began talking. She’s been having problems with the comments made by some of those workman they’ve brought in to convert that warehouse into a-“ Verity struggles for the unfamiliar word and an unfamiliar concept. “ħanut kbir, I think they call them. I bought us these.”

 

She sets down a bottle of Farrugia from one of the cafes on the plaza. Her bottle is already open and she’s sipping through a straw. Credo doesn’t have one. Straws are for ladies, so that they may be ever graceful in thought and deed. He tries to ignore the purse of Verity’s lips around the red straw she’s chosen, but he can’t look away.

 

“I think they call them supermarkets on the Mainland. They’re so big you could fit the whole Castle in them,” says Credo.

 

“Sparda’s balls! Really?” Her mouth drops open in shock at the concept. It’s clear she can’t visualise it.

 

Credo’s lips thin at the language, but he reminds himself, he’s seen them, she hasn’t. “Really. They’re horrible. Noisy things. Too bright and everything in boxes. Even the shops themselves are like boxes.”

 

They’re disturbed by a light and click as a woman in jeans and shirt takes their picture. She thanks them and walks off into the crowd, oblivious to the looks of the townspeople at her attire and loose blonde hair.

 

“Tourists!” Credo makes it sound like a swear word. “I don’t know why Sanctus persuaded the Council to let them in.”

 

“Money, ħanini,” says Verity. “Like that big company that’s doing all the sciences at HQ. I’ll probably end up working there when I’ve finished my training.”

 

“They aren’t so bad,” says Credo. “At least they follow the laws. But I don’t understand why the tourists get dispensations from wearing Pilgrims Robes. It’s indecent. And some of what they wear down the beach. You can’t tell the difference between them and the pros…ladies of the night down at the docks. I couldn’t take my sister to the beach anymore.”

 

“Knight Micellef, you don’t have a sister,” Verity laughs and it’s like a crystal stream to Credo.

 

“If I did, then I shouldn’t take her. It’s causing problems when the workmen and the fishing crews can’t tell the difference and proposition the women. There’s fights left, right and centre and never mind the behaviour of some of the younger ones.” He stops when he sees Verity looking at him and smiling. “I’m sorry to go on, Miss Agius. Knight Falzon and I broke up a fight in one of those new bars last night while we were on Patrol.”

 

“It’s fine,” she says as she goes back to sipping her drink.

 

Credo can’t take it anymore. “Miss Agius, is there anyone courting you?”

 

“Sadly. No. Pinny draws all the attention of the opposite sex. It’s alright,” she says, holding up a finger to silence him. “It’s alright. I know you only waste time with me while Knight Falzon chases Pinny. I rather think you would stand a better chance with her.”

 

Credo colours. “No, no. You misunderstand me. I wish to court you.”

 

“Me?” Squeaks Verity. “But why?”

 

Credo never says what he should have said, that her smile lights up a room, that the sound of her voice makes his heart sing, that one day he dreams of her crushing his hand while their child comes into this world, that she’s pagun fil-qasam tat-tiġieġ. He says none of this.

 

“You’re clever, studious and you have the most excellent needlework skills I’ve ever seen. That tapestry you stitched for the Castle was beautiful.” Credo tries to come up with more compliments for her to bolster his case. “Sparda’s Victory Over Mundus is one of the high points of the Castle tour. No one believes that it was done just by one person and so young at that.”

 

Verity’s smile becomes forced, but she’s used to wearing a mask. “Yes, tapestry is an excellent training medium for the mind. It involves seeing the finished piece in your mind, planning it, executing it, dealing with the problems, adjustments and setbacks and incorporating them into the overall finished item. You learn the patience and persistence to stab something a million times.”

 

The Chimes for Third Prayer sound and Verity gathers her things. “Papa will be waiting on me.”

 

She’s gone before Credo knows what’s happened.

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri.

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon and Knight Credo Micellef

 

The Twin Sons of Our Saviour have been identified. Their differing viewpoints have been exploited based on information supplied by our Information Division. This has led to a massive argument between them and the breakdown of the fraternal relationship. Our Agents continue to direct either Son towards Fortuna, so that they may play their part in the Resurrection of Our Saviour.

 

His Lordship has indicated that the production of an Heir to Our Lord Sparda after the discovery of his living Sons is desirable, so that we have our own Flesh and Blood of the Saviour, bred and raised in Fortuna.

 

Knight Falzon has indicated to His Lordship that he has identified two suitable females for this purpose. It is to our advantage that Captain Edward Agius’ ambition outstrips his ability. Knight Falzon postulates that an offer of promotion and authority will smooth over any objections he may have in the great honour that will be accorded one of his Daughters.

Chapter Text

 

Nero goes to the docks with some bread for the ducks and gulls that make their home on the water. He sits on the edge of the quay and dangles his feet off the side as the birds flock around him. He’s always liked to come down here as a child and watch the boats and the birds and it’s something he still does when he needs to think. The water’s so clear he can see schools of fish darting in and around the seaweed, dodging the odd bird that swims down to catch them.

 

He starts to become engrossed in the scene around him. The sun’s warm and sparkling on the water and he starts to relax as the ducks and fish go about surviving. He’s been sitting there quite a while before Kyrie comes, ignoring the lewd comments from the fishermen. She looks beautiful in the soft evening light, jeans showing off her slim legs, the crystals on the blue rose on her tee-shirt twinkle with little stabs of blue and green, brown hair bouncing in her pony tail. She’s carrying a basket and Nero can see her face break out into a broad smile as she sees him.

 

She sits elegantly beside him, kicking him affectionately as she swings her feet and leaning into him. He just takes a second to enjoy this moment before he has to spoil it. The salt on the air and screech of the birds mingle with the weight of her pressed into his side and the warm honey smell of her shampoo. They kiss slowly and gently, taking their time with each others’ mouths. Nero raises a gloved hand to her face and delicately strokes her hair.

 

“How bad was it?” she asks finally, turning slightly to get the fish and chips out the basket and the bottle of farrugia, the fizzy orange sharp-yet-sweet cordial that’s a Fortunese specialty.

 

“Bad.” He doesn’t look at her while he opens his newspaper wrapped dinner. “Can we do it after dinner? I don’t want to spoil this.”

 

Kyrie shakes her head. “Nope. Let’s get the worst out the way and it can only get better.”

 

Nero snorts. “Ya think?”

 

Kyrie gives a deep, contented sigh. “You’re not dead and we’re not in a death statue. How much worse can it get?”

 

“How was your day?” Nero asked, trying to head off the inevitable.

 

“I got fired for dressing like a whore,” Kyrie says nonchantly as she salts her chips.

 

“Did you bring forks? I can’t eat with this glove on – the fuck?” Nero looks at her sharply.

 

“Here you go,” Kyrie says as she hands him a fork from the basket. “I’ll just use my hands. You can lick them clean later.”

 

“What did you say?” Nero catches Kyrie’s wrist as she passes him the fork.

 

“I’m going to use my hands?” She looks him straight in the eye.

 

“Before that.” Nero hasn’t let her wrist go.

 

“I got fired. Not everyone likes the new me.” Kyrie pulls her hand free and pops a chip in his mouth. “We’ll be leaving soon anyway.”

 

“Weren’t you the one telling me to be careful lest I mysteriously disappear?” Nero’s voice is muffled as he eats the chip. He swallows. “You didn’t think any of that applied to you too?”

 

Kyrie just pops another chip in his mouth, she’s got another ready and waiting. He grabs that hand, holding tighter now.

 

“Godspit and shit, Kyrie. This is serious. Falzon’s throwing his weight around and he’s in charge now Sanctus and Credo are dead.” Nero hisses. He’s careful to keep the noise down. The port’s busy and he doesn’t want more getting back to Falzon than necessary. Empty Night, why can’t he get her to see that? “Kyrie, we can’t draw attention to ourselves or we’re fucked! Don’t you get that? Falzon is watching us!”

 

“You’re hurting me!” Kyrie snaps, trying to pull her hand free. Nero drops his grasp and Kyrie rubs her wrist and glares at him, more annoyed than frightened. “What the hell happened today?”

 

Nero punches the wall beside him hard enough to crack it. “Falzon’s ordered that we have to get married, he’s declared Violet and Credo married, so you’ve been disinherited, we’re both to get with the Order programme and we’re still under investigation. We made it worse, Kyrie. Sparda alone knows how, but we did. He spent most of the meeting trying to goad me into a fight.”

 

“Empty Night, Nero – you didn’t!?” Kyrie gasps in horror.

 

Nero shakes his head. “No, Agius stepped in and, -. “ He leaves off mentioning the mystery voice in his head. “He made it easier. Managed to keep Falzon in check.”

 

“We can’t rely on that though,” says Kyrie. She squares her shoulders and that hard glint is back in her eye. Nero feels his dick stir at it. “When we go, I’ll sell Violet my half of the house. It’s just a house and there’s nothing I’m taking from it.”

 

She wraps her chips up and begins taking off her trainers and her jeans.

 

“Kyrie?” says Nero, half amused, half horrified.

 

She looks back at him, the glint in her eye mischievous now.  “That water looks lovely, doncha think?”

 

“Going skinny dipping?” Nero grins.

 

“Well, let’s give Falzon something for his reports.” She’s down to her underwear and the fishermen are looking at her, gesturing and shouting. Her body is covered in yellowing bruises.

 

“What about your chips?” asks Nero. It’s hard for him to ignore the catcallers, but he does for her.

 

“They’re burning. They’ll be fine,” she says before she steps off the quay and plunges gracefully into the water. She surfaces in a mass of bubbles and treads water. “It’s lovely, Nero.”

 

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”  Nero says, mock annoyed. “Who’s going to watch our chips for these marauding seagulls?”

 

“Look in the basket,” she calls back up.

 

Intrigued, Nero finds a small glowing bottle, some towels and a neoprene sleeve with a glove.

 

“Set the bottle in the middle of our stuff,” Kyrie says. “It’s supposed to make us less noticeable. Anyway, it’s Fortuna. Who’s going to steal our stuff?”

 

Nero laughs and takes off his shirt, carefully rolling up the sleeve so he can get it on with the minimum of fuss and lessen the likelihood of someone seeing his arm. There’s only a little scaly patch above the top of it. He spreads his jeans over the top of the basket, just in case the bottle only works on humans and not seagulls.

 

“How’d I look?” He calls to Kyrie. He flexes his arms in a muscleman pose.

 

“It’s a good fit. Now, jump off that cliff, you gotta land somewhere!”

 

Nero laughs and jumps in.

 

By the time they get out, the fish and chips are stone cold and the sun’s gone down.

 

They eat them anyway.

 

***

 

Kyrie can’t sleep and as she figures that she doesn’t have to be up for work the next day, she doesn’t need to. She quietly moves Nero’s arm aside and he settles into her space with a soft murmur. For a quick moment, she considers settling back down with him, but she doesn’t. She just enjoys the sight of him truly relaxed and free from his cares.

 

Kyrie ruffles her hair which is still stiff with sea salt. She’ll have a shower later when everyone is out. She goes down to the kitchen and begins setting up the slow cooker with the oatmeal for breakfast. She’s always loved taking care of other people and she’s glad she shares that with her mother as much as her brown hair and hazel eyes. Her mother had been an alchemist and her father a Holy Knight, so public service had been instilled into her and Credo from a young age.

 

Good thing really. She’d never have met Nero otherwise and she dreads to think where he would have ended up if hadn’t been for the close interest they’d taken in him as a snotty nosed five year old.

 

She goes over the massive dresser in the kitchen that’s taken up one of the walls for as long as she can remember. Kyrie remembers her mother telling her about how it’s been in her mother’s family for centuries, linking the Micellef women down the ages through actions rather than genes. Kyrie had used to find it comforting that she was kneading bread on the pullout table on the left side above the drawers. Now she finds it stifling and part of her is glad that her mother isn’t here to see her reject that long history.

 

Still, tears prick Kyrie’s eyes as she realises she’s the last Micellef to own this dresser. It smells like her mother, beeswax and lemon. Kyrie, like many younger Fortunese buys bottles of shampoo from the tourist supermarkets that Fortunese work in but get fined for buying in. She just factors it into her costs. Her mother made her own soap and shampoo. Kyrie can, but it’s so much bother and she’s usually busy. That said, the tourists pay through the nose for the “Artisan Soaps” and it’s worth a pretty penny for those so inclined. Keeps the women employed. Men won’t do it, women’s work. Maybe she’ll get a job there now they’re not wanting her near the refugees anymore.

 

She pulls out a drawer and moves the muslin bags she uses for baking. She was really just making sure Credo never found her package, but he wasn’t likely to look in here anyway. Credo only cooked - badly - on high days and holidays and Violet wouldn’t have bothered if she had found them. Her mum used to hide stuff in here as well, little hidden drawers here and there where the menfolk of the family would never think to look.

 

Kyrie takes a pen from a jam jar stuck with sea shells she did when she was 6 that no one has thrown out yet. She tips out the glossy prospectuses from universities on the Mainland and begins to leaf through them. Like most Fortunese, Kyrie is fluent in several languages and well read, but her formal education is lacking. She has no qualifications that are recognised in Europe and she’s trying to find a workaround that will get her on a social workers’ degree.

 

She puts the pen down with a sigh and gets up to put on some milk for hot chocolate. She really fancies some from her secret stash that she keeps hidden from everyone. She’s hunting about in the drawer where she’s sure nobody but her goes, but she can’t find it. It’s the really expensive Swiss stuff as well and it tastes like Heaven.

 

Kyrie tries to pull out the drawer to see if her tin of coco powder has fell down the back. It has happened before when Credo or Nero would stuff things in here for safekeeping or for her to find and do something with them later. Mostly they just clogged up drawers till she cleared them out and chucked them, both men long since forgotten what it was she was meant to do with them.

 

She tugs it harder. Nope. Stuck fast.

 

She even tries to pull out the drawer underneath, but it’s stuck fast as well. Her milk bubbles over on the stove and she hurriedly turns it off, but it’s still burned on and it stinks, but she’s on a mission now. She digs out the linseed oil from another drawer and the turkey baster. Methodically she works all round the joists and the grooves of the runners. Kyrie is having to contort herself in all manner of strange positions and her knees have gone numb, but with 15 minutes she’s worked enough oil through both drawers that she can begin to work one free. She gently begins to jiggle and rock the bottom drawer free. She doesn’t get it out, but she puts her hand in and feels something small wedged vertically between the drawers.

 

Kyrie peers up, but she can’t make it out in the dim light. Of course, the torch would be in the drawer which is jammed. She makes an exasperated humph and goes back to trying to pull the drawer out. She thinks she can hear Violet starting to stir and she doesn’t want to have to explain this to the older woman.

 

Kyrie is actually pretty strong for her situation, even though she’s not a Knight. She swims every day during Ladies Hour at the lido and her singing has given her a strong set of lungs. She’s used to humping boxes of supplies and breaking up fights at the refugee hostel. This drawer is coming out.

 

She grabs hold of the drawer and braces her feet against the dresser and pulls.

 

For a moment nothing happens.

 

There’s a loud crack and the object breaks, sending the freed drawer shooting out. Kyrie smacks into the kitchen table, sending a chair flying. She ignores her thumping head to gather up the pieces of the object. It’s black plastic and it’s in bits. She shoves them in her dressing gown as she hears Nero’s footsteps on the stairs.

 

“What the hell, Kyrie? Are you ok?” Nero’s down and checking her head, strong fingers gently ghosting through her hair. He helps her up and rights the chair before he sits her down on it.

 

Oh, Kyrie feels sick. She doesn’t answer as Nero busts out some of Violet’s heavy-duty painkillers – heavy duty to Kyrie, regular use for Violet – and hands them to her with a glass of water. Nero sees the drawers and the burned milk and guesses what she was doing. He has the grace to look shame-faced.

 

“Was that can of chocolate yours? I finished that a few weeks ago.”

 

Nero’s got seriously good reflexes, Kyrie thinks later. He shouldn’t have been able to dodge that drawer.

 

***

 

Violet has the nightmare again. It’s the one she always has when she’s stressed.

 

No sword shall touch you, lest it be mine.

 

She’s falling. It’s dark, there’s screaming and crying and she’s falling. She doesn’t want to die.

 

Where is he?

 

There’s so much pain. She’s been in pain for days.

 

There’s men in white and they’re doing things to her.

 

“La Sirena Spezzata! La Sirena Spezzata!”

 

There’s bright lights and more people in white, different people and bleeping machines.

 

No sword shall touch you, lest it be mine.

 

There’s so much pain. She’s been in pain for days. She doesn’t die.

 

Where is he?

 

***

 

“I’ll buy you some more! Nine Hells, Kyrie, it’s fucking chocolate!” Somehow the drawer hasn’t smashed but it’s left a nice big dent in the wall.

 

“I was looking forward to that! It was the only thing nice thing to happen all bastard week!” Kyrie screeches so loud, it’s amazing she doesn’t have the Knights at the door.

 

“Thanks a fucking bunch, Kyrie! What the fuck am I, then? Chopped liver?” He should be horrified at the fact he’s yelling at Kyrie, but it actually feels good to let fly, even if it is over something so trivial.

 

“I JUST WANTED A HOT CHOCOLATE! SPARDA’S BALLS, WHY IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK THE FUCKING UNIVERSE AFTER THIS HELL-CURSED WEEK!?” Kyrie throws the other drawer at Nero and this one connects.

 

Luckily, it’s his right arm.

 

Kyrie’s hand flies to her mouth in horror and Nero stands stunned as he slowly lowers his arm. The silence lengthens until Kyrie busts out the Good Man Kryptonite.

 

She bursts into tears.  

 

Nero can’t help himself and goes straight to Kyrie and wraps his arms around her. He strokes her stiff, salty hair and murmurs nonsense, trying to calm his ferocious beast.

 

“It w-wasn’t m-meant to h-hit y-you,” she sobs.

 

“I know. It’s OK. Gonna have to give you a new pet name, huh, Killer?” He holds her tight and rocks her.

 

“I could have really hurt you!” she wails.

 

“But you didn’t. We’ll need to get you in the Knights. Falzon would be shitting himself against you,” Nero soothes her and despite herself, Kyrie giggles.

 

“Feeling better?” He asks.

 

“No. I still have no hot chocolate and a thumping head.” She mock pouts. “You’ll need to make it up to me.”

 

I need to make it up to you? Who was throwing drawers at their boyfriend? No wait, fiancé?”

 

Kyrie looks up at him.

 

He shrugs. “Hey, it’s happening. We’re as well just rolling with it. It’s not how I wanted to marry you, but I do want to. Marry you.”

 

Kyrie pulls him down for a kiss. There’s nothing gentle about it as she slides her tongue along his, dragging it along the roof of his mouth. Nero shivers and the feel of it just does things to Kyrie. He’s only wearing his boxer briefs, jumping out of bed so quickly he never had time to put on some jeans. She can feel him starting to get hard as the kiss continues. She sweeps past the space where his wisdom tooth will eventually come in and he yelps and tries to pull away, but she holds him firm and concentrates the point of her tongue round there.

 

It must be a hot button that Nero never knew about, because he’s got her backed up and sitting on the table. She reaches for his shorts, but he catches her hand and intertwines their fingers, pulling her hand behind her back. The mild dominance of it has her panting now and she’s turned on as fuck as she imagines where this scenario could go.

 

With his free hand Nero pulls over a kitchen chair she hasn’t sent flying and slides down her body to sit on it. She catches his lip in her teeth and sucks it gently to fullness. Gasping, Nero pulls away and pushes her down with a hand in the centre of her chest. He’s dropped Kyrie’s other hand and is pulling down her pyjama bottoms, while holding her supine. His bicep ripples under his skin as he keeps her down.

 

When they’re off, he takes a moment to look at her spread before him, panting and open. Her top is still on, a little vest top, with spaghetti straps and her light cotton dressing gown is open to the sides. Nero’s always loved half-dressed women in his fantasies, especially if the bra’s on and knickers gone, but Kyrie like this is steak after hamburger and better than any fantasy. He so close to her cunt now, he can smell her unique tang.

 

He knows what she’s expecting and unconsciously gives a little one-sided quirk of his lips. It’s the same one he does when he’s about to get into a fight. She’s expecting a quickie on the kitchen table. Nero slides his right hand, just two fingers, the middle two right inside her and it’s instant. She gives this broken moan and he’s really got to fight to keep focused on what he’s doing. He can feel his Devil Trigger start to push, but he fights it down. Now’s not the time to experiment that hard.

 

Mind you, the way she’s squirming, he could do with the extra hands. He files that thought away for later and concentrates on pumping that clawed hand slowly, but firmly in and out. He makes sure that he’s coming down hard on her clit and well, isn’t she just reacting already? Kyrie’s trying to shut her legs against the sensation and he has to change the position of his arms so he can pin her legs down and open.

 

Nero’s beginning to think she must like being restrained, because every time he’s done it, Kyrie just goes boom that much faster. His Devil Trigger pushes really hard to the fore and he can see the blue aura start to glow. She’s fighting to breathe just now – great sighing gasps and that’s just his hand.

 

“Gonna have to tie you to the table when I really get going,” Nero says in a low voice and Kyrie does that broken moan again. But the way she puts her arms over her head and grips the table is definitely getting her tied up when they’ve more time.

 

He curls and twists those claws deep inside her and yeah, he’s digging in a little, but Kyrie seems to get off on it. In her own way, Kyrie is as dark as he is.

 

Bearing in mind their probable future, that’s not a bad thing.

 

Nero makes sure he’s got her legs pinned down as much as possible as he moves in for what he really wants to do. Otherwise she’ll most likely knee him in the face and he’s not in a mood to explain that one to Falzon.

 

He changes his hand position so her little nub is free and licks.

 

It’s just as well he changed position. Kyrie bucks so hard, a full body convulsion that knocks her head off the table and makes the salt and pepper mills topple.

 

“What’re…d-d-doing?” she stutters out.

 

He doesn’t answer her. He’s never done this before and it’s taking him a moment to get used to her taste. It’s sharp and salty, but not unpleasant and it sure doesn’t taste like the fish the barrack room Casanovas claim it does. He tries to remember some of the stuff he’s read in the women’s magazines he’s sent her. He was always shocked by how open the Mainland is about these things, but yes, he did read all the articles in them. He’s always wanted it to be good for Kyrie and damn, who wouldn’t when you’re looking up your woman’s body and getting the view he is?

 

He licks again, from the top of her core to her little button, enjoying the sensation of her delicate membranes on his tongue. Kyrie’s giving these broken sighs and he never knew she could make that sound. He takes his time getting to know the shape of her cunt, from the soft triangle between her opening, her inner lips and the apex that hides her sweet little clit, to the lines of her lips as they disappear beneath his twisting fingers.

 

He’s a good student in this practical, remembers to kiss and suck her clit, tonguing it as he takes it into his mouth, feeling it swell as he sucks it full, mirroring the throbbing lip Kyrie left him with. He plays with it a little while, working his sucks and twists and flicks of his tongue in tandem with his curling fingers.

 

His fingers find a spot that feels different and concentrates his claws there, keeping the timing of his mouth consistent with it. He looks up her body and oh there’s not a sight more beautiful in all the realms as this. Her top’s ridden up to just under her breasts and her soft stomach rises and falls like a stormy ocean as she breathes with those shallow, broken sighs. Her body is writhing as if her flesh is escaping her bones and there’s a constant broken stream of pure filth dripping from her lips.

 

Nero really doesn’t want to wind this up, but he can hear movement from upstairs and Nine Hells does his sister-in-law sound like an elephant in the morning. Anyway, he can feel the tremors in Kyrie’s intimate muscles pick up speed, so he goes harder. As far as he can tell, it’s the gentle nips on her clit with his teeth that really pull her Devil Trigger and he smiles that little quirk at his own terrible joke.

 

Kyrie comes hard, shaking and sobbing as her cunt spasms around Nero’s fingers and he keeps it all up for as long as he can to milk each last twitch out of her. He does drop her clit at the last minute and stand up to watch her face as the bliss sweeps over it.

 

She’s the most beautiful thing in the universe.

 

***

 

Violet wakes up in a panic, sweat soaked and struggling to breathe, tangled in the sheets. At some point, she’s managed to knock over the lamp that’s never turned off. Credo bought it for her side of the bed the first night she had the nightmare with him and never complained that he had to sleep with the lights on for the next 15 years.

 

It takes her a few minutes to separate the racket in the kitchen from the racket in her dream and even longer to get her bearings against the wall of pain that greets her every morning. Violet listens as the yells about Swiss chocolate turn into giggles and moans that she tries to blank out. Her tablets and potions are downstairs in the kitchen and she really needs to get them into her system at least an hour before she has to do anything important and today’s the first day of her new job, so it’s really damn important.

 

That said, she really doesn’t want to walk in on the horny teens going at it. She’d got used to distracting Credo when she heard them before, because none of the rooms in the house are big enough for a sword fight and there’s a lot of antiques she didn’t want damaged.

 

There’s a flare of pain as the pin in her hip stabs her and she pants against it. Her jaw’s hurting where they changed the wire last week and the latest bone graft. She’s pretty sure even her hair is hurting. That’s the problem with being drunk – she gets so relaxed that when it wears off all the pain hits her afresh.

 

On the plus side – no hangover.

 

Violet hauls herself to sitting and gets the notepad from the side of the bed and tries to write down her impressions from the dream. Maybe the smallest detail will jog her memory or add a little something to the time before La Sirena Spezzatta pulled from the ocean became Violet Alighieri.

 

The dream is always the same. The fall. The fear. The men. The loss.

 

Always the same voice. No sword shall touch you, lest it be mine.

 

The same words are engraved on the inside of her bracelet, along with initials. If it’s a quote, she’s never found it, in any language. Violet shuts her notepad with a frustrated thump and realises she can’t hear Nero and Kyrie anymore.

 

She decides to chance it and moves slowly and carefully from the bed. She moves like an old woman and she’s careful to make a ton of noise to give the lovebirds plenty of warning. They’re just about finished as she gets to the kitchen door. “You decent?”

 

“Just about!” Calls Kyrie with a giggle and her face is flushed. She’s pulling up her pyjama bottoms and Nero’s found a cloth to wipe his mouth. He’s got a smug look as Kyrie walks funny.

 

“On top of everything else, you’re going to make me blind,” Violet mock complains. “I hope you’ve found time to get my breakfast.”

 

Nero looks even smugger as Kyrie walks awkwardly towards the slow cooker to get the porridge ready. He pulls out chairs for the two women after righting the one Kyrie had knocked over and starts trying to put the drawers back in the dresser. “Kyrie threw it at me when she found out I finished her hot chocolate,” he says to Violet’s quizzical look. “I don’t want to marry her. She’s violent.”

 

“It was the good stuff!” Kyrie protests. “It’s extortionate. I got it for Midwinter Night!”

 

“It was bloody good,” agrees Violet. Kyrie looks outraged. “Everybody knew where it was. Even Credo dipped into it.”

 

“How come it never went down then?” Kyrie demands.

 

“Because Credo kept replacing it. Did you not wonder why you had the same tin for four years?” Violet doesn’t flinch as Kyrie bangs down the bowl of porridge and a spoon in front of her. “Can you pass me my box of tricks?”

 

Kyrie passes her the drug box. It’s got a small Umbrella logo on it and has all Violet’s vitamins, painkillers, nerveblockers and steroids measured out for her. Violet openly takes them in front of Kyrie and Nero, but she’s only comfortable with admitting the level of pain she’s constantly in with family. She’s not prepared to give Fortunese society another reason to judge her.

 

“Shit!” Her hands are shaking badly and she drops one of the tablets and sends it skittering across the floor. Nero tracks it and retrieves the escapee. “I’m bad today. I wish I wasn’t starting back. I could have done with another day to get used to everything.”

 

He’s handing her back the tablet when his right arm begins to glow, just as Violet’s bracelet shines bright. Their fingers touch as she takes the pill from him and both recoil with the static charge.

 

“What the Hell?”

 

“Ow!”

 

Violet rubs her wrist where it burned as Nero shakes his shocked fingers. An intense feeling of longing that’s not his wells up inside him. Vee – but it cuts off as soon as it comes.

 

“What just happened?” Asks Kyrie. “You could feel that across the room.”

 

“Hell if I know,” replies Violet. “Kyrie, could you tip these out into a bowl for me?”

 

Kyrie busies herself with helping her sister-in-law take her meds. Nero spots an Umbrella lanyard on the floor and passes it to Violet. “Your ID must have been in the drawer when Kyrie punted it at me.”

 

He’s cautious when he hands it to her and she when she takes it, but nothing happens.

 

She looks at it. “That’s not mine. It’s Dorcas’. It’s Kyrie’s mother’s pass. Funny that should turn up now.”

 

Kyrie hopes that no one saw her face as she passes Nero his breakfast.

 

“Anyone know where my official uniform is?” Asks Nero. “I honestly can’t even remember the last time I wore it.”

 

“Oh yeah, you’ve that fun and games ahead of you,” says Violet. “Have you actually looked for it?”

 

“No, I just stood in front of the wardrobe and tried to summon it. You’re funny, Violet.”

 

“I know what you men are like,” retorts Violet. “Unless it jumps out and attacks you, it’s not there.”

 

“Do you actually have a uniform here?” Asks Kyrie. “You’ve got clothes here, yes, but maybe not a uniform. That could be back at your room in HQ.”

 

Nero shrugs and looks rueful. “I’m never going to be able to sneak in and get changed before reporting for duty. I don’t have enough favours for a blind eye.”

 

Kyrie looks thoughtful. “You’re not too different in size from Credo. Go try his uniform on and if it fits, I’ll pick the embroidery off. No sense in wasting them.”

 

She glances across at Violet who merely looks at her empty bowl.

 

Kyrie takes it as assent. “Go and try one on then.”

 

Nero looks unsure and looks at Violet for guidance. She doesn’t look at him, but she does nod. He sees Kyrie come across to hug the older woman as he leaves the room.

 

He never came much into Credo’s room. He maybe came in here when he was younger, playing hide and seek with Kyrie, but not other than that. It feels strange. His things are still around and look like Credo’s about to come in and ask Nero what he wants.  He can’t help but have a little nose around and picks up Violet’s notepad. It’s a plain back hardcover that looks like the antique books sold in Fortuna’s many book shops. It falls open at the latest entry and the quote catches his eye. The bedside light is still on, but Nero knows better than to turn it off. Credo had told him that it drove him insane, but he didn’t want to upset Violet and her utter terror of the dark.

 

Nero sighs, opening Credo’s wardrobe and pulling out a pristine white uniform, the gold embroidery glinting in the light. Nero’s only wearing his boxer briefs, so he doesn’t need to change out of anything as he dresses. He doesn’t look at himself in the full-length mirror until he’s popped the last button.

 

He has to admit it’s a good fit.

 

Nero looks completely different in the Order uniform.

 

He doesn’t slouch in ordinary life, but something about how he looks now makes him want to stand up straight and to attention. He seems taller, somehow, as if he is Supreme General Nero Balzan of the Holy Knights of the Order of the Sword. On a whim, he picks up Violet’s book and materialises Yamato and stands as if he’s channelling his inner Credo.

 

There’s a brief overlay in the mirror of a man who looks very much like Nero, but with more of Credo’s austere, yet gentle manner. He seems very familiar, but Nero can’t put his finger on it. He’s not wearing Nero’s uniform, but an elegant blue leather jacket. It’s only a brief flash, gone as quick as it’s come. So quick that Nero isn’t sure he’s imagined it.

 

It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing this week.

 

“Wow.”

 

He’s startled by Violet and before he’s even known he’s moved, Yamato is out her saya and aimed at her throat. She doesn’t look scared though. There’s a guarded, curious look on her face as she pushes aside the blade with a finger on the groove.

 

“You look very regal.” She pauses for a moment. “You reminded me of someone there.”

 

“Credo?”

 

“No, someone…else.” She sounds hesitant. She rubs her wrist, but can’t hide that the bracelet is shining and Nero’s arm is glowing again. She shakes her head. “Ignore me. I must be imagining it.”

 

Nero sheathes Yamato. Not like that, wipe her off first. Didn’t they teach you anything in this God-forsaken hole?

 

Nero can’t hide a small smirk at the exasperation in the voice. Violet looks confused.

 

“Are you ok, Nero?” she asks.

 

“I’m fine. Hey, maybe I remind you from someone from before?” Nero says hopefully.

 

Violet’s mouth quirks a little. “After 20 years? I doubt it. My memory’s had plenty time to come back. It’s not going to do it now.”

 

“You never know. Where’s Kyrie?”

 

“She’s getting the sewing kit out.” Violet turns to walk downstairs. “You should get a move on.”

 

“What does No sword shall touch you lest it be mine mean?” He asks suddenly.

 

It’s an Old English lovers’ oath. It means I’ll protect her from anything, as long as she’s true, and if not, I’ll kill her myself.

 

“I don’t know. I’ve never been able to find out where it came from.” She’s looking at him strangely again. Nero realises she’s actually en guarde. She’s shifted into a fighting stance. It’s not enough that a non-warrior would see it, but Nero can’t miss it. “But I hear it all the time in my dreams.”

 

Nero repeats what the voice told him, but couches it as something he heard in the last week. “Must have been from the aid workers or something.”

 

“Probably. Look, pass me a uniform from the wardrobe, Kyrie can pick that while you have a shower and faff about with your hair, cos Godspit and shit, are the men in this family vain.” Violet holds out her hand for one of the uniforms.

 

“I’m not vain! There’s nothing wrong with looking sharp,” protests Nero. “What about you and Kyrie and 2 hours to put on enough make up for the natural look?”

 

“Bullshit. Kyrie and I can shit, shower and shave in 30.” She carefully folds the uniform over her arm, mindful of creasing it.

 

“What? Years?” it’s worked and they’re grinning at each other. She playfully thumps his arm and he hears her go downstairs. He lingers at the top so he can hear what happens next.

 

“You got the uniform? Does he look ok?” Asks Kyrie as Violet hands it to her. She’s got the threadripper ready.

 

Violet nods. “It’s a really good fit. It’ll need some adjusting, but tiny really.”

 

“I’ll measure him up tonight. How many’s up there?” Kyrie’s begun the fiddly task of unpicking the gold thread. She reckons it’ll take about an hour to turn it into the lower ranked Knight. “Red Queen’s a bit big for a scabbard, so I’ll quickly stitch in a sheathing magnet for it.”

 

“Ten.”

 

“Ugh, really? Well, now I know what I’m doing today.” Kyrie settles herself into a more comfortable position as her deft fingers pick up speed.

 

Violet decides to go for it. “Kyrie, have you noticed anything…different about Nero?”

 

Kyrie stays focused on her task. “Define different.

 

Nero ducks back a little as Violet looks up the stairs to make sure he’s not eavesdropping. She doesn’t see him. She pauses as she considers how to put it. “It’s like there’s two of them in there. He was listening to someone I couldn’t see.”

 

Kyrie’s fingers still. “There’s been a lot happening this week and you haven’t been here for it. I know it’s not your fault-“ she cuts across Violet as the other woman’s about to protest – “but I’ve been here for all of it. It got rough, really fucking rough. By rights we should all be batshit insane.”

 

“I’m not being funny, Kyrie, but maybe that’s why I can see it – you’re too close to it. He’s got a rider. He’s coming out with stuff that doesn’t sound like him and that arm? I’ve seen it before. I’m sure of it.” Violet’s dropped her voice low, but he can still hear her.

 

“You think he’s possessed?” Kyrie sounds sceptical. “You don’t know the half of this last week, Violet. There wasn’t an earthquake. The Hellgate opened, there was death statues and everything. Did you not wonder how we ended up with a giant statue in the Opera House Plaza?”

 

“Well, yeah, because the last time I saw that it was at HQ,” admits Violet. “Anyway – this is Fortuna. There’s always demons.”

 

“He’s not possessed, Violet. Wait, you knew about the Saviour? We’re going to have a talk about this last week and you had better not hold anything back.”

 

Even from upstairs, Nero can hear the steel in her tone. He can’t see her face, but he can imagine it.

 

Kyrie, his sexy little drawer throwing badass.

Chapter Text

Fortuna, two decades ago 

 

Verity makes it to Third Prayer in plenty time, though not enough time to sit by her parents. She can make out the shape of Pinny sitting between Papa and the Knight that Pinny is actually seeing, though they aren’t courting yet. Papa looks up and sees Verity in the back row and nods.

 

She scowls. Credo is sitting there as well. He waves to her and she ignores him.

 

Verity prefers the back row of the Opera House. She can see everything from up here and get on with her work, both her research and her latest tapestry. She can see the tourists who want to catch a bit of culture come in with their children. It’s funny watching the kids run about the Opera House in their Pilgrims Robes pretending they’re flying and shouting about the X-Men. Sometimes the people or the kids will ask about the Order of the Sword and she’ll tell them about it. She’s so good at interacting with the tourists, she takes tours and classes for them for extra credit at the Archive.

 

There’s no one else in the row, so Verity takes out her tarot cards and absent-mindedly shuffles before laying out a 12 card spread. Technically, it’s 13, as she lays out the card that represents her – Princess of Wands in the centre. She lays out the rest of the cards face down. Under her Significator Verity lays out another three cards – the influence of the year and then 9 cards in a horseshoe.

 

She hears a slight noise as someone sits down on the other side of her cards. Pilgrims Robe, so she assumes tourist. She ignores them to concentrate on getting the cards to tell a story.

 

She turns over the 1st card in the horseshoe – Four of Cups.

 

2 & 3 King of Swords and Magician

 

4 & 5 Eight of Swords and the Hanged Man

 

6,7,8,9 the Moon, Five, Death, Ten of Swords

 

Middle three – Devil, The Lovers, with Knight of Swords stuck to it, The Tower.

 

There’s a sharp intake of breath from across the cards. Verity glances up and meets a pair of icy blue eyes in a sharp face. He turns away, but not because he’s embarrassed, but because he’s finished looking.  Verity drops her eyes and sees blue trousers and brown boots. There’s a sword resting against the bench in a lacquered scabbard, with a gold dragon on the pommel. It’s clear that the sword isn’t being carried for show. Verity’s Papa is a Captain in the Holy Knights, so she knows her swords.

 

She turns her attention back to the Tarot spread, but she can’t get it to form a story. She just keeps getting flashes of images in her mind that make no sense. None of them are good. The cards she drew are some of the worst in the deck.

 

Frustrated, she puts them away. She thinks she sees her mysterious pilgrim look at her as she puts her cards back in their box and gathers up her notes.

 

The sermon is winding down, so rather than find Mama and Papa, Verity lets herself out a side door that opens out into the street rather than the Plaza. She really doesn’t want to run into Credo.

 

Excellent needlework, indeed!

 

The evening is lovely and warm, with the sunlight bathing everything in gold. There’s music thumping from one of the new bars that are popular with the tourists. They’re mostly English and she can hear phrases like, “Next Ibiza,” “Way better than Tenerife, but it needs to get better pubs and DJs.”

 

Verity has no idea what any of this means, she’s just fascinated by the clothes and painted faces on the women. The skirts, the shoes, the jewellery and their unbound hair curling down their backs. She’s even captivated by the white tan lines on their shoulders. They’re beautiful and exotic. She’s never seen anything like it in the year since the Council allowed the Tourists.

 

One of the men drinking sees her and calls over to her, “Hey Sexy! How about a drink?”

 

Verity colours and walks away.

 

Verity can dimly hear one say, “Little cow’s just ignored me!” and then, louder, “Come on Sweet Stuff, show us what’s under your burka!”

 

They’re following her. She can see them in the shop windows.

 

She walks quicker, but they’re faster and they corner her in a side street.

 

“I was talking to you,” says the ringleader. “Why did you walk off? I only wanted to buy you a drink.”

 

“I don’t want a drink,” says Verity in English. She keeps her head down, demurely, but she’s really looking at them in a shop window. There’s four of them and they’re drunk. It’s not even night and they’re drunk. “Would you let me pass, please?”

 

“I only want to talk to you. Stuck up bitch in your burka. Too good to talk to me?” He grabs hold of Verity as she tries to pass. Verity’s tall, but she’s skinny, so she looks more delicate than she actually is. She’s also a Knight’s daughter and Captain Agius taught both his daughters what to do if there were no Knights around to save them.

 

She swings her arm round, breaking his hold, then slamming the palm of her hand into his nose. The effect is instant. It explodes. Verity bolts or tries to as another one trips her and sends her flying with a “Fucking bitch!” 

 

She smacks down into the pavement and a shooting pain rachets up her arms with a horrible sick feeling. He straddles her as Verity ignores the pain in her arms to grab her book heavy bag and clouts him full in the face with it. The force throws him back a bit, enough for Verity to scramble forward enough to get her feet out from under him and kick him off.

 

She hauls herself to her feet, standing on her dress and nearly pulling herself back down, before she grabs the hem and runs.

 

The men don’t follow, just start grousing about the unfriendly little bitch and kicking her bag about.

 

The Pilgrim in blue jumps down. He’d been watching the fight, ready to cut in, but Verity had been handling herself well enough.

 

“Fuck off Luke Skywalker!” Snaps the one who’d grabbed Verity first in a very thick voice. His shirt is covered in blood and The Pilgrim can tell that nose is definitely broken as he slumps against the shop window.

 

“It’s another one of those medieval wierdos.” says the one going through Verity’s bag. He’s dumping all the books and cards out disgustedly. “No fucking purse.”

 

The Pilgrim watches him for a moment. “Pick those up.”

 

“Fucking make me, King Arthur,” he snarls, squaring up. Nine Hells, how much had these guys had to drink that they’re still fronting up when they’ve just had their asses kicked by a girl?

 

“That wish I’ll grant,” he says, walking up to him and punching him with the fist holding the sword in her saya. He follows it with a knee to the stomach and a roundhouse to the face. The tourist goes down like a ton of bricks and some teeth are lying on the cobbles.

 

The Pilgrim turns to the remaining man and cocks an eyebrow.

 

He hurriedly begins picking up the books and putting them back in the bag. When he’s finished, the tourist hands him the bag. The Pilgrim turns and vanishes.

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri.

 

 “Honestly, I think the younger one is the more likely candidate,” says Peter, passing the report to Supreme General Scerri.

 

“And you base this on?” he says in his cultured tones. He’s from an old Fortunese family, like everyone in this room, except Peter. “Surely not the fact you have a sweet spot for the elder one?”

 

Peter glares at Credo. Credo meets his look. “It’s not me who’s sweet on a sister.”

 

“Credo will not forget his duty to the Cause. His family have never failed Sparda or this Order yet,” points out Scerri.

 

“I merely seek to remove competition for her affection and keep the path clear for whichever Son of Sparda does come to the Island,” Peter says, calmly.

 

“As do I, with Verity,” replies Credo. He’s got a hard look on his face.

 

“You still find this distasteful, Credo?” asks Scerri.

 

“I do, My Lord, but it is a necessary sacrifice.” He pauses. “Considering the nature of what we’ll require the Agius girl to commit to, I think the older one is better. She’s more mature than the younger one and dare I say, more voluptuous. She’ll be more likely to conceive.”

 

Scerri pats his arm. “Excellent reasoning. When the time comes make it so.”

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon and Knight Credo Micellef

 

Knights Micellef and Falzon will court the Agius sisters to remove other suitors from their attention and will bow out when the time comes. Though either sister is suitable, Agrippina Agius is more suitable due to the likelihood of carrying a pregnancy to term.

 

Knight Falzon considers Verity more psychologically suitable due to her intelligence, quick wit and determination. Our Intelligence reports show that this meets the psychological profile of the woman that both Sons of Sparda will find attractive.

 

Supreme General Scerri has ordered that Agrippina’s name goes forward for when circumstances are right.

 

***

 

Verity does her best to slip into the house unseen. She really doesn’t want a fuss, she couldn’t tell who the tourists were and her hands and arms are killing her. She’s lost her books though and that bites. They weren’t all hers. Her skirt is ruined from rolling around on the street.

 

She sighs and puts it in her scrap bag. If she can’t fix it, she’ll turn it into something else. She’s missed dinner, but Mama says nothing to her and Papa is at the Castle. She wants to sew to calm her frayed nerves, but her hands hurt too much.

 

Verity stands in front of her mirror in her corset and chemise and drops her hair down. She brushes it out of its tight chignon and it waves gently to her waist. In the soft light of her bedroom, the waves shimmer and shine as she changes her position, trying to catch her best angle. As she turns she imagines she’s one of those exotic girls in their miniskirts and earrings. Her chemise and stays look a little like the gypsy look that one of the girls in the bar was wearing.

 

Verity doesn’t have tan lines, nothing shows enough to catch the sun, so her skin is still a pale cream. Her eyes are dark in the sharp planes of her face and in the soft light, she’s almost pretty, if she says so herself. She bites her lips a little to make them fuller and pinches her cheeks to put a little colour in them and even she has to admit, she could pass.

 

Verity is tall, but she moves like a newborn colt – all gangly, flailing legs. She has none of the easy grace of Pinny, sitting gracefully down at the table, sashaying along the street with a dancer’s grace. Pinny looks like a fine cut china doll. The features that in Pinny’s face are fine boned and delicate, in Verity are sharp and angular.

 

Verity’s always in motion, always burning with nervous energy. It’s the reason she stitches and deals cards. It stops her excess fire leaking out. Verity is too young to see that her beauty comes from the truth of who she is and who she’s meant to be. When she moves, when she speaks, her body is language. She’s soul and fire.

 

Not the china doll conformity of Pinny.

 

Sadly, it’s not something they’ll ever see in Fortuna.

 

Sighing, Verity loosens her stays and wriggles out of them. She breathes a sigh of relief as they stop constricting her chest, damned things. She hadn’t seen the Mainland girls wearing them and they had good figures. And Verity isn’t fat by any stroke of the imagination.

 

She doesn’t know why her mother insists on her wearing them.

 

There’s bruises forming on her arms and legs, but there’s no scrapes, her sleeves took the brunt of it. There’s giggling coming from the bedroom next door as Pinny imagines that no one can hear her sneaking out with her Knight.

 

Verity locks her door and dims her light and thinks about the music, loud and pulsating, they play in the new bars along the docks. She closes her eyes and starts to dance the way she had seen the beautiful girls with their hair loose and their skirts short. She can feel her hair brushing against the skin of her back and suddenly she’s aware of the cool night air from her open window settling on her skin. She keeps dancing.

 

It’s nothing like the elegant balls she’s attended with Mama and Papa, with their rigid, predetermined steps, but wild and sensual and natural as she loses her body and her senses in the act of the movement. Her steps get more abandoned as she twirls and lunges, shaking her hips and her hair to the beat in her head.

 

All the while the cool night air caresses her skin.

 

She thinks about the girls in their shiny dresses and their heels that made them look so elegant and Verity imagines what such a dress might feel like. She calls to mind a blue dress that she’d seen one of the Tourists wearing. It looked like it had been made of velvet and she knows what that feels like against her skin, soft and sleek and luxurious, like fur.

 

She imagines what it will feel like as she moves, stroking her body like a lovers’ caress and follows that impression with her hands. Verity feels a wetness between her legs as she moves and sensations start to flow out from there along her body. She keeps moving to the beat of the drum in her mind. It’s quickly starting to throb to that beat between her legs as Verity trails her fingers along her sensitive skin, drawing gasps and small moans from the pleasure remaining from the path of the trace.

 

Verity has a fantasy when she touches herself. It’s not just physical – she’s got a story to accompany her fingers swirling along her flesh. Normally, it’s Credo, though his features are slightly too severe to be handsome, piercing blue eyes, long black ponytail loosened in combat, and that uniform that fits him so well, the long lean legs in those form-fitting trousers and the jacket that glides around the muscles of his torso. She's seen what he's got to offer under that uniform when he's trained topless or swam out to the islands in the Bay. Verity knows what Credo feels like pressed up against her - she's danced with him often enough and they've stolen enough kisses at balls and parties. The only reason it's never gone further is Verity was too young for a dalliance. Besides, everyone has always known that for Credo, it was Courtship or nothing, where Verity is concerned. It's a saying in Fortuna that a man should fuck as well as he fights and a woman dances as well as she doxes. Pinny calls it all the Bs - Bedroom, Battlefield, Ballroom, Bedroom. She swears it's true when she's teasing Verity about Credo.

 

But tonight, it’s not him she’s thinking of. It’s icy blue eyes in a sharp face and a generous mouth just made for kissing. She can feel the cool night air hit the sweat on her body, feel it pooling in the dip of her stomach. He doesn’t speak, because she hasn’t heard his voice yet, just that hiss when he saw her cards, but it still sends a shiver down her spine when she thinks of it.

 

She’s trapped, in her fantasy, held prisoner, maybe at the Castle. She’s in the Master’s Bedroom, tied to the massive four poster they got there, writhing on the smooth sheets as she tries to escape. She’s only tied by her wrists, so she can still move around, but the binds hold her good and fast. Her hair’s loose and spread all over the pillows, dark and luxurious. Verity loves her beautiful thick dark hair, it’s easily her best feature.

 

She’s not naked, though, she’s wearing a long, blue silk dress, more like a nightgown than a dress, but she’d seen it in a magazine a Mainlander had left on a table and she kept it. She can feel it slipping over her stomach and her breasts, drawing her little nipples to peaks, shockwaves rippling out across her skin to join up with the waves running out from her throbbing core.

 

On her own bed, Verity arches her back and feels the sheets under her too-sensitive skin. She slides her fingertips lightly over her peaked nipples and oh-so-sensitive ribcage and down her stomach to her clit and squeezes her legs together, feeling a flash of lightness race over her body.

 

She uses the pressure to push her fingers harder onto her clit, covering her mouth with her free hand to hold her moans back.

 

In her head, Verity can hear sounds of combat, swords ringing and men’s grunts of effort. She can see him, a blue blur on the terrace outside, a silver flash followed by lines of red on the white uniforms of the Knights.

 

The door opens and he slowly walks in. The guards stationed at the fireplace have no time to even draw their swords before their heads roll.

 

He does that sharp intake of breath as he sees her bound and it goes right to her clit as in her real bed. Her fingers stroke and twist her little clit, just as she imagines his fingers in his gloves do. She doesn’t imagine him to be gentle and she isn’t with her squeezes that have her hips raising off the bed with bursts of pleasure that leave her lightheaded and her heart hammering in her chest.

 

He draws his sword and traces it up her body from her foot, trailing up her leg. She shivers, feeling the cold of the steel long after it’s left her skin. He carries the swords path up her hip and her side until he reaches her bound wrists and slices the ropes, freeing her.

 

Verity can feel she’s close and her hands are hurting too much to drag it out, so she opts to leave him dressed as she pulls him down on her. His gloved hands hold the back of her head, twisting in her hair as he presses those lips to hers and his tongue invades her mouth, sliding along the roof and making her moan into her pillow to muffle her ragged breathing. His lips work against hers and it’s not gentle.

 

Her legs wrap over his leather clad waist and his coat is warm under her thighs as she tries to thrust up against him. He’s unbuttoned the fly of his leather trousers and pulled out his thick shaft. She can sense it nudging against her vulva, ready for her command. Verity can feel the warm weight of him, pinning her to the bed as her hands cling to his shoulders.

 

His free hand roams over what he can reach of her body. His lips and tongue kiss patterns over her face and throat, always returning to her mouth, kisses getting harder and more frantic.

 

Verity’s just about to have him enter her, when a tidal wave builds up and breaks over her body, sending sparks flying across the back of her eyes. Her cunt pulses so much she can barely take it as her body convulses with each tight throb. She grips the pillow so hard her knuckles are white. She tries to push the orgasm as far as she can, but her little nub is so sensitive that it makes her cry out.

 

She dimly hears footsteps on the stairs and her door rattle. “Verity! Are you alright in there?”

 

“I’m fine, Papa! I stubbed my toe on my bed,” she calls back in a slightly breathy voice.

 

There’s a pause and Verity waits with bated breath to see if her father will demand to see her.

 

“I love you, Verity. Don’t forget that.” His voice sounds strange. She’s half-tempted to open the door, but she doesn’t want him seeing her like this, hair dishevelled, face flushed and eyes shining. “Go to bed. Your sister’s been there for a good hour now.”

 

“Yes, Papa,” she says as she rolls her eyes.

 

Verity pulls on her nightgown and falls into a sleep with dreams of the blue coated stranger with ice-blue eyes in a sharp face.

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon and Knight Credo Micellef

 

The Eldest Son of the Saviour is believed to be in Fortuna. All new requests to the Archive by males of the right age group are attached to Agrippina Agius. We will endeavour to allow a relationship to develop naturally. Captain Edward Agius has assented and will be promoted to General and the Committees of his choice in the result of a live heir.

Chapter Text

By the time Nero comes back down, Kyrie has told Violet everything about the last week, from what actually happened to her theories on things. Violet listens, mostly without interruption and only speaks to clarify the odd point. Even when Kyrie brings up Credo’s involvement, Violet doesn’t ask much and her face gives nothing away.

 

If Kyrie thought she was getting an explanation from Violet, she’s wrong. The door goes and Violet answers. It’s Ms Kye.

 

“I’ll get my bag,” she says turning back in, Ms Kye doesn’t follow.

 

“We’ll finish this tonight,” says Kyrie, finishing the last stitch. Violet looks at the blank jacket for a moment. Nero comes down in the trousers and boots at that point, regulation white shirt half buttoned. He’s found a black leather holster for Blue Rose. His hair is teased to perfection.

 

“Finish what?” He takes the jacket from Kyrie and puts it on. It’s almost like Credo’s been removed from it and it’s become just a jacket again. The literal changing of the guard.

 

“I’ve brought Violet up to speed. It’s her turn tonight.”

 

Violet nods, though she has no intention of revisiting this conversation and follows Ms Kye out to the car.

 

“How’d she take it?” Asks Nero. He’s found the matching black glove for his left hand and he’s glad that they’re actually part of the uniform.

 

“She was really quiet, but she knows way more than she’s saying.” Kyrie looks Nero over as he fixes himself. “You actually really suit it. You look like Credo used to when he was younger.”

 

Nero laughs. “I’m nothing like Credo was.”

 

“Why not? A Knight is sworn to Protect and Defend Those Who Cannot. You’ve done more than that,” replies Kyrie. She brushes imaginary lint off his shoulders and kisses him, sweetly. “All that white makes your eyes look bluer.”

 

Nero takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders as the Chimes for First Prayer ring out. “I’m meant to report to Falzon at First Prayer. Wish me luck.”

 

“He’d better not be expecting to see me.”

 

“Kyrie, you’re going to have to bite the bullet soon or it looks bad.” Nero sighs. She’s picked this hill to die on and he knows damn fine that there’s no getting her down from it. He fingers the angel pendant she hasn’t taken off in a week.  “Anġlu tal-qalb tiegħi, for me?”

 

“Tell him I’m finding it difficult to walk.”

 

Nero snorts and gives that little half quirk. “Kyrie, we have to play their game for now and usually you’re the one keeping me on the straight and narrow. Tomorrow, please?”

 

Kyrie sighs and glances away. “I don’t want to lie anymore to myself, Nero. I just want to be me.”

 

“And we will be. Just a little while longer.” He kisses her and rests his forehead against hers, looking into her eyes.

 

She gives a slight nod. “For you, Qalbi li tħabbat barra miegħi and only for you.”

 

“Thank you, teżor tiegħi,” he whispers as he reluctantly tears himself away.

 

As he shuts the door and walks towards the temporary Kapella, the feeling of dread that’s been with him all week settles back around him.

 

***

 

“Would you like to go straight to the labs or around the island?” asks Ms Kye.

 

“I’m not long back, so let’s go around the Island and see the damage,” replies Violet, fastening her belt.

 

“As you wish, Chief Alchemist.” Ms Kye sets off on the road. She drives well, avoiding the holes and the cracks. “If you wish me to stop or go back to something, let me know.”

 

“Why am I getting picked up? I could get myself there,” asks Violet. The City is wrecked, but drivable. “Is it this bad all over?”

 

“Once outside the City, it’s not too bad, but HQ is badly damaged.” Ms Kye doesn’t take her eyes from the road.

 

Violet sits silently as they drive. Ms Kye doesn’t look at her or talk to her.

 

“Why am I being driven? You didn’t answer that.”

 

“Lord Arius gave me orders to make your life easier so you can concentrate on your work,” replies Ms Kye. “Whatever you require, simply ask and I shall see to it.”

 

“I’m surprised I haven’t been requested to move into the labs.”

 

“Lord Arius considers the reason that Agnus was able to divert the resources he was due to his having no oversight or family life.” Ms Kye stops the car as a group of demons that look like toys made in a children’s art class waddle in front of it. “He prefers it that you have a family. Would you remain in the vehicle please? I will deal with this.”

 

Ms Kye picks up some blades from down the side of her seat and exits the car. Violet watches with interest as she throws some small throwing knives that appear to be conjured from nowhere at them. The first one recoils and bursts in a cloud of black soot as she skips over it in a tumble of heels and strikes the next one with her sais. She catches the sword arm and sparks fly where the contacts’ made. She rolls away from one creeping up behind her, slicing it as she jumps backward. There’s a thump as one makes it to the car. Violet simply continues to observe and make mental notes as Ms Kye throws one of the sais in a boomerang arc, taking three down at once. Ms Kye is a blur of motion as she takes down all of the demons, never seeming to use the same move twice.

 

The one at the car continues to pound, but Ms Kye’s attention is taken up elsewhere as one comes up behind her.

 

It hasn’t started on the window yet and Violet watches it in the side mirror. She raises her left hand at her shoulder, never looking behind her. Her bracelet shines with a blue aura that flows out over her and it’s not unlike Nero’s Devil Trigger. She opens her hand wide and it looks like she’s concentrating intensely.

 

A ball of blue aura surrounds the scarecrow as it continues to whale on the car. Violet gives a small half smile that’s the mirror of Nero’s and shuts her hand tight. The aura contracts and crushes the hapless demon into a sphere the size of a tennis ball.

 

Violet makes a small tossing motion and the sphere smashes on the road in a cloud of soot. Ms Kye takes care of the last demon and walks back to the car. She gets back in the drivers seat and belts up before starting the engine. She carries on driving as if nothing had happened.

 

“Are you natural or created?” Violet asks eventually. There’s nothing behind it other than a scientist’s curiosity.

 

“Created.” Ms Kye answers matter of factly and continues to drive.

 

“What race, because you feel like a demon to me, but I don’t think you’re one of mine,” continues Violet.

 

“Demon, I was created in Ouroboros Labs proper, using techniques you developed under Agnus,” replies Ms Kye. “It does seem that you are responsible for many of the advances that Agnus was credited for.”

 

“Agnus was a man of great talent,” Violet says, careful to defend her former boss. “His research opened the door to many possibilities.”

 

“His research diverted resources that were not his to projects that have severely dented UO’s productivity and competitiveness,” Ms Kye responds as if she’s presenting a meeting. “In every team there is someone who holds the people together to keep them working for the common goal. You were identified as that person within the Order Alchemy division. The reports and presentations submitted under his name were written by you, according to our analysis. You have the hard and soft skills required to keep the Division running through and past this time. Fortuna would have been mothballed were it not for your expertise. That may still happen.”

 

“That would be disastrous for the island, especially with this nonsense.” Violet fiddles with the rings she can’t get used to wearing. “We’ve had enough problems keeping people here as it is. Could you stop here, for a moment?”

 

Ms Kye does exactly that, obeying Violet instantly and without question.

 

Violet gets out the car and Ms Kye with her. HQ has come into focus and Violet stares at the building. HQ B is wrecked. She’s known it would be bad, as the Advent Chamber would have been obliterated. But near enough the whole building’s gone. She stares briefly at where the top floor used to be, her eyes resting on a certain spot. It’s blink and you’ll miss it.

 

“As you can see,” says Ms Kye. “You have a large task ahead of you.”

 

The labs are even worse. Equipment, papers and records are everywhere. Flies circle the cracked cases of dead Knights and Angelos lie in heaps of armour everywhere. Glass and electronics crunch underfoot. The smell is horrendous.

 

“How bad is the Castle facility?” asks Violet of Ms Kye. Even the demon finds the smell awful.

 

“Just as bad.”

 

“Why hasn’t clean up already begun?” Violet is already making assessments as she looks around her.

 

“The Facility is short on high enough level staff to make accurate risk assessments. You are one of the few people left at this level,” replies Ms Kye. “How might I serve you?”

 

“I take it the rescue crews didn’t go through here?”

 

“They were told of environmental hazards – health and safety reasons.” Ms Kye stands like a butler, Violet thinks.

 

Violet looks across to her. “Organise a clear out crew of Knights and Sorcerers. I want Power Users on hand if we encounter resistance. Once both facilities are cleared, we’ll look at the damage and how it will be fixed.”

 

Ms Kye begins to tap on her pad. “I’ll make the necessary requests to Lord Arius. I imagine it will take around a day to arrange.” 

 

“We have Knights here. It’s simply power users I’ll need,” Violet flinches as a machine falls off the wall. “I’ll worry about construction crews when we’ve got this sorted. I’ll need to get into the Records Room as soon as possible and see about the files.” 

 

“We will aim for the server room first,” says Ms Kye. “And I don’t believe you have power users on staff. I imagine Lord Arius would prefer to send you his own people.”

 

“Many of Agnus’ records were never on PC or at least not on the server. He was paranoid about his research falling into the wrong hands,” says Violet, carefully. “It’s not how I will run things, but under Agnus I had no say. I’ll also need alchemists to categorise the files as we find them, so I’m going to need to know the state of the personnel as soon as possible.”

 

“Of course, I will make the arrangements.” Ms Kye taps more into her tablet.

 

Violet watches her for a moment. “Ms Kye, whom do you work for? Myself or UO?”

 

Ms Kye raises her head in an almost birdlike fashion and regards Violet in much the same way. “We both work for UO.”

 

“That we do. But those are not always compatible.” Violet steps into Ms Kye’s space. It doesn’t intimidate the demon, but it does send the message that the human isn’t intimidated either. “So, whom do you serve? Who holds your Name?”

 

“I serve Lord Arius. But he has instructed me to serve you in any way you see fit.” There is a small measure of deference in her voice, but the rest of her demeanour is steadfastly neutral.

 

“So you’re bound over to me?”

 

“Yes, Madam.” Ms Kye goes unnaturally still. It’s like she’s been carved from stone. “In all respects, I am your Creature.”

 

“Tell Lord Arius I want that power user team here by this afternoon.”

 

Ms Kye steps away so she can make a slight bow. She’s told Violet everything she needs to know by that small act. Whoever created her is very, very traditional and they’ve obeyed all the correct forms for a demon who’s never seen the inside of Hell.

 

***

 

Nero is sure he’s died and gone to Hell.

 

He makes it to First Prayer within the final few chimes. There’s standing room only, so he stays at the back with a bunch of his age cohort in the Knights. He doesn’t stand out in the sea of white uniforms, even with his white hair. He can see Falzon watching out for him down the front row, with a scowl on his face.

 

General Agius steps forward to take the Prayers and offer a short sermon to inspire everyone to go through their day.

 

Nero doesn’t pay much attention to what’s being said, but wishes he could listen to his headphones, but they’re long since gone. Shame, they were sweet and they cost a bomb when he’d gone to get that last devil arm from that museum. He unconsciously pulls at his collar. He hates things at his throat and feels like it’s choking him.

 

He feels the nudge in his ribs and shoots an annoyed “What’s your damage, Josh?” at the nudger. The other Knight gives a quick nod towards Falzon, who looks like he wants to stab him. “What’s his damage? You steal his scone?”

 

“Fuck knows,” murmurs Nero. “But you just know he wants a piece of this pretty ass.”

 

Josh Agius sniggers just as there’s a lull between prayers. Falzon’s face goes from pissed off to murderous.

 

Nine Fucking Hells.

 

After First Prayer, all of the ordinary townspeople filter out while the Knights remain. The Kapella has become their HQ A as The Committee for the Protection of the Faith feels that having a visible symbol of the Order within the Town will make the Fortunese population feel reassured and protected as the town is being rebuilt and there are still demons out there that are still a risk to Fortuna, particularly as the rescue workers are leaving.

 

They have a quick prayer before daily assignments are handed out. The younger cohort are being paired up to patrol round town – Fortuna has no police force proper, that’s what the Knights are for, while older, more experienced Knights are sent up to the Castle, where there’s more admin and planning to be taken care of.

 

Nero stands next to Josh, having a quiet banter with him. “So when you coming home? I miss you, pupu.”

 

“You miss nicking my hair wax,” replies Nero. “Or is it my body?”

 

“Yah big stud, all hot and sweaty after training. I’m going to challenge Kyrie to a duel for your sweet, sweet dudu.” Josh pinches Nero’s ass.

 

Nero jumps.

 

Don’t you have anything better to do than make crude comments?

 

 “Kyrie’s got no complaints, dude.” Nero says smugly, and stamps on Josh’s foot. His yelp is audible all the way down the front.

 

“Knight Agius and Knight Balzan – while I hate to get in the way of your true love, we do have work to do,” says General Agius. “Are you ready to patrol or – “

 

“I must interrupt you there, my Lord Agius,” says Falzon. “Clearly Knight Balzan is wasted on mundane duties and would only cause Knight Agius embarrassment as he tried to keep up. I need a personal assistant and I couldn’t think of anyone better than you, Knight Balzan.”

 

Nero looks to the Heavens in askance, as Josh mutters, “Sorry, dude.”

 

“S’ok,” Nero replies as he slowly moves down to Falzon. Seriously, dude, #justshootme.

 

No. Wait, this is Fortuna. #juststabme.

 

Serves you right for your nonsense. Now buckle under and make it believable.

 

“Yes, Dad,” Nero replies, sarcastically.

 

The voice says nothing for a moment.

 

Don’t get cocky.

 

Falzon looks at Nero like he’s lower than the worms Josh was joking about. His eyes flare at the slight bulge of Blue Rose under the jacket, but he says nothing. He salutes General Agius and smartly turns on his heel. Nero has to rush to keep up.

 

Damn, but he’s fast.

 

The day passes in a blur of meetings and standing to attention  - arms behind his back, legs just past shoulder-width apart, stand ram-rod straight for hours on end looking at the wall, but ready to spring to Falzon’s attendance at a second’s notice, at Falzon’s right shoulder, one metre back – Sparda’s balls, does the Order have a protocol for everything? – running for this and running for that.

 

Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full sir, Godspit and shit sir.

 

 Falzon must have a finger in every pie in the Order and on Fortuna. Even when he’s not in a meeting, there’s constant calls and paperwork and Nero’s there for all of it.

 

Even Nero’s got to admit the man’s got some stamina. Falzon isn’t old – mid forties, maybe and he’s clearly packing some muscle under that uniform. He moves like a dancer, light on his feet, but strong. He carries daggers where Nero has a gun. It’s not standard Knight uniform – Credo never had a second blade and he can’t think of any Knights that do and openly display them.

 

Falzon sees Nero looking and nods at him, then points at the wall. He stifles the sigh and turns his gaze back to the paintings on the wall of the previous Sanctus and Credo.

 

He’s got an aura of power around him. Not just from his position, but the quiet confidence of a man who can handle anything that life throws at him. His face is thin, hawkish, eyes constantly watching and assessing. He’s the kind of man that misses nothing. There’s several scars down his face from past battles that do nothing to diminish his presence.

 

Falzon is one of those people who works so hard, he forgets to eat, which means Nero doesn’t eat either. It’s nearly four before Falzon realises and has a simple lampuki sent up, with coffee.

 

The smell is torture, but to his surprise, Falzon sets out two plates and two mugs. He doesn’t look at Nero as he invites him to sit opposite him. Nero waits for a moment, unsure if he heard him right. “Knight Balzan, are you not hungry?”

 

“I guess…yes, My Lord,” he says as his stomach growls and the hunger’s as painful as a punch to the gut. He still doesn’t move though. He doesn’t trust Falzon, doesn’t trust it not to be a trick.

 

“Nero,” says Falzon, softly and indicates the chair opposite him.

 

Nero stiffly breaks stance and tries to stretch without being seen. He sits a little too heavily in the proffered chair. Falzon dishes out the pie and pours the coffee, before asking Nero if he would like to say a prayer of thanks for the food. It throws Nero for a moment before the voice in his head says the traditional Fortunese prayer nirringrazzjawkom għall-ikel li ġie pprovdut u l-idejn li ħejjew l-ikel. jista 'jsostni u jsaħħaħ il-korpi, l-imħuħ u l-erwieħ tagħna għall-provi li ġejjin. It prompts Nero to recite it after him. He manages to hide that he’s shocked that the voice knows it. It’s not like Kyrie and he ever bother with it.

 

“I didn’t have you down as a man of tradition,” says Falzon approvingly. He taps Nero’s plate with his fork. “Eat. You should know that a soldier should eat whenever he has a chance, because he doesn’t know that he’ll get the chance again.”

 

It’s hard for Nero to eat slowly, as Falzon is doing. Falzon eats as if each bite was a religious experience, putting his fork down between bites, savouring the flavours on his tongue. Nero doesn’t have quite that level of self-control, but at least he doesn’t inhale the food like he normally would. It’s still torturous to go this slowly, but he forces himself. Falzon looks like he’s lost in the seemingly ecstatic experience of dinner, but Nero’s not fooled. The bastard could hear a fish jump at sea.

 

“So, what’s your impressions of your first day?” asks Falzon.

 

Nero silently curses him. They’re not even halfway through the meal.

 

Play along, you fool.

 

Nero sets his cutlery down and schools his face into what he hopes is a neutral expression. He takes a deep breath as he plays for time. “It’s been hard. I’m not used to standing about for that long.”

 

“Credo should have taken you in hand a long time ago,” says Falzon. “We’d be further along than we are. He’s done you no favours.”

 

Nero says nothing.

 

“We’ll rectify that though, I think we’ll have enough time and you seem to be a quick study,” Falzon takes another bite of the pie. Nero has to admit it is delicious. Maybe not as good as Kyrie would make, but more than enough. “You’ve not missed many cues when I needed your attention.”

 

Nero doesn’t answer. He chances a sip of his coffee and rolls it on his tongue. It’s one of the finer blends, bitter, but smooth and deep. It’s got a strong caramel taste. Credo used to drink it and Nero knows it’s bloody expensive – Violet used to bitch about how much it cost.

 

“You seem surprised by the coffee,” says Falzon, watching him like a hawk watches a rabbit.

 

Watch yourself.

 

“No, my Lord, I’m just enjoying it. It’s been a long day and I’m not used to the duties, so the coffee is hitting the spot.” Nero hopes that’s the right answer and rolls his shoulders for emphasis.

 

Falzon smiles briefly. “We’ll fix that over the coming days and weeks. I know you think I’m being  - how you youngsters say? – a hard-ass, but it’s only because I see great promise in you and I want to you to fulfil it.”

 

“This’ll be the bit where he tells me I remind him of himself when he was younger,” thinks Nero.

 

Most likely.

 

“I know when I’m being spun a line of bullshit,” replies Nero.

 

Good. Bear it in mind for the future.

 

Falzon’s waiting for Nero to say something. He makes up for his stumble by looking Falzon right in the eyes without any trace of irony. “Thank you, my Lord. I’ll try my best to learn from you.” He drops his gaze down to the lampuki.  It’s so hard to push down his natural impulses and his smart mouth.

 

Impressive. You’re learning already.

 

“Good, Knight Balzan, I’m glad.” Falzon leans back in his chair and sips his coffee. “I’m where I am today because Sanctus took me under his wing. He saw something in me. I fought it hard at first – who the hell did he think he was, but he was right. It’s one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but he tempered me, moulded and refined me. He wasn’t Sanctus then, of course, but he was Supreme General Scerri.”

 

“I wasn’t aware of this, General Falzon.” Nero actually looks like he’s genuinely interested.

 

“I was like you – smart mouth, issues with authority, no respect for anyone or anything. Raw energy with no direction or precision. No finesse. But we’ll work on that. We’ll need young men like you in the difficult Time to Come.” He has another bite of the Lampuki. “It’s the simple things that matter, Nero. You’ll find that out as you get older. Good food, a good woman and doing the work of Our Lord.”

 

“I already have a good woman, My Lord,” says Nero, uneasily.

 

“So you do. Micellef, a fine old Fortunese family. She more than makes up for your questionable origins, so you won’t pass that shame onto your children.”

 

It’s hard, but Nero controls his anger. It helps that the wave of cold fury that’s not his is drawn back quickly. He has a flash of Yamato sending Falzon’s head bouncing across the room, but it would be a shame to waste the lampuki. 

 

“My own mother was a prostitute also, touting her wares down the docks for a sailor’s coin. I saw things no child should, so at least you were spared that,” continues Falzon. “But I was an outcast, and that made for an angry young man.”

 

Nero nods thoughtfully.

 

“We’ll talk again, Knight Balzan. You are dismissed.” Falzon goes back to his work.

 

Nero stands, clasps his hands and bows. “May the Saviour be with you.”

 

***

 

Nero’s waiting at the shuttle stop for the bus back to the Town when the voice speaks again, almost cautiously. He’s not wrong. You could learn a lot from Falzon, if you wish to.

 

I wasn’t much for studying at school, Nero replies.

 

The man holds the power of life and death over you and you’re cracking jokes. You’re nearly as bad as my brother and that takes some practice.

 

“Who are you?” Nero asks in exasperation. The other people at the stop turn and look at him. Nero holds a finger in his ear and takes out his phone. “Bluetooth,” and the others nod and turn away. He wonders how many have the discouraged tech hiding under their hijabs.

 

Nero’s phone starts ringing and some of the other people giggle. The voice is laughing.

 

Flustered, Nero nearly drops his phone as he answers. “Hey.”

 

“Hey Kid, how’s it going? Figured you’d been radio silent long enough.” Dante’s light tones almost dance down the wire.

 

“Yeah, it’s been …eventful.” Nero begins to walk away from the bus-stop.

 

It feels too good to hear Dante’s voice.

 

The walk down is only around an hour, but Nero doesn’t want any eavesdroppers and anyway, after a day of standing around, it feels good to be in motion. He gives Dante the cliff notes for the week he’s been having, but leaves out the mystery voice in his head.

 

Dante’s quiet for a moment, but Nero can hear him talking to Gloria in the background. There’s a noise as the handset is picked back up and Dante’s voice is clear again. “There’s nothing much happening here right now and you keep telling me how good a cook that girl of yours is, so I figure we can take a break. After all, you’ve had an earthquake. Holidays will be dirt cheap to get the tourists back.

 

“Y’know, when I asked if I’d see you again, I didn’t mean next week.” But he’s smiling.

 

“Tough shit.” And he just knows that Dante is smiling too.

 

Chapter Text

Fortuna two decades ago

 

The bruising on Verity’s hands and arms has come out now and they’re swollen enough to make fine movement difficult. She’s clumsy all through breakfast. Mama doesn’t notice and looks like she’s been crying.

 

Papa notices, though and takes her hands, turning then to and fro. “What happened to you?”

 

“I tripped on my hem coming out of the Opera House at Third Prayer.” Verity says, pulling her hands back. “I don’t think I’ve broken them.”

 

“You should have said last night and we would have taken you to the doctor,” replies Papa. “You girls are precious and I need to take care of you.”

 

“I’m fine, Papa, truly,” says Verity. She looks at Pinny and says wickedly, “You need to worry about Pinny. She looks so tired. She’s clearly not getting enough sleep.”

 

Pinny gives Verity a murderous look. “It was just hot last night, Papa and I found it difficult to sleep.”

 

“And yet you went to bed so early last night. Mama and I will just have to keep a close eye on you.” Papa takes Verity’s toast and spreads the butter on it for her. “And you need to eat more. You’re like a rake.”

 

“Thank you, Papa,” Verity replies drily.

 

“So what do you young ladies have planned for today?” Asks Papa.

 

“Verity has a research project to enhance her magical skills and I have a Pilgrim who’s paid for an exclusive Tutor. He’s paid for a month, with an option for further, should his studies require it.” Pinny steals the last slice of toast, sticking her tongue out at Verity. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her notebook, flicking through some of the pages. “Ah, here, we go – a Mr Tony Redgrave.”

 

The Chimes for First Prayer are ringing out and Papa walks them as far as the Archive. Papa is about to take his leave of them, when he hugs them just a little longer than he normally would. “I can’t help but think, you are both growing up so fast. Soon, you’ll be courting, marrying, children. It’s all gone by so fast.”

 

“I might be courting soon, Papa, but I fear you’ll be waiting a lot longer on Verity. If not for her hair, she’d be taken for a boy,” Pinny says, impishly.

 

“Your sister moves faster than you, Pinny, for Credo Micellef has already asked me what manner of Courting Gift she’d find suitable,” says Papa. “What say you, Verity?”

 

“I should say no gift at all,” retorts Verity, hotly. “If he should send me all Sparda’s magic in a pendant, I should send it straight back. I will never entertain Credo Micellef as a suitor and none of your grandchildren will carry his name. I promise you that!”

 

“Why, Vee, harsh words! Did he steal your scone?” teases Pinny.

 

“Pinny, now stop taunting your sister,” admonishes Papa, seeing Verity’s face looking darker and darker. “Go in now, both of you and work hard. But first, kiss your Papa.”

 

Both girls smile and kiss him on the cheek. Captain Agius watches them both run in. Some young men in Pilgrims Robes walk past him and he wonders which one is Tony Redgrave. He takes a deep breath and hurries to First Prayer, walking past a young man carrying a bookbag with VA and white and purple flowers embroidered on it.

 

They pay each other no mind.

 

***

 

Verity is sitting at the reception desk, ostensibly reading and making notes for her studies.

 

What she’s actually doing is willing the books Pinny’s reshelving back off the shelf and onto the cart. She’s timing herself to see how long it takes each book and whether it floats or apports and keeping a tally of which.

 

Pinny hasn’t caught on yet. She just keeps checking the clock for her appointment. So far she’s put each book back four times.

 

The Pilgrim is in the Archive, but he’s observing for a little while. He’s mostly observing Verity. He’s worked out her ploy with the books and he’s curious to see how she handles herself when she’s the aggressor. He’s got time to kill, even though he’s late for his appointment. He’s paying for it. They can damn well wait for him.

 

He’s also intrigued that she’s openly Power Wielding. He didn’t think a place like this would allow it. That or she doesn’t care. He has the idea it’s the latter.

 

The doors open at the other end of the hall and he sees a young Knight stride down to the desk with a small nosegay of white and purple flowers. He stops in front of the desk.

 

Verity makes no indication that’s she’s noticed him, at least none that a human would see.

 

The Pilgrim notices though, the slight tensing, the very subtle tilt of her head to listen.

 

“Miss Agius,” says the Knight, affection warm in his voice and his face.

 

Verity turns to Credo. “Can I help you, Knight Micellef?”

 

“I was wondering when you would be able to break for coffee,” he says.

 

“Are you not on patrol? Surely Knight Falzon is waiting for you?” replies Verity.

 

He’s impressed that she isn’t looking to anyone for help. He’s seen other women in similar situations begin to look wildly around, but not her. 

 

“Captain Agius has sent me on an errand. I have a little time before I need to return,” says Credo. He holds out the posy.  “I saw these and thought of you. I’m told that violets are your favourite flowers.”

 

The Pilgrim looks down at the bag and the flowers embroidered on it. They are, indeed, violets.

 

“Sadly, I have nowhere to put them, as you can see, my desk is covered in books,” replies Verity.

 

“I can watch the desk for a little while. I’m waiting on this Tony Redgrave anyway,” Pinny says as she comes over.

 

At the mention of his name, Tony looks up, just as Verity looks past Credo to him.

 

Their eyes meet and both of them think just one thing.

 

Finally.

 

Tony walks over and introduces himself, adding, “I found this bag in the street after Third Prayer and I recognised it as belonging to the young woman I was sitting next to.”

 

“Thank you. I must have dropped it when I fell and forgot it with the shock,” Verity replies smoothly as she takes it from him.

 

“You wouldn’t be Agrippina Agius, if the initials are VA,” says Tony. “I’m her Pilgrim Student, but I wonder if it’s not too late to have you as my tutor. I had to go through your bag to find any identification and I think our interests will align better.”

 

“I don’t see any problem with it,” says Verity, looking at Pinny, who shakes her head.

 

Credo cuts in and there’s a look of alarm on his face. “Absolutely not. Our Archivists have an extremely tight schedule and once their projects are decided, it really can’t be deviated from. I do apologise, but I must insist that you use Pinny, as has been previously arranged.”

 

“And yet, she has enough time for coffee with you,” Tony says, drily and not a little mockingly.

 

Credo clenches his jaw and a muscle works in it. “I must insist that you avail yourself of the young lady chosen to assist you.”

 

“Knight Micellef, are you alright?” asks Pinny. “It really doesn’t matter which one of us tutors him and Verity’s more than able to keep up with her training.”

 

“Besides, it’s not for you to arrange my schedule, Knight Micellef,” snaps Verity. “It’s not for you to arrange my anything. Now, leave me!”

 

“But at least take the flowers. I got them for you,” says Credo, managing to be both crestfallen and flustered.

 

Verity looks at Credo with murder in her eyes. “Get. Out.”

 

A look of fury passes over Credo’s face before he turns on his heel and storms out.

 

He walks to the café where he’d hoped to take Verity and sits down heavily on a chair, heart thumping and runs a hand over his face.

 

“Fuck.”

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri

 

Peter actually laughs. He wipes tears from his eyes as Credo stands indignantly over him.

 

“I should have made a bet,” Peter almost sobs. He’s rocking with laughter.

 

“Control yourself, Peter. Such mocking is unbecoming when you call each other friend,” Supreme General Scerri, rebukes them gently, but it’s enough.

 

“I’m sorry, Credo. I know your Courting Suit is genuine. I’m sorry she didn’t accept it,” says Peter, seriously.

 

“What are your orders, My Lord?” asks Credo.

 

Scerri strokes his beard and considers the options. “It’s a clear preference, you say?”

 

“It seems so. He walked right past Pinny to get to Verity. Dismissed her outright,” replies Credo.

 

“He may yet change his mind,” says Peter.

 

“I doubt it. You didn’t see how they looked at each other,” grouses Credo. He sounds miserable.

 

“Well, Credo, I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” says Scerri, leaning over to pat his hand. “Once she’s with child and Vergil Sparda leaves her, your Courting Suit will be accepted then, regardless of Verity’s view on the matter. You’ll get the girl in the end.”

 

“And the honour of calling the Heir to the Saviour, a Micellef,” points out Peter.

 

Credo smiles. “I’ll raise a fine Son of Fortuna.”

 

“Just remember, I’m your best man,” grins Peter.

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon and Knight Credo Micellef

 

Vergil Sparda has thwarted our efforts to pair him with Pinny Agius and instead has formed an attraction for Verity Agius. Whilst we have concerns over her ability to conceive, we must continue on the path, lest we alert the Son of Sparda to our plan.

 

Every opportunity for them to be together will be provided.

 

Knight Falzon will remain attached to Pinny, who is now our alternate. Knight Micellef will continue to oversee Vergil Sparda and Verity Agius. Supreme General Scerri has ruled that once The Son of Sparda has left the Island (we do not see him caring that he has left a young girl with child) Knight Micellef will wed Miss Agius and provide a suitable upbringing for the child.

 

***

 

“So, Mr Redgrave, do you have a plan for your studies or would you prefer to follow your own path and see where it leads you?” Asks Verity. She’s actually shocked she’s keeping her calm and her professionalism, though as she reminds herself, in the future she’ll face many situations that will impose similar requirements on her.

 

Undoubtedly, they will be less pleasant.

 

Nine Hells, but he’s gorgeous. She catches Pinny’s eye over Tony’s shoulder and her sister gives Verity the thumbs up.

 

“A combination of the above, I should imagine. I’m not yet sure where my studies will lead,” he replies in accented Fortunese. He has a soft voice, but it’s the only soft thing about him.

 

“I can speak English, if you’re more comfortable with that,” she says.

 

Tony has taken off his robe and draped it neatly over the chair. “I understand lots of languages. Fortunese is fine.”

 

“Do you have an ear for language then?” she asks.

 

“It would seem so, growing up in the house I did. Human language…” Tony pauses for a moment, gauging Verity’s reaction, considering how much he should open up to the young woman before him. Something about her tells him that she’s different from the others and Tony trusts his instincts.

 

Verity caught his eye for a reason and Tony believes in his Destiny.

 

“…and Demon tongues.” Tony continues, watching Verity’s reaction intently. It’s almost if he’s testing her, like there’s more riding on this than there really is.

 

Dark brown eyes meet ice blue as Verity gives a small sideways quirk of her lips. “That will widen your studies somewhat.”

 

Tony doesn’t look away from her, even as he smiles his own deadly little predator smile. “I may need to extend my stay then. Would you be available?”

 

“I’m sure that can be arranged. I’m one of the few here who is fluent in Demon languages, so there’ll most likely be a high price to pay for my services.” There’s almost…challenge in her tone and the look in her eyes.

 

“I’m sure I can meet it,” he replies, amused and not a little intrigued. If he was testing her, she’s passed.

 

“Well then,” Verity says, sitting back in her chair. Neither has realised they’ve leaned in towards each other. She gives that little twisted smile again and Tony can’t take his eyes from her mouth. “This could be fun.”

 

“So, where do we start?” Tony asks and it’s almost like they’re duellists in a tourney dancing round each other, sizing the other up.

 

“Wherever you’d like,” she smiles, not a little saucily and Tony realises there’s no almost in any of this. “But I’d suggest a guided tour first.”

 

“That would seem wise. Let me get a feel for the island,” agrees Tony, leaning back in towards Verity. She unconsciously mirrors him. Their arms are on the table alongside each other, forming a barrier between them and the room and they’re giving each other their undivided attention.

 

“I find it’s best to start a study partnership that way,” says Verity. “Lets each party see if they can form a working relationship.”

 

“I somehow doubt that will be an issue,” replies Tony.

 

“And the day is far too nice to spend sitting in a dusty library,” says Verity, firmly.

 

“Education is never a waste,” protests Tony.

 

“Get your robe, Mr Redgrave,” she says, standing up. “Your education is about to begin.”

 

She walks off and doesn’t wait for him, leaving him scrambling to grab his things and get after her.

 

It’s not something Tony’s used to.

 

***

 

“Fortuna began 500 years ago,” Verity begins, turning on the spot in the Opera House Plaza, arms wide to encompass the whole City.

 

Tony watches her spin, amused. He’d thought it would be irritating, but he’s drawn in by her enthusiasm for her subject, as well as her unorthodox delivery.

 

“The demons were terrorising Malta, all of the armies occupying her at that point, both Christian and Muslim stopped fighting each other and banded together to defeat the demons. But the demons were too powerful and so a hundred of the families from Malta and their vassals and the Knights of St John who owned the Island fled to another island that was believed to be uninhabited, but for the monster.”

 

She’s perfectly balanced on the edge of the fountain while she declaims this. It’s even more impressive because she’s constantly moving and gesturing while she speaks. Her skin can’t contain all her energy.

 

“They landed on the beach and found the area to be perfect for rebuilding their Town. At first there was peace for the first time in years for the Maltese, who called their new home Fortuna, because of their good luck in finding it.”

 

She gathers her skirts and jumps onto the second level of the fountain. She still doesn’t end up in the water.

 

“How do you do that?” wonders Tony aloud.

 

“Mr Redgrave, you’re paying good coin for my skills – do you not wish to see your money well spent?” Verity says, mock seriously.

 

Tony gracefully backflips up beside her and he’s gratified to see she looks impressed. He’s careful to land far enough away that she doesn’t overbalance, but close enough that he can pretend he is and grab her hand.

 

Verity winces and he drops it with an apology.

 

He doesn’t ask how she did it. He motions for her to carry on.

 

“But there was a reason the stories said there was a monster on the island,” she says dramatically.

 

“Sparda?” Tony says as he cocks an eyebrow.

 

“Really, Mr Redgrave, must you keep interrupting? I fear it will be a long tale if you persist!” Verity scolds him, but she’s smiling and Tony is finding himself smiling back.

 

“I’ll either have to extend my stay or you’ll have to get to the point quicker,” Tony replies.

 

“Which would you prefer?” she teases, coquettishly.

 

Tony throws her a coin and in her surprise, Verity does lose her balance.

 

She topples off the fountain, towards the pavement. Tony doesn’t think, flash stepping towards her fast enough that he grabs her mid fall. They land gracelessly in a tangle of limbs on the slabs below, shocked but unharmed.

 

They both sit there for a moment, until they get their breath back. “Am I given to understand then, that the coin was payment for me to continue, Mr Redgrave?”

 

Tony’s actually speechless for a moment. Then he bursts out laughing and her eyes sparkle under her hijab.

 

Verity caught his eye for a reason, Fate, Destiny, Cupid with his damned arrows, because Godspit and shit, that’s the moment when Verity Agius catches Tony Redgrave’s heart in both hands. Everything that follows, because a young woman with a quick wit and sharp mind, burning with soul and fire, didn’t catch a coin.

 

 ***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri

 

Credo watches Verity and Tony from the Opera House and knows he’s lost.

 

Supreme General Scerri sees where Credo is looking and places a comforting hand on the shoulder of his Assistant. “Don’t forget, Credo. You’ll be the last man standing. She’ll come to love you in time.”

 

“Yes, My Lord,” he replies, even while thinking she won’t.

 

“Go home, Credo. Take the next few days off. There’s no need for you to torture yourself,” says the Supreme General.

 

Credo nods, clasps his hands and bows. He leaves without saying a further word.

 

“Peter,” says Scerri and Peter steps out of the shadows.

 

“Yes, My Lord?” He comes to stand beside the Supreme General. They watch the couple fail several times to stand up because they’re in fits of laughter. Even when they do stand up, Tony seems reluctant to drop Verity’s hand and she’s in no rush to remove it.

 

“I’m delighted with the insight you’ve shown on this matter. I want you to know that I find your judgement has been invaluable.” He turns to Peter.

 

“Thank you, My Lord. I live to serve.” Peter bows his head. “I know you say Credo will do his duty…”

 

“Heaven hath no Rage, as Love to Hatred turned and Hell hath no Fury, as a Credo scorned,” quotes Scerri. “You believe that he would?”

 

“I do, My Lord. At best, I believe he’ll selectively ignore orders and worst, actively defy them,” says Peter.

 

“And that is why I have you, Peter,” says Scerri, putting his arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “You have my permission to do anything and everything you have to do to make Our Saviour’s Heir be born.”

 

“Yes, My Lord.” Peter inclines his head. “I will be ruthless in my task.”

 

“Oh, I know you will and you will be well-rewarded when the child is born. Captain Agius has also agreed that when he accepts Credo’s Courting Suit, he will accept yours for Pinny. But only Pinny, am I clear on this, Peter?” Scerri turns to look Peter directly in the eye and the Knight knows better than to argue.

 

“Pinny always was my personal preference, My Lord.” He pauses. “One thing concerns me. We’re relying on teenage hormones running over ingrained moral codes. Verity has been well-raised. I don’t like leaving it to chance like this.”

 

Scerri strokes his beard. “I heed your point and that is why I give you free reign to achieve our goals. And as for the other matter, my dear boy, we need to move quickly once we have that Heir. Are you sure you wish to commit such treason?”

 

“It’s better for Fortuna that you be Sanctus when the time comes and that time needs to come sooner, rather than later. If I do it, at least I know it’ll be done right,” replies Peter, firmly.

 

“As long as we understand one another, Peter.”

 

“We do, My Lord. We do.”

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon

 

Knight Falzon was correct in assessment of the correct pairing re Vergil Sparda and Verity Agius.

 

They have now met and appear to be forming an attraction towards each other. It would appear to be the first time the Son of Sparda has felt this way, as he’s slightly out of the character that our Intelligence Unit has led us to believe he has, however, this can be attributed to his attraction to Miss Agius.

 

Knight Falzon has been given consent to do whatever is necessary to achieve the mission, if Nature takes too long to take her course.

Chapter Text

“How was your day?” Kyrie’s going round the table trying to get a conversation going. She’s still in her jammies as she sets down handmade pizza for her and Nero and a ratatouille for Violet. Violet looks longingly at the pizza.

 

“Shit. I’m Falzon’s personal slave, so I stand at his ass all day while he takes meetings. He doesn’t eat, so neither do I. I’m fucking starving, my feet are killing me and I hate this goddamn uniform, it’s strangling me and I’m fucking starving.”

 

“You’ve spilled – is that lampuki sauce- on it.” Kyrie peers at the stain.

 

Nero looks down. “Empty Night! I’ve been walking about like that. To cap it off, tomorrow Falzon’s got that Town Hall with the Tourist Business Guild and the Fortuna L-ewwel crowd and you just know how much fun that’s going to be.”

 

He quickly takes the water and salt from the table and rubs it into the stain. Kyrie and Violet exchange amused looks.

 

“Definitely a keeper, Kyrie,” grins Violet. She sneaks a piece of pizza off Kyrie’s plate. “Sorts out his own washing.”

 

“Makes a difference from blood,” says Kyrie. “How was your day, Violet?”

 

“Shit. Half my workforce is dead or refusing to come in till the labs are cleared out and stable, I can’t get damage reports till we can get into the labs and I don’t have the people who can clear out what we’re going to find in the labs because they’re all dead. I’ve been given an assistant who gives me the fucking creeps and tends to my every whim, because I’m pretty sure she’s spying on me and I’m not sure who to. How about you, Kyrie?”

 

“I spent all day in my jammies, eating sweets and watching British soaps on that new telly we’re not supposed to have.” She looks for the piece of pizza she was about to eat then scowls at Violet as the latter nearly chokes eating it. “Sabiha eh, that’s why you didn’t get pizza. Only people with fully functioning jaws get pizza.”

 

“Muck off, lil mitch,” chokes Violet. Her eyes are streaming as she’s caught between choking and laughing.

 

The women in your life are ever so elegant and refined.

 

Nero’s bark of laughter is lost in the nonsense in front of him.

 

“I did have General Agius come round today,” says Kyrie.

 

“And you in your jim-jams, you slut. You’ll be accused of bewitching him when he takes you to wife,” Violet wipes tears from her eyes.

 

“Violet! That’s disgusting – Agius is in his 60s!” Nero protests in almost mock horror. “You kept your courting gift out, right?”

 

“He’s a fine figure of a man even now. Mind you,” says Violet. “He’d have had a woman years ago but he has really shitty luck with them.”

 

Keep her talking.

 

“What?” says Nero.

 

Violet catches the confused look on his face, but says nothing. She tries to get Kyrie’s attention, but Kyrie is too busy stealing bits of the ratatouille.

 

“I never knew the complete story about Agius. I know the basics, but not all of it. Josh is cagey about it all.” Nero says the last bit by way of explanation.

 

Kyrie looks across at him, fingering her pendant. “I think it’s just assumed that we know everything. But I’ll second. What the hell actually happened?”

 

“It’s nothing earth-shattering,” says Violet. “He had two daughters, aging with you pair, maybe a little younger. Anyway, it was just after the Council were first allowing the Tourists in, so 20, 21 years ago? I think the younger girl, Verity ran off with a tourist and he wasn’t best pleased, told her to never darken his door again, so she didn’t and from that day to this, he’s heard nothing from her. Then, a couple years later, the elder girl, Penny or something did the same thing, but he told her she’d always be welcome. Anyway, when Josh was about five, she got cancer or something and they came home. Agius got custody of Josh because the tourist was long gone. They say he started up all the homeless initiatives and refugee things because he wanted to atone for throwing Verity out in the clothes she stood up in.”

 

Violet shrugs, unconsciously rubbing her bracelet. It’s shining ever so faintly. “That’s the story, anyway.”

 

Is that what Agius tells people?

 

There’s an unmistakeable wave of hatred behind the voice. It nearly hijacks Nero’s body and has him standing abruptly, as if he’s about to fight. His chair falls back.

 

“Sparda’s balls, Nero!” Yelps Kyrie as she and Violet jump back from the table.

 

Nero starts rubbing his leg. “Cramp! I got a charley horse.”

 

He sits back down.

 

Violet and Kyrie exchange looks. “That what you meant?”

 

“Yes!” Mouths Violet.

 

“OK, that was weird.” Kyrie mouths back.

 

“So, Kyrie,” continues Violet. “Tell us the rest of the story. Did you bewitch Agius with Hello Kitty jammies and how much should we ask for your bride price?”

 

“He couldn’t resist them and suggested he buy me for 2 bottles of Farrugia and a KitKat.” Kyrie smacks Nero’s hand as it tries to steal her last slice of pizza.

 

“Ow! We’re courting! We’re supposed to share our bread!” He lifts the pizza anyway. “I’m starving and this is delicious. Just one KitKat, Anġlu tal-qalb tiegħi? Selling yourself short there.”

 

“I’m holding out for three KitKats and Josh on alternate nights. Then we’ll hatch a nefarious plan to poison Agius with my awesome cooking disguising the toxin. No one will ever suspect us.”

 

“That’s great, ħanini, but I don’t want to have to fight Josh to the death for you,” Nero chuckles as he finishes the pizza.

 

“Aw, Nero, I thought you learned to share your toys at the orphanage?” Kyrie has that glint in her eye.

 

“Three things a man never shares, his shorts, his sword and his woman,” Nero states firmly. “Violet, help me out here?”

 

“One word, Kyrie. Twins.” Violet and Kyrie swap oh yeah looks at each other.

 

They’re worse than men. I don’t know if I should be fascinated or horrified by this window onto the female psyche.

 

“They can be much worse than this,” thinks Nero. “They were merciless with Credo.”

 

I dread to think.

 

“Imagine two Neros,” sighs Kyrie, clearly doing just that.

 

“Doesn’t work like that. They try to be different, so you’ll get the one that runs off at the mouth and the quiet one.” Violet takes a drink and waves her glass in Nero’s direction for emphasis. “The mouthy one is easier to get in bed, but the quiet one is dirtier.”

 

Kyrie and Nero look at her. “I had a life before Credo.”

 

As informative as this is, we need to move on. Ask Kyrie about Agius.

 

“Oh, yeah?” Kyrie smirks.

 

“It was when I was doing my foreign study year at college and I did mine at Raccoon City in the States. Umbrella was my sponsor. Anyway, there was some nonsense happening and there where these two guys, and the youngest one was really tall, but quiet and the elder one, was blond, but had the patter down. Apparently when they had a really bad job, to blow off steam, they shared a woman and I was the really lucky lady that night.” Violet shivers as she remembers. “Good times.”

 

Do you have any idea how to make them stop?

 

Nero can’t help himself. “So how does that even work?”

 

Nero’s companion actually laughs, great hulking guffaws. Nero could almost see his head thrown back and shoulders shaking.

 

Kyrie and Violet just stare at Nero. There isn’t really anything either could say.

 

Nero says nothing, just blushes scarlet and looks at his plate. The voice’s laughter is still rolling round his head. If he could breathe, he’d be gasping for breath by now.

 

Nero peeks up through his bangs at them.

 

“I’m not explaining it,” says Violet, firmly. “So Kyrie, why was Agius here?

 

That…was nicely done. I’m almost impressed.

 

“Came to offer me my job back at the refugee centre and told me I could wear what I wanted. Left you a book that Pinny had and he’d just found.” Kyrie sips her water. “It was weird, actually. Asked about you a lot, so maybe we should be asking about bride price for you.”

 

“I’m worth at least a white Toblerone. No, two white Toblerones.”

 

“I’ll get dessert,” says Nero standing up and collecting the plates. “Who’s got what?”

 

“We have apple pie and cream, Violet’s is the rice pudding and stewed apples,” replies Kyrie.

 

“I’m not going to choke on shortcrust pastry, Kyrie,” points out Violet.

 

“I’m not taking that risk,” and for a moment Kyrie’s mask slips and the grief shines out. She’s not losing another family member.

 

“Just take the skin off the pudding,” says Violet.

 

“But that’s the best bit,” protests Nero.

 

Violet throws her napkin at him.

 

Nero uses his Devil Bringer to catch it.

 

They’re all still laughing as Nero goes into the kitchen and begins sorting out the bowls of dessert. He checks to make sure they can’t hear him, but they’re too busy sorting out the grooms’ price for Josh and giggling insanely.

 

“So who are you?” asks Nero.

 

The voice stays quiet, but Nero is aware of him on the edge of his conscious.

 

“If you’re sharing my brain, I deserve a name.”

 

You can call me…Tony. Tony Redgrave.

 

***

 

Maria Cecilia Hospital in Cotignola, Six months previously

 

“I have to admit, it’s not the usual place I’d meet a client,” says Lady. The green scrubs pick out the olive in her complexion and make the bruises on her face more blue than violet. She sips her tea and adjusts how she sits so that the firearm doesn’t show against the scrubs.

 

“I would have thought in your line of work, hospitals would be your second home,” says the client. “I’m told the tray baked chicken with all the trappings is really good and it’s coming out of my pocket.”

 

“You not having anything?”

 

“No,” says the client. “I’m scheduled for surgery in an hour.”

 

“I’m surprised we’re meeting somewhere this public. Most of my clients are worried about their privacy.” Lady sits back in her chair, but she still speaks in a low voice.

 

The client indicates the lit candle on the table and for the first time, Lady’s aware of how the hum of conversation has stopped. She can see the clock on the wall and the hands aren’t moving.

 

“Time-stopping magic?”

 

“More magitek, but I do use powers I’ve developed where I need to,” the client replies.

 

“Are you a demon?” Asks Lady.

 

“I’m a paying client and that’s all you need to know.” The client waits for a moment.

 

Lady waits, but the client simply regards her coolly.

 

Lady nods.

 

“You’re familiar with the Order of the Sword?” says the client.

 

“Yes, I am. Been causing me a few problems of late,” says Lady. “Why? Been giving you the same problems?”

 

“Hardly. I gave the order for collection – or rather, I suggested to the right ears what needed to be done. How would you like to be paid –“  the client passes a piece of paper to Lady “- that much to raise a little hell and probably save the world?”

 

Lady chokes on her drink when she sees the money on the cheque.

 

“I can arrange for it to be in your bank within the hour you deposit it.” The client smiles a tight-lipped smile, that quirks slightly to the left. “I can’t promise you’ll live, but I can promise you’ll be well paid.”

 

“Why?” asks Lady.

 

“Reasons. I’m not in a position to do it myself.” The client takes out a photo from her pocket. “I understand you know this young Knight of the Order.”

 

It’s a picture of Nero and Kyrie.

 

“I’ve had several run-ins with him, yes,” replies Lady, gesturing to the bruising on her face. “Should I watch out for him?”

 

“Yes, but not for the reason you think. He’s not to be harmed. He’s an heir of Sparda, carries his blood.” The client leans forward and taps the cheque. “That’s doubled if he’s unharmed.”

 

“Why is he so important?” Asks Lady.

 

“Because I’m paying you.” The client stands up. “Blow out the candle in 30 seconds. Keep it, what’s left could be useful to you.”

 

The client seems to vanish, but it’s not the first time Lady’s seen a flash step.

 

She picks up Nero’s photo. On the back is a safety deposit key and a number. When she goes there, she finds identity papers for someone named Gloria and a spell that can alter an appearance.

 

***

 

Devil May Cry Present Day

 

“Devil May Cry? Sorry, we’re closed for staff vacation. Yes, that’s the password and we’re still closed for staff vacation.” Dante hangs up. “That was painful. That was good money they were offering.”

 

“That’s not our immediate problem,” says Trish, hitting treble 20 on the dartboard.

 

“I know, how do we not get caught when we go back to the place we just fucked royally without getting royally fucked?” Dante’s got the news on. They’re doing a piece about the end of the rescue efforts in Fortuna and how Fortuna is keen to get the tourist industry back up and running, despite the devastation on the island.

 

“They’ve cleaned up a fair bit already,” says Lady, pointing at the TV. They’re showing shots of the City, mostly the Plaza, which has had the fountain cleared away and the Tourist Business Guild is pressing for the Island to be reopened immediately.

 

Fortuna L-ewwel is demanding that the Island stay closed and stop the rot that began 20 years ago that’s led to the cancer of modernity that’s stealing their youth. Some religious nuts are claiming the entire thing is Sparda’s punishment for turning away from him.

 

Dante turns the sound up.

 

***

 

Falzon checks himself in the mirror before leaving his office for the Grand Hall in the Castle and turns to Nero. “Conduct yourself with dignity, Knight Balzan. The eyes of the world are upon us. Stand up straight and  -“ Falzon tugs around Nero’s uniform and takes a clothes brush to his shoulders. Nero tamps down his annoyance and keeps staring straight ahead as Falzon nearly overbalances him. His expression isn’t as neutral as he hopes it is, according to the mirror.

 

Did you look like that when your mother got you ready for Kapella?

 

“Probably not. I didn’t have a mother.” Nero replies. “I was left on the steps of the children’s home.”

 

Tony’s voice loses its sarcastic quality and becomes sadder, softer. My mother died when I was eight.

 

Nero can feel the grief from the unhealing wound that Tony still carries within him. It’s mingled with regret at what should have been, but tinged with the knowledge that Tony would have done it all again. She was the first woman I couldn’t protect. I thought I had done better with the second and my child would’ve –

 

Nero feels Tony pull the overwhelming agony back into himself and crash a lid back down on it. Pay attention to what’s happening Tony snaps.

 

Nero realises that Falzon is standing back and looking at his handiwork. “Sister Micellef does take good care of you, Knight Balzan. You and she will be a shining beacon to the youth of Fortuna in the Times to Come.”

 

“We’ll try to be a credit to you, My Lord and the Order,” says Nero, clasping his hands and giving a small bow. “How’d I do?”

 

“I have no doubt you will, Knight Balzan. No doubt at all.” General Falzon picks up his papers and waits for Nero to open the door.

 

Nero opens it without missing a beat and falls into step slightly behind him.

 

Falzon has taken an interest in you. You’d do well to take an interest in him.

 

***

 

“What does Fortuna L-ewwel mean?” asks Lady.

 

“Fortuna First, I think,” replies Trish.

 

“Shhh, you two, there’s Nero!”

 

“Are you sure, Dante? It really doesn’t look like him,” says Trish.  

 

“They got him all gussied up, but it’s him. Look! Can’t you tell he’s a chip off the old block?”

 

“I don’t know, Dante,” says Lady, turning Dante’s head too and fro. “Age hasn’t been kind to you.”

 

“You’d know,” says Trish. “You’ve known him since he was that age.”

 

“I never recovered from her shooting me in the head.” Dante grabs hold of Lady’s hips and moves her firmly out the way of the TV.

 

“Why are they covering this anyway?” Lady asks the room, as much as she’s craning to see Nero. “They wouldn’t normally be covering this nearly a fortnight later?”

 

“You’re joking, right?” replies Dante. “Natural disaster on a local holiday island, chicks in bikinis, local tensions, hallucinations, religious weirdos and a giant fuckin’ statue that just appeared out of nowhere. It’s aliens and Illuminati all the way, baby. Conspiracy freaks on the net are loving it.”

 

“I’m not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens,” giggle Trish and Lady in unison.

 

***

 

The atmosphere is tense in the Grand Hall. There’s standing room only and even with the two sides separated by the aisle. The portrait of Santus has been covered by a massive curtain. It billows in the drafts, like it’s breathing.

 

The table has been placed where the gyro arm had been held. Nero follows Falzon to the centre seat and takes his place behind him. He briefly nods to Josh.

 

“Who’ve you got?” Nero mutters.

 

“Gran-Agius.”

 

“Didn’t think they’d allow that,” murmurs Nero.

 

“Needs must.” Josh flicks a warning glance towards their bosses. Falzon has turned slightly, so Nero knows he’s picked up the exchange. Bastard could hear a fish jump in the ocean.

 

Don’t you find it strange that most of the Faith Committee make up the Tourism Committee?

 

“It never used to.” Nero looks along the table. “Needs must, huh?”

 

Precisely.

 

The buzz of conversation is low and menacing in the room. There’s scowls and death glares abounding at the main people on each side and the Committee. Agius’s face is tight, Falzon is watchful, but not unduly concerned. It’s nothing he can’t handle.

 

The Knights around the room discretely test the draw of their blades.

 

Nero is facing directly down the main aisle and even he’s got to admit, it’s as intimidating as hell. He shares a brief glance at Josh, who nods anxiously. Both of them would rather face a room full of Mega-Scarecrows than the angry townspeople.

 

The buzz of conversation has risen to the level of a smashed hive.

 

Nero picks up on Falzon’s cue and leans down for his orders.

 

***

 

“There’s the Kid again,” says Dante. “Who’s the guy he’s talking too? Falzon?

 

“Must be,” says Lady. “Camera crew must love him, they’re constantly showing shots of him and that other Knight.”

 

“It’s cause he’s behind the Big Bad,” says Dante.

 

“No, it fucking isn’t. Look at the Twitter feed.” Lady points to the screen. The feed started by showing #FortunaEarthquake, then #fortunaformyhols and #hecanarrestme #BFS. The last one is lots of screenshots of Nero and Josh, but especially Nero, extolling his virtues and how good he looks in uniform.

 

Dante cackles and saves the hash.

 

***

 

Falzon leans across to Agius for a moment. Nero can’t hear what they’re talking about, but Agius stands up and bangs a gavel on the table. “Come to order! Come to order, please!”

 

The angry drone dies down and Agius announces the meeting in session. “We all know why we’re here. I’d remind all to remember that there are still dangers that face Fortuna that we do not wish to expose outsiders to.”

 

He turns to the Tourist Business Guild Chair and invites her to make her case. “Outsiders have always come to Fortuna. From when we followed The Legendary Dark Knight Sparda to Fortuna to – “

 

“When the Nine Hells did you follow Sparda to here, you lying bitch?” Yells someone from the Fortuna l-ewwel side.

 

“Silence! Let her speak!” Commands General Agius, banging his gavel. “Continue, Lady Speaker.”

 

***

 

“Hell is she wearing?” asks Lady. “She looks like a ghost.”

 

“Pilgrims Robes,” replies Trish. “Foreigners are meant to wear them outside the designated areas. Like covering up in Muslim countries. She doesn’t normally wear them. She thinks Fortuna’s backward and needs to join the 21st Century.”

 

“What was your excuse?”

 

“Lips, Hips, Tits, Power, Mary.” She dodges the notepad Lady throws at her. It hits Dante, but he doesn’t notice.

 

The news shows Nero and Josh again, both their hands going to their swords. It’s more noticeable in Nero’s case. #howbigisyoursword seems to lead into a discussion of left handed swordsmen, that quickly goes down on to their other swords #fallonYOURsword

 

***

 

“Fortuna has benefited greatly from the influx of Mainland money. It’s brought prosperity that’s been spent on the arts and our history. Mainland money has meant that Fortuna doesn’t need to rely on foreign aid to keep this Castle fully restored and maintained. It means the Festival of the Blade can be ran at a level that showcases the best of Fortuna. It’s allowed Fortunese citizens jobs at a time when Fortuna’s traditional industries are dying and means the youth don’t have to leave the Island.”

 

“You’re killing Fortuna’s traditional industries! You and all the other leeches!” The speaker stands up and Nero recognises him as one of Sanctus’ personal Guard. He’s been demoted this last week as Falzon seeks to get his own people in place. He turns round to the audience. “We used to have people coming to find out about Our Saviour! Good people, studying our ways and the knowledge we hold! What do we have now? Mainland youngsters dressed like whores and drinking, falling all over those lovely old streets! Fighting! I can’t go out at night for them puking and fighting and whoring!”

 

“Silence, Matthias! You’ll have a chance to comment after the speeches!” Agius bangs his gavel hard on the table. The Knights behind him wince.

 

Matthias ignores him. “How many of Fortuna’s young men and women have left Fortuna for the Mainland and never come back? How many do we lose each year? How many children are born here each year? The birth rate’s dropping and it’s all Mainlanders retiring here. They’re bringing their blasphemies and killing our children. They’re not even giving them the chance to be born.”

 

Agius is hammering the gavel and shouting at Matthias. The Tourist Guild Speaker looks smug, she’s aware exactly how he’s presenting to the world. Falzon looks across the table at the audience, judging their mood, then at the cameras.

 

“Your own daughters, Agius? Where is Verity and Pinny? You’ve only got him because she died and where’s Verity, Agius?” Matthias then throws something at the Tourist Guild Speaker.

 

“Nero!” yells Falzon.

 

Nero leaps the table, Red Queen drawn, Josh not far behind. There’s screaming and shouting as Josh pulls the Speaker down, while Nero tackles Mathias, hauling him to the ground and pinning him down with the flat of Red Queen’s blade.

 

The knife Matthias threw at the Speaker clatters to the ground.

 

Agius stands chalk white and silent.

 

Falzon merely sits, unperturbed and secretly amused.

 

#NerotheHero

 

***

 

“I wish the Business Owners’ Association meetings were that much fun,” laments Dante.

 

“Our Association meetings have cake. I don’t think theirs do,” replies Trish.

 

“Gotta have cake,” agrees Lady. She looks down at the file under Dante’s hand and catches Trish’s eye. The title, Operation Resurrection, is partially obscured beneath his fingers.

 

Trish nods.

 

“When are you going to tell him?” asks Trish, gently.

 

“When we get there.” Dante looks at the TV without meeting their eyes.

 

It’s only the rain.

Chapter Text

Fortuna, two decades ago

 

“Aren’t you going to continue, Miss Agius?” asks Tony. “I did save you from certain death, after all.”

 

“That you caused by throwing projectiles at me, Mr Redgrave,” she fires back. They’re standing in the Opera House, on the stage as the sounds of the masons building the statue of the Saviour ring through the building. 

 

“It’s bigger than you think it is from up there,” he says, walking around the stage. He crisscrosses over the centre design, listening to his footsteps echo as he moves.

 

“It seats 1500 people and was built in 1720 after the City was last beset by demons. It’s based on a design by Christopher Wren, who designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London.” Verity says from one of the pews.

 

“Can you dance, Miss Agius?” asks Tony, standing in the middle of the floor.

 

“Of course I can, Mr Redgrave,” says Verity, as if it’s the most stupid question he could ask. “Can you?”

 

“Not as well as you, I would think, but I’m a quick study,” he replies, as he casts off his robe and throws it to a pew. He walks over to her and bows, holding out his hand. “May I have the pleasure of this dance?”

 

Verity places her hand in his and Tony taps his foot to get the rhythm and then off they go in a quick, lively Scottish Reel. Tony adapts it somewhat to account for the two of them, letting Verity force a lead where his memory of the steps falter, which is a fair amount.

 

They bounce and spin across the floor, somehow reading each other’s next move before the other makes it.

 

“I’m impressed, Mr Redgrave,” says Verity as she twirls under Tony’s arm. “You pick up very well and you don’t make it obvious I’m leading you.

 

Tony sets his arm back around her waist as they skip in tune to the imaginary beat, travelling across the floor. His long blue coattails swirl around them as they go, giving the impression they’re dancing in blue light, separate from the rest of the room.

 

Verity doesn’t wince when the coattails smack hard against her legs, even though she can feel it through her petticoats.

 

“I have a good teacher,” says Tony, moving into a rosette without warning. There is barely even a pause In Verity’s movement as she follows his spin, even though she’s not much under him in height.

 

“I think you’re used to working with a partner who’s relatively unpredictable within their moveset,” replies Verity.

 

Tony’s so surprised at this that he misses their next turn and stands on Verity’s foot hard, tripping her up. He catches her quickly and sets her right, then carries on dancing, forcing Verity to move with him.

 

“I am,” he says, his face darkening. “I was.”

 

But he notes that Verity was smart enough to notice that and nimble enough to keep up with his stumble. He stamped on her foot hard enough to make her limp, but she isn’t.

 

“Should it become relevant, I expect you to tell me,” she says. Her face has gone serious, but she’s not cowed or embarrassed.

 

Tony stops dancing and they stand there in waltz grasp. It’s on his lips to tell this impertinent jig it’s none of her concern.

 

“It won’t and I will,” he states plainly, surprising himself. He hasn’t taken his eyes from hers, nor she from his, but he does see a quick flicker as her eyes drop to his mouth, ever so briefly.

 

He’s almost tempted, but that impish sideways smirk is back on her face and she twirls him to an almost impossibly fast beat before he can kiss her. She’s making him work to keep up. “As you seem determined to kill me, Mr Redgrave and you have paid extra, shall I continue with Fortuna’s history?”

 

There’s a slight cracking underneath them and they dance off the central design. They don’t step out of their embrace, instead dropping to a crouch in unison at its’ edge and reaching out in concert to touch the raised lip.

 

“I didn’t think you were that heavy, Mr Redgrave,” she says, lightly.

 

“You move with the grace of a limping elephant, Miss Agius,” he replies with a provocative, teasing tone. He looks at her quickly, but she’s taking it as it was intended.

 

“You do seem intent on injuring me and destroying our architecture,” she replies. “It’s definitely dropped.”

 

“Should it?”

 

“No. It’s a solid floor.” She stands up and offers him her hand.

 

Tony takes it, amused at the role reversal. He tries to drop it when she bites her lip to hold back the wince, but she tightens her grasp and he doesn’t argue.

 

“Where next?” he asks.

 

“The Castle, I think. You can see my tapestry and compliment my needlecraft,” she says, still looking at the floor.

 

“My name is Tony,” he says, but there’s a slight stutter on the name. It strikes him that he doesn’t like lying to her.

 

“Of course it is,” she replies, looking up at him and they both know he’s lying. “I’m Verity.

 

***

 

Peter doesn’t believe in leaving things to chance. That’s why he and Credo are standing in Tony Redgrave’s room in the Archive’s Lodging.

 

Their credentials as Supreme General Scerri’s Assistants got them in with no issues

 

Credo is ashamed of how little persuasion he needed to be standing here. It hasn’t stopped him, though.

 

The room itself is plain, but clean and comfortable. The furniture is a dark, heavy wood that’s seen a lot of use, but the bed is firm and the comforter is soft and bright.

 

“Where are they?” asks Credo. The last thing he wants is a pitched battle with a man who even at ten-and-eight years is recognised as a master swordsman with demonic powers to boot.

 

“At the Castle, I believe,” says Peter as he opens the wardrobe and looks through the handmade jackets. There’s several blue leather longcoats with a stylised serpentine design, as well as some other frockcoats that could be worn to a ball. They’re in burgundy and purple velvet brocade, with gold embroidery and matching trousers and long waistcoat.

 

They’re all neat on wooden hangers.

 

He has several pairs of heavy silk damask trousers with a pattern on them that makes them look like reptile leather and again they’re expensive – they’re soft and pliable and tough. Peter expects that they cost more per pair than he sees in a month.

 

A glance to Credo, who grew up amongst the finer things in life, confirms it.

 

There’s other clothing items, silk shirts and waistcoats, all carefully folded or hung with cedarwood to keep out the moths.

 

Even his boxer briefs are fine silk and carefully stored.

 

“Sparda left him well off,” says Credo.

 

“Sparda was alive for centuries. He had plenty chance to acquire the kind of wealth that would make your eyes water,” observes Peter.

 

Credo checks the bathroom while Peter goes through the drawers of the desk. His sword cleaning kit is off to the side, next to but separate from, his toiletries.

 

Tony has a lot of books, papers and notes with him – they make up the bulk of his luggage. It’s mostly related to Sparda’s myths and legends, demonic power, the kind of high order magic that Verity Agius would find fascinating. It’s still gratifying to him that his instincts were right.

 

“These make any sense to you, Credo?” he asks, handing him some of Tony’s notes.

 

“Not a lick, Peter. They tried to make us do it in school, but it went right over my head.” Credo leafs through the papers, but it’s perfunctional at best. “I’m a soldier, Peter, not a poet. Anyway, you know the rules. You’re a warrior or a wizard. You can’t be both. The divide is there to prevent any one person becoming too powerful.”

 

Peter takes them back and carefully returns them to where he found them. Credo is his best friend, but sometimes he despises the man for wasting the advantages his position as a Son of an Old Family gave him. Peter’s had to fight twice as hard to do half as well as Credo.

 

Fortunately, Supreme General Scerri doesn’t share that view towards soldier or sorcerer and neither does he.

 

“The division is preposterous,” says Peter, sourly. “Even if Sparda set it there himself.”

 

Credo’s looking at Tony’s shaving kit, granite with silver accents engraved with the snake from his jackets. The brush is as soft as a kitten’s fur. It’s been handmade and has his initials on it – VS. There’s no date and he wonders if it was a gift or he bought it himself.

 

Credo’s going to have one like that someday. He’s decided. But it will be a gift. Something that intimate, next to his skin and blood, will be from a lover.   

 

Who knows? In time, maybe Verity….

 

“Back to the matter at hand, Credo,” snaps Peter. “We have no clue when they’ll be back.”

 

Peter rifles through Tony’s top drawer and finds a box. It’s got a few photos in it, family pictures of two white haired identical boys, a photo of a man who looks like the boys and a blonde, fine featured woman. There’s a family photo of the four of them and the boys look about three or four.

 

“Look, Credo, we know what your son’s going to look like,” jokes Peter.

 

Credo looks at it for a moment. “Rodan Micellef’s going to be a handsome fellow.”

 

Peter pulls out a second box. It says Durex and has lots of small packets with circles inside them.

 

“Sparda’s Balls!”

 

Credo takes them from him. “What are they?”

 

“They’re sheaths. You wear them on your phallus during lovemaking to prevent pregnancy.” Peter takes a deep breath. “The tourists have them in their bars.”

 

“Why would you not want to have a baby?” Credo is genuinely confused.

 

“It’s different on the Mainland.” He rubs a hand over his face. “I need to think of a way around this. I may need your help with this.”

 

Credo nods. “Of course. You know you’ll always be able to rely on me, Peter.”

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri.

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon

 

Vergil Sparda and Verity Agius’ relationship continues to develop, quicker than I dared hope.

 

However, there has been an intrusion of modern, Mainland culture into our Mission that I had not accounted for. I will have to consider my options and use all at my disposal. I am hesitant to use the spells I’m considering, but needs must when the Devil drives.

 

***

 

It’s cooler up here.

 

Lamina Peak is an old volcano, with the Castle set into the culdera. It provides a natural shape to the Castle and environs, as well as protection from the sometimes inclement weather. This early in spring, even in the Mediterranean, it can still be cold and frosty.

 

Sometimes, like today, there is snow.

 

They’ve walked up to the Peak, mostly so they can chat. Their conversation is quick, lively and skirts from subjects serious to small. They are people of ideas and finding a like mind is the Holy Grail of such people. One small spark lights a fire.

 

“Are you not cold, Verity?” Tony has dropped her name into the conversation as often as possible. He loves the way it sounds on his tongue. He loves the animated, excited look on her face as her mind leaps from one thought to the next, seemingly unrelated till she draws them together in way he never imagined. She treats ideas like lesser women view shoes.

 

If she’s sharp now, by the time she’s finished her training, she’ll be giving Yamato a run for her money.

 

“I’m wearing five hundred petticoats, Mr Redgrave. One thing I am not is cold.”

 

“Your skirt’s getting soaked. I don’t want you freezing before you’ve taught me anything,” says Tony.

 

“At the rate you’re destroying my body and our buildings, we’ll have nothing left to teach,” retorts Verity.

 

Tony shrugs off his coat. “Put this on, Verity.”

 

Verity looks at the proffered blue coat, then back at Tony. “Then you’ll be cold. As my skirts are already wet, then we’ll both be cold and what would that serve?”

 

“Damn you, woman! Why are you making this so hard?” Tony groans in exasperation. “The cold won’t affect me as much as it will affect you.”

 

“Why, Mr Redgrave, I think you’re simply looking for an excuse to show off your wares.” She indicates Tony’s well-toned arms, as he wraps the coat around her shoulders.

 

“Perhaps I’m looking for an excuse to pull you close,” he not quite teases her. His hands on the lapel of the coat create an exclusive, intimate circle as he traps her against him.

 

His breath moves the little wisps of hair escaping her hijab as he drinks in her face and notices that her breathing has quickened. It’s a novelty, he thinks, to stand toe to toe with a woman nearly the same height as him. She’s five ten in her stockinged feet.

 

Tony moves in to kiss her only for her to drop to her knees and roll away under the jacket, giggling and leaving a Verity-shaped track in the snow.

 

“I’m not chasing you,” he says. “Put that down. Don’t you dare throw that!”

 

Verity has got to her feet a little way along the path and she’s made a snowball as she does so.

 

She throws it and catches him square in the face.

 

Tony stands there spluttering at the cold in his face. The indignity! The sheer gall of this bold-faced jig!

 

Then his deadly predator smile curves his lips as he deliberately folds his coat over his arm and gathers up a handful of snow.

 

She dodges the first one and he allows hers to land on his shoulder.

 

His hits her square on the shoulder and his second on her stomach, but he’s careful with the force he uses.

 

Verity skips off through the snow as she gets him on the belt. Some slides down under his waistband and he takes off after her, mock-threatening Verity as he goes. “You’re wearing this jacket, Verity Agius!”

 

Tony is prepared for snow in the face as he catches her.

 

Instead Verity kisses him.

 

Neither are exactly sure how his hand on her arm turns into her hand on the back of his head and her lips pressed against his. Her mouth moves against his once, twice, thrice before she breaks it off. His hold on her isn’t tight, so it’s easy for her to pull away, taking his jacket with her as she does so.

 

“ ‘You’re wearing this jacket!?’ Tony, is that seriously the best you can say?”

 

Verity is a massive tease, he thinks. “Short notice,” he replies.

 

“You do leave me unusually flummoxed,” he admits. “I can’t get a beat on you.”

 

“I’m not complicated, Tony. I play none of the games my sister might, because Mama has taught us that’s how a Lady lands a husband.” She’s serious and he loves the look on her face. “No Sir, I am not looking to be tamed. I want to find someone to run wild with.”

 

“Besides,” she says and her teasing tone is back, both in her voice and on her face. “Surely the point of Temptation is that the Goods be worth the Price?”

 

She turns on her heel in a swirl of blue.

 

Tony follows behind in her wake.

 

“At least, you’re not chasing me, Mr Redgrave!”

 

“You’ll be the death of me, Verity,” he shoots back, but there’s no anger in his tone.

 

***

 

Tony opens the door and lets Verity pass him. He hears her thank him and then they’re in the Great Hall of the Castle.

 

He’s been in big, grand places before, and in that sense, the Hall is nothing impressive.

 

Where it is on the other hand, is impressive. A Gothic Castle of this size in an Island that’s worked hard to get itself forgot is no mean feat. He’s seen smaller Castles in the Mainland that guarded strategic passes.

 

It reminds Tony of a smaller Stirling Castle. He’s got a sudden desire to see her there with him, rediscover all his favourite places with her, watch her face light up at the libraries and the museums. The discussions they’ll have as she reads his favourite books with him.

 

He’ll need to see if she has a passport. He doubts she does, but he has enough money to sort that issue when it arises.

 

The Great Hall is busy. There’s people walking about, both Tourists in their robes and Order officials. He looks at Verity, who briefly explains the Order have offices here and people who are clearly servants running around with flowers and food and laying tables.

 

“There’s normally rows here, like pews,” says Verity, indicating, “but there’s a wedding later, after the Castle closes.”

 

“At night? Strange time for a wedding.”

 

“It was so the demons wouldn’t attack people through the day,” she replies, stealing grapes from the tables.

 

“I don’t think demons are particularly bothered by the hour on the clock,” replies Tony.

 

Verity gives him a withering look. “A big party was easier to be repelled if they did attack and they would be expecting us to be sleeping.”

 

“At a wedding?”

 

“I don’t make the rules,” she says and pops a grape in his mouth.

 

He nearly chokes and she thumps him hard on his back, before he turns and catches her wrist. He’s exasperated, infuriated and amused all at once and she’s smirking at him.

 

“Was that for your foot?”

 

“No, that was for the fountain. Beware, Mr Redgrave, I have the patience to stitch that tapestry up there, so I most definitely have the patience to lull you to a false sense of security before I strike.” She speaks in jest, but there is a definite air of menace about her.

 

“In a few years, I have no doubt you’ll be deadly, Verity,” replies Tony and he isn’t joking. “I told you to call me Tony.”

 

“It amuses me to vex you so,” she replies and that sparkle in her eyes is back.  

 

His jacket almost touches the floor on her and it’s slightly too big, but she wears it well. He’s not going to ask for it back. It almost looks like a robe over her red dress.

 

“What?” She says, confused. “You’re smiling at nothing.”

 

“I was just thinking, my jacket over your dress makes you look like the High Priestess from your Tarot set,” Tony says. “Blue over red, knowledge over passion, souls over fire.”

 

“My last reading was terrible. Apparently I’m doomed,” she replies. “Anyway –“

 

She indicates Sparda’s Victory over Mundus and they’re right.

 

It’s amazing.

 

More accurately, it’s a cross stitch rather than a tapestry, though there are many areas where she has embroidered to achieve her effects. The colours in her threads, particularly on his father, shimmer as he changes position. They stage through various rusts, bronzes and coppers and shadowey midnights and bruise violets.

 

She’s even managed to give expression to Sparda’s demon visage. She’s captured the sadness of turning against his brethren, his regret at the sins committed against the humans and his disgust at his part in it.

 

She’s captured his stoic desire to atone in a world that has no obligation to fete him.

 

Tony’s doesn’t want to say she’s captured his humanity, but she’s captured his nobility.

 

He almost feels like he is by Sparda’s side in the fight, capturing the monstrous and the divine dual nature of the demon knight.

 

This is a person to be followed through all the Nine Hells and Realms Beyond. This person is worthy of praise and loyalty, because he will give you his trust and loyalty.

 

She’s stitched in a motto. If there is a Heaven for the Merciful, though I may not see it, I will see through the Task at Hand.

 

“Sparda calls us to be nobler than we are,” says Verity, quietly.

 

Tony looks across at her and intertwines his hand with hers. She gives him a sweet, gentle smile and he can’t help but return it.

 

“I’d follow you into Hell,” he says.

 

“Then best make sure you deserve me,” she replies.

 

 ***

 

 They wander round the rest of the Castle and it’s like no Castle he’s ever seen.

 

 It’s almost like it’s someone who’s never seen a Castle’s idea of what it should look like. It’s built more like a Cathedral.

 

 There’s something off about it.

 

 Verity gives him the history of the Castle as they walk towards the Master’s Bedroom. They’re stopped by the lack of a floor in the upper story of the torture chamber, but Verity smiles.

 

“Am I about to see what you’re capable of, Verity?” asks Tony. “Are you going to apport a floor?”

 

“No, I’m going to summon a floor,” she replies. “Don’t let go. I fell down here last year and broke my arm.”

 

There’s a blue pedestal on the other side and he can feel the power building up in her. He watches the focus build in her face as the pedestal begins to glow and spin. A wave of power explodes out from it and it shatters.

 

“Nine Hells! I’m still using too much!” she curses, but a rattling is heard and a grated floor drops from the ceiling.

 

Tony tests it before he’ll let her walk on it, but it’s firm enough.

 

“What’s through here?”  He asks.

 

“The Master’s Bedroom, where they say Sparda himself slept,” she replies. She knocks on the door and she’s shouted through.

 

“Just showing my student around,” she says, indicating Tony.

 

“Alright, just stay away from the bed, it’s been prepared for tonight,” says the Order Priest.

 

Tony can feel the spell under it. It’s dark and evil and instinctively he places himself between it and Verity.

 

The room is huge and opulent, with a four-poster bed occupying a raised dais in the centre. It faces a massive fireplace that’s already lit. There’s nine chairs around the bed and several more in front of the fire.

 

Tony looks at her for an explanation.

 

“We practice live coverage,” she says.

 

Tony shakes his head.

 

“The wedding night is witnessed, to ensure consummation and emphasise the community role in maintaining marriage and family,” Verity says as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.

 

“You’re not serious,” he says, horrified. He looks back at the bed and the chairs.

 

“Witnesses from both families,” she indicates the chairs at the fire, “and the Committee for the Protection of the Faith around the bed.”

 

“You are serious. And the spell?” He gestures towards the bed.

 

“What spell?” Asks Verity, bewildered. “I can’t feel a spell.”

 

“Miss Agius won’t feel the spell on the bed. It’s a variation of a compulsion spell we use to ensure conception.”

 

“Why won’t she feel the spell?” Tony demands, making doubly sure Verity is away from the bed.

 

“It’s meant to compel reluctant couples to consummate their union.” Supreme General Scerri says as he comes into the room. Everyone bows or curtseys, giving the genuflection he’s seen them do here. “I have time to answer your questions, young man. Miss Agius.” Lord Scerri nods to Verity.

 

He notes how the Son of Sparda guards her, keeping an arm between the room and Verity, because there’s no way the youngest Miss Agius would hide behind him. She’s far too - what do they say on the Mainland? – bolshy to let someone protect her.

 

“My question stands,” says Tony, uncowed by Lord Scerri.

 

“Tony!” Verity hisses.

 

He cocks his head slightly towards her, but he doesn’t take his awareness away from anyone in the room.

 

“Miss Agius, he’s not from here. He doesn’t understand our ways. Make allowance for him, dear girl.” Lord Scerri turns to Tony. “It’s a Purity Trap. It will drain the lifeforce of a virgin unless she has her virginity taken. The spell will detrigger once her husband shares his essence with her. It ensures consummation and proves a husband’s love for his wife.”

 

“That’s barbaric,” Tony says, coldly, calmly, mindful of Verity, warm against him. “But why do I feel it and she doesn’t?”

 

“Miss Agius is clearly still pure.” Lord Scerri says smoothly, almost amused. He leaves the inference about Tony hanging. “And now, excuse us. We still have much to prepare for tonight.”

 

Tony doesn’t need to be told twice and all but frogmarches Verity out the room and the Castle.

 

He doesn’t lessen the pace until they’re nearly back in the Town.

 

They haven’t spoken all the way down.

 

Tony was expecting some protest or an argument. He’s almost worried that there isn’t.

 

He stops and looks at her.

 

Verity looks like she’s in shock. “I didn’t know about the spell.”

 

“What do you really think about…” his voice trails off and he doesn’t want to say it.

 

“I think it’s horrible. My father is joking about me accepting a Courting Suit from Credo, but he’ll accept it on my behalf sooner or later. I can ask for the wedding to be postponed till I finish my training when I’m 21, but usually it’s 13 turns of the moon and then you get wed.”

 

“Was that Credo with the flowers?” His voice sounds normal, but inside he’s furious.

 

Furious for her, for him, for the whole damned perverted, backwards situation.

 

“Yes.” She looks at Tony. “I’m not a brood mare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here. I see the tourists and I want to travel and see things. There’s so much to learn and do, but all the Order sees is Daughter of an Old Family – Breeding Stock. Trumps any training or education I have.”

 

She humphs and she’s almost like a little girl. “And I was having such an amazing day, too.”  

 

“There’s still quite a few hours of daylight left,” says Tony. “What would you like to do?”

 

“I’m famished,” says Verity. “Want to get some fish and chips and eat them on the quayside? We could even fish for crabs.”

 

Tony offers her his arm and she slips her hand into the crook of his elbow.

 

***

 

He’s laid his Robe out on the ground so they can sit on the warmed cobbles of the Harbour wall without getting dirty. They’re eating fish and chips with bottles of Farrugia. Tony no longer finds it charming that he was asked if one of the bottles was for a lady and being handed a straw when he answers in the affirmative.

 

He’s bought at Verity’s urging, a couple of small wooden frames with black twine around them and a sharp hook tied to it. He’s also bought offcuts of fish that are in an iced tray.

 

“So what do I do?” Tony asks, holding the frame and a piece of fish. It’s pretty obvious what he should do, but he wants to take her mind off earlier.

 

“You take the fish,” she digs a small piece out of the ice, ”and you take the hook and stick it on firmly.”

 

“The smell is objectionable.”

 

“Stop whining.” Verity puts her hands over his and helps him pierce his fish on the hook. “Like that, see?”

 

“And then?” He doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of watching her expressions dance across her face.

 

“You unwind it, but just enough to cast out and get to the bottom.” She’s unwinding hers and swinging it round their heads, before casting it out. She does it from a seated position.

 

Tony does the same, but hits Verity in the face with it. “Maybe I should stand up.”

 

“No! What if you fall in?” she says in alarm.

 

“I can swim, Verity. I’ll be fine,” replies Tony. “I’ll rescue you if you should tumble in.”

 

Verity lies down on her stomach on the quayside, pulling her dinner beside her. She rests her chin on her hands and watches the creatures in the water.

 

Tony lies down beside her, their bodies touching.

 

They lay there for a little while, enjoying the sun and gulls and the weight of their bodies pressing against each other. They feed each other their chips and she playfully bites Tony’s fingers.

 

He makes dire threats against her person.

 

Verity gets a tug on her line and they excitedly pull it in.

 

“You pull it in gradually,” she says. “You want the crab to keep tight hold because he doesn’t want anyone to steal his dinner, so he’ll follow it in.”

 

“I can see him. There he is!” Tony can’t believe how excited he’s getting. He’d normally be dismayed at how undignified the whole situation is, but he can’t help himself and secretly doesn’t care, not really.

 

Between them they pull up the twine and there’s a small crab hanging on.

 

“Careful!” scolds Verity, when Tony pulls a little too hard, the crab spooks and lets go. They see it float back down to the sea bed and walk off around the wall.

 

“We lost him!” she nudges him with her shoulder in annoyance.

 

“He was only out the water three feet,” he replies, calmly. He’s looking her straight in the eye and he decides to chance a kiss, find out if her lips are still soft in the sunlight, the way they were in the snow.

 

He leans in towards her, when his line tugs. He’d ignore it, but she pulls it in, she’s practically bouncing like a child. “I wanna see what we’ve got! I wanna see our crab!”

 

Again they pull it up, carefully, slowly and they get further this time, to within a metre of the top, before again, the crab realises the temptation is not worth the price.

 

Verity mock pouts and Tony chuckles. They bait their hooks again and throw them out.

 

Tony doesn’t know how she does it, but Verity gets the drop on him again.

 

She’s closed the gap between them and kisses him. It’s soft and gentle, as she tentatively presses her lips to his. They fit perfectly. They don’t even bump noses.

 

Tony’s closed his eyes as soon as her mouth touched his. He lets the sensations flow as he kisses her back.

 

Her mouth is even softer in the sunlight.

 

They lean a little harder into the kiss, letting it become a little deeper. His hand slides round the back of her head , over her hijab, keeping her in place. He can feel one of her hands slide round to a similar position. She’s not quite in his hair, but her long, slim fingers rest across his jaw and his nape. He relishes the contact.

 

Their lips move and press over the others’ and there’s tingles radiating out from it over their bodies. Verity gives a soft moan that just twists something inside Tony. He slides his tongue into her mouth, curling it around hers and he feels her fingers twitch along his jaw.

 

Verity responds just as enthusiastically, if without the art of Tony’s kiss. She runs her tongue around his teeth and the inside of his lips, as his tongue draws patterns and swirls along the roof of her mouth.

 

It draws the most wonderful little squeak from her and he smiles against her mouth.

 

He’s going to do everything he can to hear that noise again.   

 

He rolls onto his back, pulling her with him and with the better access, made bold by their current success, the kisses become much deeper and he’s able to wrap his arms around her, because she’s meant to be there.

 

He breaks off from her mouth to kiss her face and along her jaw. He doesn’t have a lot of leeway because of her hijab and he gets the ridiculous notion that she’s a present for him to unwrap.

 

Her hands are in to the side of his head and he’s beginning to think his brother has a point if it means his women can run their hands through his hair.

 

“Tony…” she whispers and her tone sends shivers down his spine and makes him catch his breath, but the name’s wrong.

 

He presses his lips to her ear and his hand to her head, so there’s no escape and no mistake.

 

“Vergil,” he whispers through the cloth, rough against his lips. “When we’re together, my name is Vergil.”

 

Verity pulls back a little and searches his face. His eyes are almost as dark as hers, the pupils wide enough to edge out the blue. A muscle in his jaw works and he’s ready for her to slide off him and walk away. His arms are tense, but nothing she can’t break.

 

“Vergil…” she whispers in that same tone as she licks his lips and the tension melts as they kiss each other hard enough to bruise.

 

He gets that squeak from her again and neither of them notice that a crab’s crawled up the line and is nicking their chips.

 

***  

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri.

 

Peter looks around his library for a spell, an idea, anything.

 

“We could get her drunk,” suggests Credo. It’s clear he finds the idea repellent.

 

“I don’t know if that would work with him, though,” replies Peter. “And we don’t want him too drunk to perform.”

 

“if only we were dealing with the daughters of Sparda. This would have been so much simpler.” Credo looks through a spell book. He doesn’t mention that Peter shouldn’t have these.

 

“Not really. Mainland girls are different. They have things they can take to not get pregnant and you’d never know.” He pulls out a book and leafs through it. “They don’t want to get married either. Different way of life completely.”

 

“I’ve been to the Mainland, but I was never there long enough to appreciate how different it is.” He puts the book back. “We need to get ready for the wedding. Wonder if Verity will bring Redgrave?”

 

“I doubt it. You know the laws on foreigners at rituals, unless there’s Courting Gifts exchanged.”

 

Peter pauses. “Verity isn’t the problem here. He is. We need him to make love to her with no barrier.”

 

“I know that, Peter. I’m familiar with how breeding works.” Credo replies, sardonically.

 

Peter takes a deep breath. “There’s one way, but I’ve never set it and I don’t know how I could get it to happen. Are you a virgin, Credo?”

 

“Godspit and shit, Peter! What the hell kind of question is that?”

 

“An important one, if you want to live long enough to call Verity Agius wife.” Peter is deadly serious.

 

Credo looks at the pile of papers in Peter’s table. His face is scarlet and he’s barely audible as he replies, “Yes.”

 

“Forgive me, Credo, but we need to fix that as soon as possible.”

 

Credo closes his eyes as he fights nausea. “The Wedding Spell.”

 

“I can’t see another way.” Peter has the grace to look disturbed. “But at least in our temptation, the goods are very much worth their price.”

 

“That spell should be a sin.” Credo has got up to look out the window. He always thought there were lines he would never cross and the knowledge that he’s wrong, that he’s not the man he thought he was, weighs heavy on him.

 

“We can give them a week, fortnight at the outside to get together naturally. I counted the sheathes, so we’ll know if he’s used them.” Peter joins him at the window. “But if not, we will have to do our duty to Sparda. We’re aiding in the creation of his grandchild, after all. And surely, such a sin is forgivable?”

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon 

 

There has been some issue with the Son of Sparda and our wedding customs.

 

However, it has inadvertently provided us with our solution of how to practically conceive the grandson of the Saviour.

 

Knight Falzon will continue to ponder this problem for the next few weeks. If there is no progress within the next few weeks, we will proceed with the Wedding Spell.

 

My only concern is my inexperience in casting it and where will be appropriate, as I only wish to aim it at one person. I cannot run the risk of exposure.

Chapter Text

 

Violet sits opposite Captain la Valletta of UO’s PMC division in his smart black UO uniform.

 

“You…were not what I asked for,” she says. She’s still respectful to him – the man has a good reputation as both a soldier and a leader to his men.

 

“I understand you wanted…a different kind of soldier, Ma’am,” Captain la Valletta replies, without any sign of rancour. “But we have extensive experience in unorthodox combat situations, as I’m sure you’ll have seen in the briefing.”

 

Violet scrolls through the tablet in front of her. Every member of the team has cleaned up an Umbrella mess at least twice, not to mention T-Virus enhancements where required. “I appreciate that you’ve had considerable experience within UO’s biological divisions, but we’re dealing with Extra-dimensional Xenobiology here. It’s not the same.”

 

“With respect, Ma’am – we’ll only get experience in the field if-“

 

“-if you go into the field to get experience. Of course.” Violet smiles as la Valletta inclines his head. “I merely wish you to be aware of the differences to previous situations.”

 

“Of course, Ma’am and we’ve been through the briefing notes you’ve furnished us with. Considering the conditions you’re dealing with here, I appreciate how detailed your reports were and how quickly you pulled them together.” La Valletta sips his coffee. He’s dragging out this meeting and Violet is sure it’s Ms Kye’s coffee. One thing about the Order, there is no cheap coffee anywhere.

 

That, or he’s not as confident as he’s making out he is. Violet’s been through an Umbrella fuck-up when she was a student and as effective as their PMCs had been, their objectives hadn’t been the civilians caught in the mess. It hadn’t even been the scientists. If it hadn’t been for the brothers – not twins, she’d lied about that, but her point still stood – who’d been extraordinarily well-armed and unperturbed for the occasion, Violet doubts she’d actually have got out.

 

“They should be thorough. We’ve done nothing else for the last week,” Violet says, unguardedly.

 

La Valletta laughs. It’s so genuine, that even Ms Kye joins in. It’s a nice, unexpected moment of camaraderie.

 

“Paperwork, the bane of our lives,” says the Captain, scoffing a cake.

 

“It certainly is,” agrees Violet. “One good thing about this mission, is that you’ll be fairly uninhibited by lab personnel.” 

 

La Valletta does blanch a little as he catches her meaning. “So I’m given to understand, Ma’am. It does make the mission that bit less complicated.”

 

“Indeed.” Violet stands up and comes around the coffee table to shake the Captain’s hand. La Valletta takes the hint and stands. Luckily, he’s finished his coffee. He shakes her hand. “So, 0800?”

 

“I’ll see you then for your briefing,” she agrees and Ms Kye escorts la Valletta to the door.

 

The door closes and Violet pours out the rest of the coffee into her cup. Ms Kye scowls just ever so slightly and Violet catches it. “I don’t need you to pour my coffee, Ms Kye.”

 

“No, Madam Alighieri.”

 

“Have a cake if you want,” Violet says, indicating the tray. “I can’t eat them.”

 

“Thank you, Madam.” Ms Kye sits down and delicately picks up a cream horn and eats it just as carefully.

 

“Thank you for your help this last week with the briefing files. I genuinely couldn’t have done it without you.”

 

The strangest thing happens. Ms Kye colours, puts down her cake and bows her head. She touches her fingers to her heart, then her lips and clasps her hands on her lap. It’s a demon sign of respect and deference to a feudal lord and given freely the way it was, speaks to the esteem to the vassal holds the fuer in.

 

“Lord Arius trained you well,” says Violet. “So, what do you reckon fly-boy’s chances are?”

 

“Limited.” Ms Kye finishes her cake. “I’d recommend you get a good night’s rest. You’ll need it to deal with tomorrow.”

 

Violet bursts out laughing. “Was that a joke, Ms Kye?”

 

“Yes, Madam.”

 

***

 

Kyrie’s standing in front of her wardrobe. She can genuinely say she has nothing to wear.

 

“Guess I regret that bonfire now,” she says as she irritably kicks a box. She’s either got jeans or evening gowns and neither of those were suitable.  She’s got some of Violet’s dresses, but she’s taller than Kyrie and two sizes smaller. Kyrie couldn’t get it over her hips and had to cut it off. She pulls out the pink sundress that she’s never worn and looks at it for a moment.

 

It’s a long, pink floral maxi dress, thick enough that if she’s in front of a light, it won’t show her legs. The top is fairly high, to her collarbone and edged in a sleeveless frill that sits where her shoulders meet her arms. In any other culture, it would have been a lovely, if slightly modest dress, that sets off Kyrie’s brown hair and hazel eyes.

 

Nero has an excellent eye for colour and especially for what suits Kyrie.

 

She looks for a top or jacket she can put over it and can’t find one. She goes to Nero’s room, though his clothes do seem to be migrating to her wardrobe, going through his shirts and tees until she decides on his purple jacket.

 

It’s even got the Order symbol on the back. Must be Fate.

 

She looks around Violet’s study for something she can use. What is it Violet says? Alchemy is where science and magic meet? Violet’s always been open about teaching Kyrie spellwork, though she’s not a natural sorceress and has to rely on spells and rituals that don’t need a power user like Violet to wield them. She finds a blue and white stone set in a bracelet and puts it around her wrist. She’d worn something similar the first time she’d performed and Violet and Credo had given her the pendant because she had been so nervous and told her it would calm her down and everyone else around her.

 

Credo told her that if she acted calm and in control, everyone would believe her, even if it was a lie.

 

“You mean you get frightened?” she’d asked him. She’d been so much younger then and she adored her big brother. Credo was a Knight! He fought demons and dockers – he must be brave! It had rocked her tiny little world for him to say he was pretending.

 

He’d nodded. “All the time, but because I pretend I’m not, people don’t get frightened either.”

 

“I’m going to be like you,” her five year old self had said resolutely. Credo had hugged her and kissed the top of her head. She went out and sung her first solo at Midwinter Night Third Prayer.

 

When she finished, she walked right past her family to grab hold of Nero Balzan, kiss him right on the mouth and declare she was going to marry him when she grew up. Josh Agius had burst into tears and punched Nero because he’d wanted to marry her when he grew up. Nero punched Josh back and got into trouble because Josh’s mother wasn’t long dead. So he punched him again the next day for getting him into trouble.

 

Kyrie’s going to the meeting. She’s sat about in her jammies long enough.

 

***

 

It’s been a contentious meeting and Nero’s been run off his feet.

 

At least this time nobody’s tried to stab one of the Speakers, but it comes close several times. Nero, Josh and the other Assistants and guards have been working the room hard. Josh has had to place hands on several of the more argumentative members of each faction and Nero’s had to draw Red Queen twice and place her between protesters and Falzon.

 

Falzon had looked impressed.

 

Nero’s told people to Sit back down with more authority than he feels. He’s seriously hoping his voice doesn’t crack. He’s nineteen, it still does sometimes. Oh, Empty Night, not today. Please not today.

 

He’s felt his eyes flash red a few times and that’s dissuaded some of the potential knifethrowers. Falzon has excluded the cameras from the meeting as he feels it was merely inciting further illegal behaviour and to allow people to speak freely. He’s also banned any mention of the Agius sisters. It’s not stopped anyone and Josh is finding it hard to keep his cool. He’s already been quietly reprimanded by General Agius for being a little too enthusiastic in his duties.

 

He should have excluded the swords as well, observes Tony.

 

“In Fortuna? They’d have stabbed him first,” replies Nero, getting to the latest Fortuna l-ewwel member screaming about Verity before Josh does. She tries to struggle out of his grip as he grasps her upper arms and drags her kicking and screaming about vanishing teenagers out a side door. She gets him good in the shin and stomach with her knees and elbows. He grunts as a sick pain shoots through him from his shin.

 

Might controls everything, Nero. Tony is having far too much fun with this. Don’t you have a healing factor?

 

“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking hurt when it happens. Oomph!” Nero grits out as she manages to catch his jaw. “You try being fucking stabbed.”

 

He manages to pass the screeching banshee off to the Patrol Knights. “Watch that one, she’s a hell cat,” Nero says, rubbing his jaw. The mark’s already fading and the receiving Knight laughs until she clocks him too.

 

Both Nero and Tony laugh at that one.

 

She’s still screaming about knowing Verity and how she was a good girl who would never have ran off with anyone when the receiving Knight punches her hard in the head, knocking her unconscious.

 

“Hey! The fuck? You’re twice her size!” Nero’s about to rush back when he almost feels Tony put a hand on his shoulder. At any rate, his feet still. No, Nero. Falzon’s watching, even when he isn’t.

 

 Nero takes a deep breath as he fights against his natural instincts, but he’s slowly turning back to go into the Hall. Shut up and turn around, you damned idiot. I’ve not come this far for you to wreck it.

 

He reluctantly walks back into the Hall, pushing through the crowds. They try to part as they see the white uniform, but there really isn’t enough room for them to move aside. Even with his height and strength, it’s like moving through molasses. Nero hopes he doesn’t have to draw Red Queen here, he’d never get her out.

 

He can hear the main door open and a hush falls on the room.

 

Josh catches his eye and motions for him to look down the aisle.

 

“What the fucking hell?” Nero breathes, because Kyrie, his Kyrie is walking down the aisle in his jacket and her sundress and she looks like a fucking Queen in a ballgown. She’s walking down that aisle like she owns the place.

 

And she does fucking own that place. That Hall can fit a thousand people and it’s full to bursting and there’s isn’t a single man or woman in that place who doesn’t stop, shut up and look at her as she passes. His jacket brushes her ankles and he can’t get the thought out his head that it’s almost like a robe that’s going to elongate and sweep behind her. Nero finds it easier to move through the press of people as he hurries to get there before she reaches Falzon, even without Tony’s urging in his head.

 

He reaches Falzon a little before Kyrie does and as he turns round to stare at her coming towards him, it doesn’t escape him that this is what their wedding will be like.  He stands in front of Falzon and unthinking holds out both hands. She takes them and for a brief moment, all he can see is her as he feels the warmth of her hands in his.

 

Falzon has had his watchful, secretly amused look on his face all through the Town Hall, just like it’s exactly what he was expecting, while the other Committee members look they’re about to fight duels to the death.

 

Kyrie’s arrival and the effect she’s having has driven the slight smirk from his face and he actually looks a little apprehensive as she turns from Nero to Falzon. She has the air of someone who expects to be obeyed and Nero notes that there’s a tightness around Falzon’s eyes. So there’s anger there as well as apprehension.

 

Falzon shoots a quick look to Nero, who gives an imperceptible shake of his head. He’s as surprised as everyone else.

 

“I am a Sister of the Order of the Sword and I demand my right to speak. I will be heard,” she says in clear, ringing tones. She’s using her singer’s voice to modulate her tones to be authoritative, but comforting and even without a mike, she’s heard all round the massive Hall.

 

“Of course, Sister Micellef,” says Falzon in his oily voice and sweeps his hand to indicate the room. “The floor is yours.”

 

Ever since she walked into the Hall, the only sound has been her footsteps. She walked into that room like Credo did, light, assertive and brooking no dissent. She drops Nero’s hands and that same light, firm step echoes through the Hall as Kyrie moves to the centre floor.

 

“People of Fortuna, why are we fighting? We share this Island.” She looks across to Fortuna  l-ewwel. “You speak of traditional values and yet, you’re the first to forget them. The refugees from distant wars and famines come to us with nothing, just like the Old Families did when my ancestors and yours fled the demons to come here. Sparda, Our Saviour could have turned us away.

 

Did he?”

 

The leader of Fortuna l-ewwel opens his mouth to speak, but Kyrie walks over to him and takes her hands in his. He looks at her like she’s a Goddess passing out blessings. She says something to him that only he can hear. He kisses her hands when she’s finished. Kyrie smiles and touches his forehead in a very traditional blessing that isn’t used anymore.

 

Kyrie walks over to the Leader of the Tourist Business Guild. The woman is transfixed.

 

“The modern world comes for us, even as we hide away. Would it not be better to for us to meet it head on and find our own way of adapting that which makes us uniquely Fortunese? Our children leave because they see no opportunity here. Or maybe they just wish to explore the wider world, just like the Saviour did, leaving us to find their own way, for that should be all a Father wants for his children, to find their own way in the world and bring what they’ve learned back home.

 

If we want our Children to come home, we need to make Fortuna somewhere they’ll want to live and raise their children.”

 

Kyrie is unconsciously rubbing her stomach as she speaks. She turns back to the congregation.

 

“I stood in that Opera House not three weeks ago and sang about coming out of the darkness. Maybe it wasn’t just demons that song was about. Humans can be just as bad – look where greed and hubris have got us –“ Kyrie sweeps her arms to encompass the whole Great Hall “- I’ve heard it said that it’s only through adversity we find our nobler selves. Look how we’ve pulled together in the last few weeks and yet as soon as things begin to clear up, we’re back to petty squabbles.

 

We can be so noble when adversity strikes. I want us to be noble when we’re not in danger, too.”

 

Kyrie walks back to Nero who places an arm around her. He looks back to Falzon who’s staring speculatively at Kyrie, like he’s never seen her before.

 

He’s thinking he’s watching the wrong one. But it’s bothering him he underestimated her. Tony’s voice has an edge to it. You can use that.

 

***

 

The Tourism Committee votes to allow the tourists back in as soon as possible.

 

There’s no other way the vote could have gone, given the mood in the room once Kyrie spoke.

 

The Tourist Business Guild Speaker walks over to the Fortuna l-ewwel Chair when it’s over and people are filtering out and Nero’s ready, but to his surprise, he can hear her offer to work with him to change the demographic of the tourists – families seeking culture, not teens seeking clubs.

 

“What did you do?” Nero whispers to Kyrie, who hasn’t left his side.

 

“Magic, teżor tiegħi.”

 

“I’m beginning to wonder, Sister Micellef,” says Falzon. “Knight Agius, can I borrow you for a moment when the General is ready?”

 

General Agius nods. “Be ten minutes, General Falzon.”

 

Falzon nods. He turns back to Nero and Kyrie. “How is Chief Alchemist Alighieri? I haven’t heard from her since she was promoted.”

 

“She’s really busy,” replies Kyrie and again Nero sees Falzon make that mental note. He’s misjudged Kyrie and for some reason that angers him. “She’s out before First Prayer and she’s not back until 8, 9 at night. We’re only really seeing her at supper. Have you tried calling her office?”

 

“I was rather expecting a call to my office,” replies Falzon, lightly, but pointedly.

 

“Was it about anything in particular – I can speak to her over dinner if you like,” replies Kyrie, pleasantly, but there’s something about the way she’s saying it. There’s politeness in her tone, but there’s none of the usual deference that people have when they talk to him. She’s not even talking to him like an equal, but as if she’s superior to him. She isn’t talking down to him, but rather like a Queen who treats everyone equally well, be they prince or pauper.

 

“It was merely to find out when she required the services of the Holy Knights to begin clearing the Labs. The Captains have been holding men back for the purpose and haven’t heard. They-“

 

“-need to know whether or not to release the men for other duties,” says Kyrie, with the grace of a woman twice her age. “Of course. I’ll bring it up with Violet tonight. It’s my understanding that UO are sending their own Contractors in. She was looking at the files last night.”

 

“I see.” Falzon’s thrown, but hides it. “We’re needing to talk about the Wedding, Sister Micellef. You have a lot to plan.”

 

“I certainly do, but we need to get Fortuna up and running first,” replies Kyrie, stretching up to kiss Nero, who blushes.

 

“Of course. Thank you for your help tonight. You got the vote to go exactly the way I wanted it,” says Falzon.

 

“I’m only thinking of Fortuna,” replies Kyrie. “We need the tourist money so we can afford to rebuild.”

 

“If I could borrow your fiancé for a few minutes before I dismiss him and Knight Agius, Sister Micellef?” He gives the bow and clasped hands.

 

“Of course, My Lord,” she says as she reciprocates the gesture. She gives Nero a chaste kiss on the lips and goes off to wait for him.

 

Josh has finally finished with General Agius and comes over. He salutes to Nero and Falzon and they return it. “Saviour be with you.”

 

“I imagine that Knight Balzan will understand more of what I’m about to say than you, Knight Agius,” begins Falzon. “But on your phone – do you ever use Twitter?”

 

“What’s Twitter?” asks Josh, genuinely confused. “I only use it for calls.”

 

“I’m sure Knight Balzan can introduce you to the wonderful world of the Internet. Do it quickly, Nero, we need to strike while the iron is hot.” Falzon seems very earnest and the two Knights are thoroughly bewildered.

 

“I’ve been speaking to the News Channel and the Tourist Guild. Apparently, you two were quite a hit and there’s been a lot of interest in you both on the Mainland. The Tourist Committee and the Guild want to use you both in our advertising campaign.” Falzon looks from Knight to Knight. “I’m told you need to start a Twitter that shows you going about your day and remarking on it. Pictures are also good. Get it set up by tomorrow. Dismissed.”

 

“But who would want to read strangers talking about their day?” asks Josh. “It sounds really boring and, well, weird.”

 

Kyrie is walking over to join them as Nero puts his arm around Josh’s shoulders and grins. “Oh, we have such sites to show you.”

Chapter Text

 

Fortuna two decades ago

 

It’s late when Verity and Vergil finally saunter up to her front door, arm in arm, chatting and giggling. At least, Verity’s giggling, Vergil’s saying anything he can to keep her doing it. She’s still wearing his jacket and he loves that she’s wearing something that smells of him.

 

The house is dark. “They’ll be at the wedding.”

 

“Wish you’d gone?” He’s wrapped her in his arms, loving the fact that he doesn’t get a crick in his neck from looking down at her. He leaves a trail of kisses trailing down her nose to her mouth. She meets his lips in a strong, deep kiss, sucking his bottom lip and swiping her tongue across it.

 

He makes a small hnn sound into her mouth and pulls her even tighter into him. He traces the roof of her mouth and hits somewhere that makes her shudder.

 

Verity breaks off reluctantly. “I” kiss “need” kiss “to” kiss “go” kiss “in” kiss.

 

Vergil rests his forehead against hers. “Two more minutes.”

 

She gives him another kiss, deep and long, full of lips and teeth as he playfully bites her lip, then soothes it with his tongue. She traces her fingers over his arms and it’s his turn to shudder and catch his breath. She turns to look at her fingers’ progress and marvel at the shape of them and the gentleness overlying the strength he could turn upon her if she wanted.

 

He can’t tear his eyes from her face as her fingers travel. He’s thinking of them somewhere else when they’re further along the track and exploring each other’s bodies.

 

Vergil can’t wait to worship her.

 

“I have had just the best time these past few days,” says Verity.

 

“Even though I’ve tried to kill you twice and a crab ate our dinner?” Vergil grins against her mouth, trails licks and kisses over her cheeks and jaw.

 

“That floor shouldn’t have sank like that, Vergil,” she says, suddenly serious.

 

“It should have stood up to your elephantine grace,” he agrees.

 

Verity looks mock indignant and punches his arm.

 

Vergil leans in close and says in a low tone that he’s come to learn makes the shivers run along her spine, “Every time you strike me outside of battle, will be the longer I’ll keep you on the edge when the time comes.”

 

Verity, despite her inexperience, controls the shiver to just a tremble. “You perhaps have too much faith in your abilities and no knowledge of mine, Mr Redgrave.”

 

“Is that so, Miss Agius? Is that the best you’ve got?” He teases as he bites her lip with just enough pressure to be painful, but not break the skin.

 

Verity controls the flinch and her eyes shine with a mix of defiance and desire. “It’s better than what you’ve got, Mr Redgrave,” she says as she pinches the sensitive skin at his elbow.

 

Vergil yelps, because he really wasn’t expecting it and just because she can’t really hurt him, doesn’t mean he can’t feel pain.

 

And it bloody hurts.

 

She spins away from him into the house, laughing as she goes.

 

Vergil walks away, rubbing his arm. He chuckles and wonders if this was how it was for his father when he realised his mother was more than a match for him.

 

***

 

Verity sneaks through the door, though she doesn’t think anyone will be in.

 

She smiles as she touches her throbbing lip.

 

“Little gropecunte!” The blow across her cheek catches Verity unaware and her head snaps back, striking the wall. Her vision shorts out and the pain makes her sick as she drops to her feet.

 

“M-mama?” Verity struggles to make sense of what’s just happened as her eyes tear with the pain.

 

“We’re making excuses for you at the Calleja wedding, while all the time you’re whoring yourself on the docks!” Verity covers her head while her mother rages at her. She strikes the girl several more times and Verity cries out as the blows connect with her bruised hands. “Common ridden jade!”

 

“Mama! Mama! Please!” Verity sobs. “Papa! I haven’t done anything! Mama! Papa!”

 

“Abigail! Godspit and shit! Abigail!” Captain Agius has come in to see what the screaming is about and hauls his wife off his daughter. “Pinny! Tend to your sister!”

 

Pinny runs to her sister, hand over her mouth as their father drags their still ranting mother to another room. Pinny holds Verity as they hear Captain Agius snarling at his wife.

 

“She’s a shitten whore, Edward! You’ve turned our daughter into a slattern - ugh!” Abigail’s voice is choked off as Captain Agius grabs his wife by the throat and smacks her head off the wall several times.

 

“You raise so much as your voice to either of them again and I will rip out your tongue,” he growls.

 

Abigail whimpers as she struggles to breathe.

 

“I’m not going to have you ruin this for us,” he snarls in her ear, face contorted with rage. “How the Nine fucking Hells am I meant to explain this to Lord Scerri?”

 

“I’m saving her! You think he’ll want her if she’s damaged goods?” Abigail gives a choked cry as Agius slaps her.

 

Pinny and Verity muffle their shrieks as they cling to each other, looking at each other and then back at the room where their parents quarrel.

 

“One word to Falzon and Scerri will have you on a Trial of Possession, just to make the point. They can do anything they want as long as it’s not permanent.” Agius’ voice is low and full of rage. “You’ve never seen one, but I have. It’s Trial by Ordeal, judicial torture and do. You. Know. How. Bad. It. Will. Look. For. Us?”

 

Abigail is sobbing by now and Agius throws her disgustedly away from him. “I’ll speak to Scerri tomorrow. This will never happen again. If you raise so much as your voice to either of them or try to otherwise wreck this opportunity, I’ll put you in the ground myself.”

 

General Agius comes out the room and crouches in front of Pinny and Verity. They shy away as he reaches for Verity, pulling her hand away from her face and turning her face too and fro. “Pinny, take your sister to bed and ice that bruise. You don’t need to go to the Archive tomorrow. Pinny will take word to Mr Redgrave that you are indisposed.”

 

Verity tries to nod, but it makes her feel sick. Pinny sets her to bed with an ice-pack on her throbbing face.

 

“Pinny, stay through here tonight. I don’t want to be alone.”

 

Pinny nods and climbs in beside her little sister. “What do you think they were talking about, Verity?”

 

“I don’t know. I know I missed the wedding, but I was having such a good time with Mr Redgrave,” replies Verity. “But none of that sounded like it was to do with the wedding.”

 

“I’ve never seen either of them like that. It was so scary, Verity. You’re right, there’s something else going on and for Mama to beat you so!” Pinny soothes her sister, as much as she soothes herself. “So, you and Mr Redgrave have been very…involved these last few days. Have you been a good girl?”

 

Despite herself, Verity smiles her little sideways quirk. “Not in the least, Pinny.”

 

Pinny gives a little squeal. “I knew there was a reason you were wearing his jacket today! Oh Verity, you’re catching up to me! Will I have to dance in a pig trough at your wedding?”

 

The girls talk of their beaus long into the night and for a while become normal teenage girls again.

 

***

 

Verity doesn’t really sleep. Her face and head are throbbing too hard and she can’t stop thinking that she’s missing something. She pulls a cover from the top of the bed and wraps it round her as she retrieves her Tarot cards.

 

She goes down to the drawing room and sets herself up on one of the settees there, with a card table next to it. Her hands are stiff and painful as she shuffles, but she doesn’t drop or bend them.

 

She can see the mess of her face in the brass ornamentation around the fire place. Her left cheek bears a livid purple bruise the shape of her mother’s hand, even down to the fingers and rings. Her right cheek is cut and swollen in dark midnights where she hit the wall.

 

Even the bones in her face throb, so she wouldn’t be surprised if they were bruised as well. There’s no tell-tale dimple on either cheek to suggest a break.

 

Between her cheeks, her dark eyes are puffy and enflamed as the staining from her bruises spreads across her face.

 

She lays out her cards after asking – “Is something being hidden from me?”

 

She sets down her Significator in the centre.

 

Princess of Wands.

 

Above that she lays

 

King of Swords, the Moon, The Magician.

 

“Who is hiding this from me?”

 

King of Staves, The Emperor, Knight of Staves.

 

“Why?”

 

The Devil, Lovers, Empress.

 

“Why?”

 

Tower, Judgement, World.

 

“Am I alone in this?”

 

Knight of Swords, Princess of Cups, Knight of Staves (reversed) but it’s not a card from a set she has. Verity looks up the spread again and gasps.

 

Several Knight of Swords cards have been attached to her Significator and lying across the Devil and the Lovers.

 

Again, they are not from sets she owns.

 

Alice, the family’s maid is getting up, which means her father is not far behind.

 

She’s not looking forward to the rest of the day.

 

“Miss! Your face!” gasps Alice, as she comes to light the fire.

 

No, Verity is not looking forward to the day at all.

 

***

 

If General Agius thought he could keep Verity’s condition under wraps, he’s mistaken.

 

The doctor has just arrived at the house, when Peter and Credo come to pay their respects to Verity.

 

“Godspit and shit! How the hell did they know?” mutters Agius. “Now I have a lecture to look forward to from Scerri’s ladybird on how to keep my own daughters.”

 

“You could speak to the ladybird or you could speak to Lord Scerri,” says Peter as Alice shows them in. “Is the Young Miss Agius receiving?”

 

“I’ll ask her, but I doubt it,” says Captain Agius. “How did you know, anyway?”

 

“I have many talents,” replies Peter. “And by making the best use of them do I find myself in the position I’m in, as opposed to yourself who has squandered his many advantages to the point where he must leverage his daughters’.”

 

Agius’ face goes stone. “Once the doctor has spoke with me, I’ll ask if she wishes to see you.”

 

They don’t notice Pinny sneaking out the door, picking up her hem and running along the street. She’s so focused on where she’s going, she crashes into Vergil.

 

“Pinny – Miss Agius! Are you alright? I was just coming to your house to walk Verity over to the Archive.” He hauls her upright and waits for her to get her breath back. He must read something in her face. “What is it? What’s wrong? Is it Verity?”

 

Pinny’s out of breath, but nods. “Mama lost her mind last night and darkened Verity’s daylights most ill.”

 

It takes Vergil a few moments to catch Pinny’s meaning and even then he isn’t sure, but he realises it’s nothing good. “Take me to her.”

 

It doesn’t take them long to run back to the Agius house, where it’s easy for Pinny to sneak back in with Vergil. They shrink back against the wall as they hear Captain Agius is in the dining room, speaking to the Knight he sees constantly with Credo and another man with a doctor’s bag. “She’ll need plenty of rest for a few days, but there’s no concussion.”

 

“I still don’t understand why you didn’t call for a doctor last night, Captain Agius,” says Peter, his voice hard. “This could have been far more serious if she hadn’t been discovered when she was.”

 

“Just as well we came back from the wedding when we did,” returns Agius, low fury in his tone. “I’ll have the carpet repaired this morning.”

 

“See to it. We all have far too much riding on your daughter for even the slightest setback.” Peter walks over to the table and helps himself to a croissant and coffee. “I might recommend to Lord Scerri she be removed from your care and commended full-time to the Archive. She has not reached her majority yet. Neither of them have.”

 

“Watch yourself, you toad eater. You’ve had my cooperation thus far. Don’t remove the only reasons you’ve had to count on it.” Agius sits at the table. “You know you’ve no grounds and you’ve hope of being my son in law.”

 

Pinny clamps her hand to her mouth and looks at Vergil. He returns her alarmed look.

 

“Where is she?” he mouths.

 

“In here,” Pinny mouths back. She turns the knob on the door and lets herself and Vergil in. Credo stands up as the door opens and bows to Pinny.

 

“Miss Agius,” he begins and falters when he sees Vergil. “Mr Redgrave.”

 

Vergil tamps down his reaction to seeing Verity’s face. He’d understood correctly what Pinny had meant. “Knight, Miss Agius. I had heard you were indisposed. I came to see for myself.”

 

“As you can see, Mr Redgrave, the rumours are true,” replies Credo. “Miss Agius needs to rest. I’m sure Pinny can take over till Verity’s recovered. It will only be a few days, should you wish to wait.”

 

“I’ve paid good money for Miss Agius’ skills and I mean to have my money’s worth.” He pulls up a chair by Verity and her Tarot cards. “I’m sure our books can be sent over.”

 

Peter and Agius hear Vergil’s voice and come into the room.

 

“Mr Redgrave,” says Peter.

 

Agius can’t take his eyes from Vergil. “Can I help you, sir?”

 

“Mr Redgrave is insisting on his rights to his lessons from the tutor he’s paid for,” begins Credo, looking between Peter and Vergil.

 

Vergil crosses his ankle over his knee and makes a show of cleaning a mark off his boot with his thumb. It’s Peter’s gaze he meets. He can read where the power lies in this room.

 

“If Young Miss Agius feels up to it, I don’t see why not,” says Peter. He doesn’t even look at Agius.

 

Credo shakes his head and looks at the floor.

 

Verity and Vergil exchange a small, very brief glance.

 

“If Papa is alright with it, then how can I not be?” Verity says quietly. She’s looking at her father as she speaks and everyone can see she’s pleading with him to disallow Vergil’s request.

 

“Pinny, when you’re at the Archive, have Mr Redgrave’s work sent over,” says Captain Agius. “Mr Redgrave, I’ll have breakfast sent in for you both and then you’ll be left in peace.”

 

“Thank you,” Vergil says as if he’s every right in the world to make demands.

 

Everyone says their goodbyes and once a breakfast tray has been sent in, they are left in peace.

 

As soon as the house is silent, Vergil drops to his knees in front of Verity and takes her face in his hands, checking her injuries. “Pinny told me what happened. How are you really feeling?”

 

Verity puts her hand over one of his and kisses it. “Like my Mama skelped my face off a wall.”

 

He smiles. “What happened?”

 

“She started calling me all the whores under the sun and when Papa pulled her off me, she started screaming about how she was saving me and no one would want me if I was injured.”

 

“Don’t you think it’s interesting that a Knight basically told your own father you were working, even when the doctor said you needed to rest?” Vergil says, stroking her hair. She has beautiful, long, thick hair, and he loves that in a woman.

 

“I was thinking that even before you said that.” She indicates her Tarot spread.

 

He nods. “It would seem then, Miss Agius, that we have a mystery to solve. What’s your favourite book?”

 

“The Collected Works of William Blake,” she replies. “There’s a copy over there.”

 

She points to the book shelf on the other side of the fire.

 

Vergil finds it quickly and brings it over, as well as a book of fairy tales. He sits down on the settee so that Verity can rest her head on his lap, but he’s barely started reading when she sits back up.

 

“I can’t breathe,” she says.

 

Vergil tuts, pulls her cushion at his back and swings his leg over her, so he’s reclining on the settee, Verity between his legs. He pulls her against his chest, arranges her blanket over them and begins reading aloud to her.

 

Verity is asleep in minutes. He kisses the top of her head and carries on with the book. 

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri.

 

“So what did you think of that?” asks Peter as they walk up to the Castle.

 

“It’s the greatest work of fiction since Lord of the Rings,” replies Credo. “Staircases don’t usually wear rings on their hands. They don’t tend to have hands, either. Neither Agius nor Pinny wear rings on their right hands.”

 

“The mother then. She might need to be dealt with if this keeps up,” says Peter. “She’s cost us a good few weeks with this shit.”

 

“We’re going to have to set the Wedding Spell, aren’t we?” Credo keeps his eyes on the path. He doesn’t trust himself to look up.

 

“Yes,” says Peter, quietly, regretfully. “I wish we didn’t, but the Devil is driving. The Devil will be driving her, soon.”

 

Credo stops and glares at him.

 

“I’m sorry, Credo. That jest was in poor taste.” Peter sighs. “You do realise this means –“

 

“Yes.”

 

“We’ll sort that out within the next day or two. Do you want one who looks like Verity or totally different?” Peter asks.

 

“I can’t believe you’re being so matter of fact about this all. This wasn’t how I saw this happening,” snaps Credo. “I know you were born in a brothel, but lovemaking means something special to me.”

 

“I’m going to assume you’re upset and didn’t mean anything by that,” Peter says and there’s a warning in his tone.

 

“I’m sorry.” Credo takes a deep breath and rolls his shoulders. “Find me a girl who looks like Verity and isn’t a streetwalker or from a piss-a-bed brothel on the docks.”

 

“I’ll find a nice girl. I can do that for you,” says Peter.

 

 Update: Knight Peter Falzon and Knight Credo Micellef

 

Verity Agius and Vergil Sparda have been seen kissing at length on the docks, so a relationship has developed quickly, taking less than a week from introduction to now.

 

 Unfortunately, Miss Agius has met with an accident – we suspect assault by her mother to thwart our plan for her. We have impressed upon Captain Agius the importance of this operation and that nothing will be allowed to impede it.

 

Due to the loss of time as a result of Miss Agius’ injuries – she has a battered face and is clearly in some pain – we will set the Wedding Spell within the next few weeks, once she has sufficiently recovered. I have some other arrangements to make regarding Knight Micellef, but we will be ready to proceed soon.

Chapter Text

 

“This is stupid,” complains Josh. “Why would someone want to see a photo of my breakfast?”

 

“We need to pick a name first or we won’t be showing anyone anything,” huffs Nero. “You’re probably the only 19 year old with a smartphone who can’t fathom the net.”

 

“I’ve not been on the Mainland like you have. I never got picked for the special assignments you did.” Josh protests. He tries a name @FortunaJosh. “Oh! It did it. I have a Twitter account.”

 

“Your grandad doesn’t let you out the door, never mind going out on assignments,” snorts Nero. “He just about lets you on patrol to fight the dockers in the pubs, never mind the demons.”

 

“Credo was just trying to kill you without getting in bother with Kyrie,” says Josh as he bites into the plate of shortbread Kyrie’s just ran up for them. “Sparda’s Balls, Nero, you’re a lucky man.”

 

Kyrie kisses Nero. “He knows it, Josh. Don’t you Anġlu tal-qalb tiegħi?

 

Her pendant falls forward as she leans over to put down a pot of coffee. It catches the light as it swings.

 

“Oh, is this it? I haven’t seen it since before the Saviour.” Josh leans over to hold it and look at it. “Your Courting Gift? What does it mean?”

 

“She’s the Angel of my Heart,” replies Nero. He doesn’t act tough in front of Josh. They’ve been almost brothers since that Midwinter Night fight over the woman wearing the pendant. What else could they be, two motherless outcasts as they are? “Have you thought about yours or are you waiting to see what’s special to the pair of you?”

 

“Grandad’s said I can give her Gran’s rings. I can’t give her Mami’s rings and I wanted to give her something special that’s got family history,” says Josh. “We just have to work out some of the finer details, like not giving a Muslim ham and cheese sandwiches.”

 

“I think that’s lovely,” says Kyrie, sitting down on Nero’s lap. “OK, Qalbi, what’s your Twitter…handle, I think they call it.” She turns to Josh. “I’ve been getting an education these last few weeks.”

 

“@NerotheKnight.”

 

“Wow, it must have taken all night for you to come up with that one,” Josh deadpans.

 

“You wouldn’t believe it,” says Nero, seriously. “I put more thought into that than my firstborn’s name.”

 

“What are we going to call our first born?” asks Kyrie, curiously, but there’s still a giggle in her voice.

 

“Sanctus.” Nero yelps as Kyrie thumps him.

 

Josh takes a photo of the pair of them and posts it. @NerotheKnight @FortunaJosh #knightoff #hecanarrestme #BFS.

 

***

 

It’s 0800 hours and time for the briefing.

 

“I need to get into two places – the Server Room and the Records Room. Knowing how Agnus worked, there’ll be a spell in there to shut off the demons or bring them under my control,” says Violet to the assembled soldiers. “The staff protection spells in place before must have been channelled by Agnus, hence why even I can’t just walk down there.”

 

“You have the schematics on your HUDs,” takes over Captain la Valletta, tapping the yellow tinted glasses they’re all wearing.

 

“Remember they will respawn after a certain time, so you need to move out and through quickly,” Violet continues. “I’ve provided magic bullets and weaponry to your requested specs. You won’t be able to move back through, because of the respawn. Once you start, you need to finish. I need you to understand that.”

 

“We do, Madam Alighieri,” says Captain la Valletta. “Don’t worry. We’re all veterans of unorthodox combat situations and I know you’ve been through some of them yourself. I was at Raccoon City at the same time as you, so you know we’re on the same page.”

 

Violet’s pretty sure there’s dismissal under there. She’s a civilian and he’s not. She clasps her hands and bows to him. “Saviour be with you on your journey.”

 

Captain la Valletta smiles and salutes her.

 

The doors are opened and the team moves out.

 

Violet and Ms Kye go back to Violet’s office to watch the feed.

 

“Should you not go with them, Madam? Once they get to their destinations how will they know what they’re looking for?” asks Ms Kye.

 

“Not until they’ve had more experience, Ms Kye,” replies Violet. She gets her phone out and sends a text. Hyacinth.  “When I go through, I’ll go through with my own people, not UOs. Like the man said, we were both at Raccoon City.”

 

Ms Kye looks at her, but says nothing.

 

“Can you hear me, Captain la Valletta? Over,” asks Violet, over the feed.

 

“Loud and clear. What’s the visual feed like? Over.” Captain la Valletta doesn’t sound bothered by Violet’s lack of faith in his men. He doesn’t need to prove anything to her anyway. She ain’t paying his mortgage.

 

“It’s fine, over.”

 

“Say, ‘loud and clear,’ Ma’am,” La Valletta corrects her. He exchanges a look with his Sarge, fucking civies.

 

***

 

Nero’s settled into his role more now. It’s still hard keeping his waiting posture, but he’s not as tired now. Funny how quickly you get used to things. He’s more receptive to Falzon now, better at reading him.

 

Today, Falzon is irritable. Oh, he’s hiding it under his usual calm façade, but he’s pissed off at something.

 

Nero’s phone isn’t helping. It has been buzzing constantly all morning, ever since he posted his details on the Tourist Guild’s website. He checked his messages when he was goffering somewhere for Falzon and had a message from Josh saying the noise was driving General Agius crazy. “He keeps looking for the bee. It’s hilarious.”

 

Nero had texted back Gonna hav 2 tch u txt. EZR in NGLS.

 

Josh: What the hell is that?

 

Nero: TEXT IN ENGLISH, IT’S EASIER.

 

Falzon: Attend to your duties with more speed, Knight Balzan.

 

Nero sighs and so that was that.

 

He’s spending an inordinate amount of time looking at that phone.

 

“He’s willing Violet to ring him. He was really thrown yesterday when he spoke to Kyrie.” Nero considers the idea forming in his head. “You reckon?”

 

Do it. Tony’s actually starting to sound…approving.

 

Nero walks around to Falzon’s side and drops to one knee, hands clasped, head bowed.

 

Falzon sees him move, but makes no motion. Neither a flinch nor a recognition.

 

Nero waits, but Falzon doesn’t make him wait long. He finishes the line he was typing before he turns to Nero. “Yes, Knight Balzan?”

 

“My Lord, may I suggest going to see the Chief Alchemist herself, rather than second hand information from the mouth of a girl?” Nero’s careful to keep the subservience in his voice.

 

Falzon looks at him. “That, Knight Balzan is an excellent idea. Go fetch the car.”

 

This is going to be interesting.

 

“I’ll call ahead to Madam Alighieri, so she can have everything prepared ahead for your arrival, My Lord,” says Nero, rising.

 

“No,” says Falzon. “Let’s retain the element of surprise. Doing something unexpected lets us see how the foe handles themselves under pressure.”

 

“Yes, My Lord,” says Nero. “I’m sure it will be a learning experience.”

 

“That it will certainly be, Nero. I’m delighted that you’ve proven to be such an apt pupil. You’re surpassing my expectations.”

 

So am I, agrees Tony. But be very, very cautious around him and don’t overreach yourself.

 

“I understand, My Lord,” says Nero. He clasps his hands and bows. “I’ll get the car.”

 

“I wish I could call her, but I can’t risk it,” thinks Nero as he goes to Falzon’s outer office and makes the call to the garage. He’s chewing his lip.

 

No, agrees Tony. Violet can hold her own. You concentrate on yourself. Want motivation? Think what Falzon would do with Kyrie, given half a chance. He’s furious and someone’s going to suffer.

 

“Violet’s been through a lot,” Nero replies.

 

Haven’t we all?

 

***

 

Captain la Valletta and his team work their way along the metal corridor. They’re watchful, but ready. They’ve seen nothing so far.

 

“it’s seriously quiet, Sir,” says Sarge. “I thought we’d have seen a hostile by now.”

 

“She did say there’s no zombies down here, just the security system,” says Decker. All they’ve done so far is just walk down a long, wide corridor.

 

It bothers la Valletta there’s no cover here. On the other hand, there’s no place for an ambush.

 

“Disappointed you haven’t seen a real live spook yet?” teases Blake. She looks around, pointing her weapon back down the corridor. 

 

“Demons sounds like religious bullshit. I still reckon it’s some T-virus thingy,” replies Decker. “Is that a door up there?”

 

“Schematics says yes. Madam’s files say there’s EXBEs there as well. They’ll be triggered when we pass that arch there.” La Valletta points at a join in the metal ceiling.

 

“What’s the nature of these…EXBEs?” asks Blake. She’d rather just call shit shit and say demons.

 

La Valletta taps his glasses. “It’s not saying. Madam Alighieri? Over?”

 

“Could be anything where you are. Probably cutlasses though. Maybe Angelos. But it could attract other demons, that could happen. Over. Oh! Remember the Vital Stars if you’re injured. They’re similar to Green Herbs. Do you still use them?”

 

The soldiers look at each other with smirks and headshakes.

 

“Yes, Ma’am we still use them. Thanks for the heads’ up,” says Sarge. He looks at la Valletta. “Ready when you are, Sir.”

 

They do a final weapons check and nod to each other. They step forward and a ringing sound is heard as a portal opens and three Mephistos drip out of the walls. The demons shoot their fingers out like lasers, just missing the team members.

 

They’re seasoned troops, they don’t hesitate, but open fire. Short bursts, like they’ve been trained to. The Mephistos just slip back into the walls.

 

“Did we damage them?” says Sarge, urgently. “I can’t tell. Did we get a hit?”

 

The soldiers move so they’re back to back in a circle. They’re scanning the walls of the corridor frantically.

 

They don’t see the Mephisto that comes out the floor amidst them, spearing the head of Archer, bursting his eye as it comes through. His body twitches and shakes for several seconds as the demon pulls him up with him as it rises.

 

Blake screams and opens fire. She doesn’t need to understand what she’s seeing. She just needs to kill it.

 

The Mephisto’s cloak dissolves as she empties her clip into it. She doesn’t pause as the scaly little lizard runs round looking for cover. She jumps on it, knife drawn and starts stabbing it. It struggles under her, bucking for its life, raking her body armour. It catches her face and her arms, red mist spattering the walls and mixing with its own dark ichor. It nearly slips out her grasp, but she holds on for grim death and keeps stabbing its head.

 

Eventually it goes slack under her and dissolves, leaving her panting in a pool of their blood.

 

She looks at her arms and sees right down to her bone where the muscles have been shredded off the skeleton.

 

She can hear the sounds of battle behind her as the other two Mephistos come out the walls. There’s screaming and gunfire and Migenes’ head lands in her lap.

 

“Fire at the cloak! The cloak!” yells la Valletta as he fires at the second Mephisto still holding the body of Migenes on the extended fingers of its other hand. His heart’s blood is painting the ceiling in bold splashes and the smell of copper and cordite is sweet on the air.

 

The third Mephisto keeps sweeping in and out of the wall. It takes a few shots and then vanishes, before reappearing several seconds later.

 

The second Mephisto spins and sends Decker and Sarge flying. Decker’s P90 goes sliding up the corridor. She’s too dazed to crawl after it, she’s smacked her head on the metal wall. Sarge tries to get up, but his knee is at an unnatural angle.

 

Grolic and Yang keep firing at the second one until the cloak dissolves. La Valletta grabs it and rips at it as it rakes him. It catches his face and he feels the flesh shred, dimly wondering where the blood is coming from. La Valletta’s enhanced and he manages to rend the demon to pieces, damaging it as much as it’s wrecking him.

 

At some point, in his adrenaline blood lust, he’s aware that it’s stopped struggling and has vanished. He’s clawing at a pool of blood and ichor.

 

The third demon stabs Grolic and Yang through the head while they’ve ran to help Sarge and Blake.

 

It pauses as a shot rings out and there’s a young, fair haired man in a white uniform holding a massive revolver. It melts into the wall and comes back out, heading for la Valletta before there’s the sound of a revving sword and the extending fingers are knocked aside by a man in his forties and the same uniform.

 

“Tend to the injured!” Falzon shouts to Nero.

 

Nero runs over to Blake. “Vital Stars? Where’s your Vital Stars?”

 

She looks at him through unfocusing eyes, she’s going into shock and tries to speak. Nero scrambles through her pack and comes up with a couple of small Vital Stars. He cracks them against her teeth and the liquid fills her mouth, gagging, even as Nero bids her to swallow. It’s foul and bitter on her tongue, like syrup of ipecac.

 

“I know, I know, it tastes like ass,” soothes Nero. “Look.”

 

Blake’s bleeding stills and her muscles start to knit back to her bone. Her flesh closes over it. She grabs Nero’s arm. “What the fuck?”

 

Before Nero can answer, his attention’s drawn to the Angelos that appear and attack the Mephisto. Falzon’s already got rid of the cloak before it can restore itself and it’s powerless before the Angelos.

 

There’s an Alto and two Biancos and they’ve just turned their attention to the downed soldiers.

 

Nero reaches for Red Queen before Tony stops him. Guard the injured. I want to observe Falzon in battle.

 

Ms Kye runs in to the Captain, fending off a blow from a Bianco with her sais. She speaks to him and Nero sees her hand la Valletta a Vital Star. He grimaces as he drinks it.

 

Decker has crawled to the Sarge and looks like she’s trying to get his firearm and aim at the Angelo, but Ms Kye shouts for them to stand down, lest they hit Falzon and Violet.

 

Falzon looks across to the Alto and back to Violet. She nods, powering up her blue aura and making swords appear out of thin air at the Bianco on la Valletta. It blocks with its shield and revs its lance.

 

It charges at Violet, who flash steps out the way.

 

Nero’s never actually seen her wield her powers and it’s spectacular.

 

The Bianco throws a ball of dark energy and she just smacks it back with a blue blast of her own that would have sent it airborne if it hadn’t flown up. There’s a smoking hole in the wall where it was standing.

 

All the while she’s flash stepping around it as it flies overhead to get the drop on her. The second Bianco circles around her back. Violet conjures a spinning ring of the glowing swords and the air begins to reek of ozone as they hit the shields of the demons and disintegrate. She’s constantly flash stepping and firing off the swords.

 

She’s magnificent. Her body is language, Tony says in awe.

 

Violet is constantly in motion, moving like a dancer, directing the blue energy into glyphs and firing bolts from them.

 

It’s hard for her to concentrate between the two of them and one spins into her, anticipating where she flash steps next. It sends her flying into a wall, but she buffers the blow with a large blue glyph and jumps to her feet.

 

They charge their lances and rush her and for a moment, Nero holds his breath. He can feel the tension in Tony as well, before there’s a blue explosion and the Biancos are flung aside.

 

She fires off more swords and a glyph begins to appear at the rear of one. He realises she can’t flash step when she’s concentrating on forming a glyph as big as the one she’s creating.

 

Nero notices that the other Bianco has recovered faster than she thought it would and before Tony can even tell him, Nero’s fired Blue Rose at it.

 

It turns and comes at Nero. Decker lets off the P90. The bullets get it in the back and stun it for a bit.

 

By now, Violet’s glyph has powered up and she makes a motion with her hand and it fires off a massive blue screaming beam. The Bianco tries to shield itself from the blue beam, but it’s useless and it begins to disintegrate under the onslaught.

 

It shines whiter and whiter in the light and it’s blinding.

 

There’s an explosive flash that knocks everyone along the corridor.

 

The Bianco is nowhere to be seen.

 

The second one recovers from being shot and flies up above Violet. She flash steps and just avoids the lance stabbing down in to the floor with a clang. She’s stepped slightly behind it as she fires off the blue swords at its back.

 

It drops and swings at her with the shield and she deflects the blow with a series of small glyphs coming off her hand motions. She flash steps behind it, but she has to drop her glyphs to do it and it makes a lance stab that gashes her left shoulder.

 

She actually grabs the lance and closes her eyes as the blue aura swirls and gathers around it. It’s like the Bianco’s frozen and much as it tries to move, it can’t even manage a twitch.

 

Violet looks down, eyes closed and the blue aura swirls round it like a tornado. It’s pulled Violet’s hair from her bun and it’s whipping round her face. The air and the aura spins faster, stretching up to the ceiling. The souls and demons animating it are pulled out and flung shrieking to the ceiling as the tornado twists up into it with a flash of blue fire.

 

The Bianco stands for a moment, then dissipates.

 

Nero thinks he can hear her say, “one less piece,” as she drops the vanishing lance.

 

Violet comes over to him and he can swear she’s ablaze. The power is roiling off her in waves.

 

She drops down beside him and closes his mouth with a single finger under his chin.

 

The Alto ceases to hover and comes in for the attack, but Falzon is there, sword drawn and revved.

 

It flies at him from a steep angle and makes a wide slash, but Falzon’s already guarding above his head. Their swords spark and slide apart as the Alto’s momentum runs it further ahead.

 

Falzon spins and guards the combo of slashes that comes his way as the Alto rushes him. His sword quivers under the assault, but holds firm, the force from the blows being channelled down through his body.

 

Falzon crosses swords with it’s last blow and pushes it nearly twelve feet back. He brings up his guard again and stands ready for it to attack him.

 

The Alto rushes at him and Nero isn’t exactly sure what happens next.

 

At some point in the Alto’s rush, Falzon jumps across its unguarded side, an arcing, elegant leap over its’ shoulder, spinning as he goes. Nero hears Falzon’s sword rev and smells the accelerant catch fire. He thinks he sees the sword swing out as he leaps, even before the Alto is in range.

 

But the sword is in perfect range, just as it makes contact with its neck joint and the head goes bouncing down the corridor.

 

The body’s already buckled into parts as Falzon lands lightly on his feet, jumping back to face it and guard instantly in place.

 

Nero’s disappointed. “I thought it would go on longer.”

 

It didn’t need to. He’s told you everything you need to know about him as a fighter, replies Tony. He’s prepared for any fight, observed his enemy’s style, saw a weakness and went for it. He didn’t make a move without knowing where he was going to hit before it landed.

 

“I’d have killed it already. I’ve fought these things before.” Nero recalls some of the battles he’s had with them.

 

Relying on brute strength will only get you so far, chides Tony. Your fighting style is a glorified temper tantrum. A skilful, adaptive fighter like Falzon will kill you.

 

Ms Kye is already gathering the party together as Violet creates a portal that takes them back to the main hall.

 

***

 

Captain la Valletta and his men are medevac’d from the helipad where Nero had fought Credo.

 

Ms Kye and Nero hang back as Violet and Falzon see them off. La Valletta actually salutes Violet as the bird gets ready to fly. She smiles and salutes him back.

 

As it disappears off over the top of HQ, Falzon turns to Violet and speaks with quiet fury. It’s in every line of his body. “I had rather been expecting a request from you to cover this very instance. I didn’t expect to find foreign soldiers defiling our most sacred temples.”

 

Violet regards him in the same way she’d treat a rabid dog she’s about to club on the head. “UO took the whole situation out of my hands. Until I get consent, I can’t allow Knights back on the premises, unless they are also UO employees. And that includes you, My Lord General.”

 

“There would be no UO Facility here if His Holiness hadn’t allowed those Mainlanders in to begin with and you’d do well to remember that, Madam Alighieri,” Falzon almost spits.

 

“How sad it would have been to miss out on the protection all that money and research brings, particularly at a time when the Order of the Sword was about to die out,” retorts Violet. “And yet you wasted it on death statues on the whim of a lunatic and a sick old man. They wrecked this island and killed a third of the people for Agnus and Scerri’s batshittery.”

 

Falzon’s face contorts and it’s a look she hadn’t seen for a very, very long time. She still finds it frightening, but she holds her nerve. He looks like he wants to strike her.

 

She looks at him with undisguised contempt.

 

Nero can hear some of the exchange, but Ms Kye rests a hand on his arm. She shakes her head.

 

Tony is buzzing with anger in his head, but stays silent.

 

“I never agreed with The Saviour. The worst thing we ever did was to allow outsiders in. Mainlanders, tourists, UO. We should have closed off Fortuna long ago and I won’t be dictated to by Credo Micellef’s witch whore,” snarls Falzon.

 

“Tough shit, My Lord. I’m a UO employee, so you’re scuppered there.”

 

Falzon’s hand twitches at the mix of hatred and defiance in her face. “You’re untouchable, yes. But Kyrie isn’t. He’s not.” Falzon indicates Nero.

 

Violet doesn’t blanch, at least not visibly. “Thank you for your help here today, My Lord General. UO will be very grateful for the learning experience you gave their operatives.”

 

She grabs his clenched fist and shakes it, pulling him in close enough to give him a closed mouth kiss on the lips. It’s a few seconds’ press and nothing more, before she turns on her heel, Ms Kye scampering after her like a small dog.

 

She doesn’t look back, nor acknowledge Nero as she walks across the helipad and down the stairs.

 

Falzon stands there in stunned silence, before convulsively wiping his mouth.

 

Nero’s equally stunned, remaining rooted to the spot.

 

Even Tony is silent.

 

Falzon marches back to the car, without looking for Nero. Nero has to run to keep up.

 

He still doesn’t know what the fuck just happened.

 

***

 

Ms Kye catches up to Violet. Without breaking stride, Violet orders her to draw up a standard employment contract for Kyrie Micellef, while she pulls out her phone. There’s a message on it which makes her smile grimly.

 

Accepted. 

 

Ms Kye pulls out her tablet as she walks and taps a few details in. “The contract will be printed by the time we get to the office, Madam. She’ll be able to sign it tonight.”

 

“Good. Call Lord Arius and get those funds released. The team I spoke about have accepted the assignment.” Violet’s mind’s spinning as she runs through the possible consequences to her warning shot.

 

“Yes, Madam. Shall I have the car brought round? I imagine you’d like to go home now.”

 

“Yes, Ms Kye, I imagine I would.” Violet stops for a moment and looks at the demon. “Do you have an actual name?”

 

“No, Madam. Just Ms Kye.” The demon returns her gaze. “Only the spelling differentiates me from the others of my kind.”

 

“Would you like one?”

 

“What. Madam?” Ms Kye is confused by her question.

 

“A name of your own.”

 

Ms Kye gives her a smile that looks like breaking sunshine as she realises what Violet means. “Yes, Madam, I should like that. What will you name me?”

 

“You pick your name. You have my consent.”

 

“I would like to call myself…Tyuule. I was reading a novel with a character of that name in it before I was sent here and I liked her.” She again makes that fingers to heart and mouth gesture to Violet.

 

Violet nods. “Tyuule Kye you are then, Ms Kye.”

 

Violet turns and hurries. She needs to get home.

 

***

 

Falzon dismisses Nero early and the feeling of dread that’s never truly left him, has settled back in the pit of his stomach. He walks home. He needs the motion to calm his nerves

 

Tony finally speaks and Nero can actually visualise him in his mind’s eye, as if Tony’s walking beside him. Blue coat, dark clothes, brown boots. He’s holding Yamato, oddly enough.  Nero dimly notes the very strong resemblance between them.  Has this been coming for some time?

 

“I guess. Falzon’s a powerful piece of shit, but he’s still a piece of shit.” Nero sighs. “Credo hated him, but he couldn’t do anything against him.”

 

Falzon strikes me as a planner and spiteful. I don’t think he’ll actively harm you if he can subvert you against Violet. Tony is the same height as him and looks about the same age.

 

“You think he’ll just carry on with what he’s already doing?” asks Nero. He feels sick and his head’s reeling. It’s as bad as the first week after the Saviour.

 

Yes. I need you to trust me, Nero, even if it doesn’t look like you should. But I promise I will not steer you wrong. Tony sounds grave. He casts a concerned look at Nero.

 

“Who are you, Tony?” asks Nero, suddenly bone tired. “Who are you, really?”

 

I have my own agenda, yes. But our aims coincide. Tony’s voice is no less serious, but it has gone softer. His expression matches his tone. When the time is right, I will answer all your questions, Nero, I promise.

 

Nero sighs. “Do I have a choice?”

 

Yes, but that doesn’t make it a good choice. Without power, without strength, you can’t protect yourself. If you can’t protect yourself-

 

“I can’t protect anyone that matters.”

 

Exactly. And we’ve both come too damned far to fail now.

 

The determination and resolve in Tony’s face remind Nero of someone else. Dante, maybe. Trying to get Yamato back in the Ascension Room.

 

“Let’s do it. My options are kinda limited, anyway.”

 

He walks up to the front door just as Violet’s car turns into the street. There’s a guitar case in the hall, pride of place among the other bags. A thought occurs just as he hears male laughter at the story Kyrie’s telling, followed by two women clamouring for details. The smell on the air tells him that Kyrie has a stew cooking. It’s her go-to when she ends up with more people than she’s expecting at her table.

 

“And then, he punches Josh the next day for getting him in trouble. And here he is, Qalbi li tħabbat barra miegħi,” Kyrie says as he comes through the door. She gets up to kiss him and without meaning to, Nero kisses her a little more deeply than he would in company.

 

Trish jumps up to shield Lady’s eyes, while they start clapping and whooping.

 

“So, Kid, you saved the world and got the girl?” Dante’s got that shit-eating grin on his face as he gets up to hug Nero. Nero holds on a little tighter and longer than he should before both men slap each other on the back and pull back slightly.

 

“Sparda’s balls, it’s good to see you,” grins Nero.

 

Trish chokes at the look on Dante’s face.

 

“Maybe not mention my Dad’s balls when we’re this close. People might get the wrong idea,” he quips, lightly, but he does look slightly uncomfortable.

 

“Hey, Dante, if Sparda’s God, does that make you Jesus?” says Lady, mock-innocently.

 

“The amount of times he gets impaled? Jesus ain’t got shit on him,” replies Trish.

 

“Bless you my child,” says Dante as he makes the sign of the cross over her.

 

Trish screeches and pretends to shrivel up. “I’m meltiiiiiiiiiig.”

 

The front door slams and Violet shouts, “Kyrie? Whose bags are those?”

 

“We’ve got houseguests,” calls Kyrie. “I’ve told them all the really bad stuff about you!”

 

“And it’s all true,” Violet replies as she comes in the living room.

 

As she sees Dante, all the colour drains from her face as she faints. Her last sight before it all goes black is the white-haired man rushing towards her to catch her. She thinks she feels strong arms grab her, but she’s into the welcoming darkness all too soon.

Chapter Text

Fortuna, two decades ago

 

It's not the next day, but the next when Peter comes to Credo’s house.

 

Peter is not wearing his uniform and Credo knows he would have been rota’d on, particularly as he himself isn’t due back till tomorrow. Lord Scerri can make do with one Assistant, but protocol allows for two.

 

Credo’s heart sinks as he gets the door.

 

“It’s time,” says Peter, simply.

 

Credo nods and gets his things.

 

***

 

They walk to Peter’s house.

 

Castle Town has never seemed so big.

 

It takes Credo several goes to speak. His mouth feels so dry.

 

“What’s she like?”

 

“Tall, dark, skinny. Sounds quite a bit like her too.”

 

“Close my eyes, I’ll never know?” Credo says bitterly.

 

“Whatever you feel better doing, Credo,” replies Peter, exasperated. “I tried my best to get as close to her as possible. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but did you really want the Wedding Spell and the Master’s Bedroom to be your first time?”

 

“Is she…” Credo’s voice trails off. “Nice?”

 

“She’s clever and funny, well-travelled. Clean, no Mainland diseases.”

 

“Sparda’s balls!” Credo exhales and shakes his head. “I never even thought about anything like that.”

 

“And you’ll never need to again,” Peter assures him. “This time next year, you’ll be a husband and father and this will just be a distant memory.”

 

“How old is she?” Credo is desperately trying to find an upside to this.

 

“23, so only a few years older than you.”

 

“Maybe I should have gone for a girl who’s nothing like Verity,” says Credo as he kicks a stone in the road. It hits a car tyre.

 

Peter stops and glares at him. “Then I’ll dye her hair back. Stop stalling, Credo.”

 

Credo sighs and starts walking again.

 

“Have you thought about how you would approach this?” asks Peter. “Perhaps you would like to have a date with her, if that makes it easier.”

 

“I’ve thought about nothing else and I still have no clue.” Credo looks alarmed. “I can’t be seen out with her!”

 

“I know that! I meant have a nice lunch or something beforehand,” replies Peter. “I can have something brought over. There’s no reason why this can’t be a pleasant experience.”

 

“What’s her name?”

 

“Credo, are you trying to spoil the illusion?” They’ve reached Peter’s door. “Try her as Verity first and if that doesn’t work, then try her as someone else.”

 

Credo walks into Peter’s house like he’s about to be run through.

 

***

 

It isn’t going well.

 

It’s not the girl. She’s lovely enough, but she’s not Verity.

 

They share a meal and discuss books they’ve read and the places they’ve been, but she’s not Verity.

 

Credo’s enjoying the conversation more than he probably should and keeps it running longer than he definitely should. To her credit, Edith – Credo asked, because she’s not Verity – doesn’t push him faster than he wants to go.

 

Another place, another time, maybe he would have been delighted to squire Edith about town, even with her profession. It’s not illegal in Fortuna, though no family would want their daughters reduced to such circumstances. Certainly enough Knights have taken to wife a former doxy or a ladybird, even in the Old Families. His own grandmother had been his grandfather’s mistress and he’d married her when his first wife had passed from a long illness.

 

“Do you do a lot of this?” he asks, because he’s ran out of ways to play for time. “Purchasing gentlemen’s run goods?”

 

“Every gentleman gets my undivided attendance and my future discretion,” she smiles. She’s dressed like Verity, long gown, hijab, dark hair pulled back under it.

 

It strikes Credo that until yesterday morning, he didn’t know how long Verity’s hair actually was or even its real colour. Even at parties, it's been pinned up and under something.

 

Edith isn’t as tall as Verity and her eyes are blue, but it’s a good match. She doesn’t sound like Verity, though and that’s really vexing Credo.

 

He stands up abruptly, suddenly just wanting to get this over with.

 

“So how do we do this? Do I just strip or –“ his hands are on his shirt buttons, but Edith rises and quickly places her hands over his, stilling them.

 

“Let me,” she says. She runs her hand up to his face, tracing her fingers over it.

 

“Such a handsome man,” she whispers. “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. I’m here for you and you alone.”

 

She sounds enough like Verity when she whispers, that he can fool himself if he closes his eyes. He turns slightly and catches the palm of her hand, kissing it. It smells like her hand lotion, the one she makes herself, like his mother does.

 

He’s always loved the smell in the kitchen on the days she makes it and he’ll love the smell in the kitchen Verity will make when it’s their kitchen.

 

He just has to get through this first. The thought nearly jolts him out again.

 

Credo keeps his eyes closed, stroking down her arms and up to her head, drawing her in for a kiss. She finds him easily and their lips close on each other, just a little press and purse to begin with, seeing how he reacts.

 

Credo takes a deep inhale through his nose, sweet violets strong across his throat. It makes him gag, just a little, because the scent is slightly wrong on her. He pulls back, just little, but enough that he can’t feel her next to him.

 

“I’m sorry, I can’t seem to hold the thought,” he murmurs, but she pulls him back round with a soft hand and a gentle kiss.

 

This kiss is longer and Credo can’t help but respond to it, now he’s getting used to the smell of the lotion on her. His arms slide around her back and pull her flush against him. He opens his mouth a little more and chances a brief sweep of his tongue over hers.

 

She makes a small sound and a small shudder, prompting Credo to become more daring. He holds her tighter, a hand on the back of her head pressing her mouth to his as his lips work against hers harder and his tongue tangling with hers as he explores her mouth.

 

He can taste the Qagħaq tal-għasel they had earlier, making her mouth sweet, but it nearly throws Credo off again as he remembers Verity doesn’t like it.

 

Just today, then he never needs to taste it on a woman again.

 

He breaks away again, resting his forehead on her shoulder, cheek against hers. Credo’s breathing more heavily than he should be as he marshals his thoughts.

 

He finds her mouth again and kisses her a little harder than he intends, but she doesn’t make a sound or push him away, so he carries on. He works his tongue around hers, despite the situation trying to learn what makes her shudder, if faster makes her tremble, if slower makes her sigh.

 

He’s only ever had eyes for Verity and he's well-versed in her preferences. While he seems to leave her pleased enough, it's strange to kiss another so.

 

They carry on like this for a little while, before she pulls back a little. Credo opens his eyes, but she keeps hers cast down as though she understands they are not Verity’s. She places his hands on her hijab and waits.

 

Credo pulls it over her head gently, hoping it doesn’t catch on any pins in her hair. The amount Verity has means it must be pinned to an inch of its life, if his mother’s hair is anything to go by.

 

The way she has it arranged means it tumbles free as the hijab is tossed aside, unravelling in a dark, glossy river, untwisting to a waterfall. It’s not as thick or as long as Verity’s, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

 

Credo gently lifts his hands to the sides of her head and runs his hands down the length of it. It’s smooth under his hands and there’s another strong waft of sweet violets where it’s been confined in the hijab. Credo takes a deep breath and inhales the scent for a few moments. He combs his fingers through it, loving the feel of it slipping through his fingers. It’s not a sensation he’s felt before from another’s hair, so he takes his time.

 

He’s definitely going to learn how to pleat hair – from the way she’s reacting, it must feel so good.

 

And of course, once Verity and he have more children, he’s hoping for a daughter to spoil, so he’ll need to learn how to style her hair.

 

He spends a little more time fanning out her hair and feeling her squirm and moan against him before he kisses her again. She fairly melts into the kiss and now Credo has a better idea of what she likes, so he takes some time to experiment and enjoy her mouth and the press of her body into his.

 

Credo must admit, he’s beginning to enjoy pulling the reactions from her that he is – all the little moans and hitches and the flush that’s appearing across her cheekbones.

 

She reaches for his shirt, undoing the buttons, one at a time, slowly, but there’s a definite snap as they slip through their buttonholes. Credo feels like a crack in a wall is opening with each snap that he’s going to walk through and be changed, that nothing will ever be the same again.

 

That he will never be the same again, like it’s the last day he will be honest with himself.

 

She intersperses each undoing with her kiss, softly, gently blessing his lips.

 

He kisses her just as gently. His kisses are deep and strong, but they’re slow. Credo takes his time with her, kissing along her jaw, her throat, even around the nape of her neck. Partly it’s because that’s forbidden territory and partly because the sweet violet smell is strong again there.

 

She pauses for a moment before she slides the shirt from Credo’s shoulders and tosses it aside. She gasps and he gives a small smile as she looks at a torso that wouldn’t shame a Greek God, a dark sprinkling of hair across his chest and trailing down under his waistband. She’s careful not to look up as she palms his muscles and keep the illusion she’s someone she’s not.

 

Credo shivers under her touch, taking her by the hips and gently walking them backwards to the bed as her hands ghost over his chest and shoulders. His legs hit the bed and he sits down more heavily than he meant to. She kisses him, harder, deeper and he responds in kind, tongues almost duelling as Credo starts to lift her dress up. She helps him remove the garment – he’s never realised how big dresses actually are – and she’s standing before him in petticoat and stays.

 

He takes a moment to look at her in her undress, like she’s a gypsy with her frilly underskirt, stays accentuating her figure and her hair cascading over her breasts. Her chest is heaving, as much as it can captive within her stays and there’s a flush over her face and décolletée. Her lips are red and swollen with his kisses. Half-closed, her eyes look dark.

 

She is amazingly beautiful right now.

 

Credo keeps his eyes on her as he pulls off his boots and then his trousers, standing fully naked before her. He watches as her eyes trail over his body and a little look of confusion forms on her face as she sees he is still limp.

 

“You’re beautiful,” Credo says. “But I can’t pretend you’re her and I can’t make love to you, because I know you’re not her. I wish I could. You’re lovely.”

 

“There’s still other things to try,” Edith assures him. “Help me with these stays. I can’t get them myself.”

 

“How did you get them on?” Credo asks, instinctively working out how to unlace the wretched garment.

 

“I was laced into them. I thought I would have help getting them off.” She raises her arms as he slides it up over her head. It doesn’t take her long to shimmy out of her petticoat and shift.

 

Despite himself, Credo can’t help but stare.

 

Edith does a twirl. “Do I suit you, sir?”

 

Credo looks down at his limp phallus. “You please both my eyes, but not my little Credo’s one.”

 

“I still haven’t pulled out every weapon in my arsenal,” she says coyly. She walks over to the bed and makes a sweeping step-this-way gesture. “If Sir pleases?”

 

“Stop with this Sir nonsense,” says Credo. “Both of us are here because we have to be, so we are equals in that matter, at least.”

 

He comes and sits on the bed next to her and she begins playing with Credo’s cock. He watches her face while she does so and wishes he could feel it stir to the way she bites her lip. He’s enjoying being with her on a physical level, but it’s not enough to send the sensations to his poor, sleeping shaft.

 

No matter how much she polishes the blade, it stubbornly refuses to unsheathe. It does begin to swell a little, but not enough for Edith to perform her magic. Even as they lie there on the soft bed, kissing and exploring each other’s bodies, nothing much happens.

 

“I really don’t think I’ll be able to draw my sword,” says Credo eventually. “As much as I’d like to.”

 

“Truly a pity,” smiles Edith. “I was enjoying myself and I do believe you were too.”

 

Credo kisses her. “I was. Truth be told, even if she was here instead of you, I don’t think I’d be able to perform.”

 

Edith nods. “That often happens when a man has a lot on his mind. Stage fright, if you will. You’ll just have to wait till your marriage to please her when you’re relaxed and in your own bed.”

 

He looks at her. “What did Peter tell you?”

 

“That you had entered a Courting Suit, you feel true for the girl and wanted to be able to leave her well-pleased when you finally shared a bed.” Edith kisses him again, stroking her hands over his hipbone.

 

Credo returns the kiss, more relaxed now as he explores her mouth with his tongue and her body with his hands. He feels a hand take hold of his shaft and begin to stroke, hard and firm. It takes him a moment to register that the hand is wrong.

 

It’s too big, skin’s too rough and it’s too strong to be Edith’s.

 

Credo can feel her hands on him, one on his nape, the other on his back.

 

He’d start to panic, but he’s feeling a creeping warmth that makes him feel drowsy and his limbs heavy. He pulls back far enough from Edith and both register the interloper at the same time. The adrenaline from seeing Peter’s hand on his cock nearly gives him enough energy to pull away.

 

Nearly.

 

There’s a light, an energy, something coming from Peter and flowing over Credo.

 

“No…” slurs Credo. “I don’t want…”

 

He can’t seem to muster the energy to resist or move away from that caressing hand as it moves up and over his length. The muscles in his buttocks and thighs spasm at the sensation and it comforts him that he’s got some movement.

 

He can feel sensations running to his cock in a way he couldn’t when it was Edith’s hand upon him and thinking of her makes him look at her.

 

She looks sad.

 

No, frightened thinks Credo. Why is she frightened?

 

Everything feels so warm and faraway.

 

“Don wan this,” Credo’s words all run together and he’s not even sure he’s saying them outside his head.

 

And still that hand, rubbing and squeezing in all the right places, like he knows how Credo likes it. Of course he must know. They shared a barrack room for long enough – Peter was older than the average Knight when he joined and so he’d been paired with Credo. Being paired with the son of an Old Family would instruct him in how a Knight conducts himself as a Gentleman.

 

Credo’s body is betraying him, fire burning through his nerve endings and something dangerous coiling itself in his back as his shaft begins to swell and lengthen.

 

Peter’s voice is low, rough when he speaks and Credo could see it bringing his women to their knees – he can move his head enough to see Edith shudder, even with the fear fighting the fascination on her face.

 

“I’m sorry, Credo,” says Peter, in that low, rough, husk. “It was taking too long and not even you will stand in my way.”

 

Credo’s back arches at a particularly sensitive sweep over his glans and a drop of precome is starting to form. Peter’s thumb pokes at the eye and Credo gives a strangled moan.

 

“What did you stop for?” Peter snaps at Edith. “Earn your fuck, girl!”

 

Edith pulls Credo’s mouth back into a kiss. She’s picked up how he likes to be caressed and she concentrates on that and he can’t help but respond to her as her tongue dances over the roof of his mouth in long, slow, easy slides that mirrors Peter’s hand on his shaft.

 

Peter’s other hand is playing with Edith’s ass and cunny, dipping into the second to spread into the first and she’s squirming and writhing against his touch, against Credo.

 

He’s almost fully erect now.

 

There’s something underlying Edith’s kisses now, something dark and nasty and it’s leaving a sour taste in both their mouths. Credo tries to hold on to it, fight the torpor that’s come over him, but he can’t. All he can do is respond.

 

“Please don’t fight him,” she whispers in his ear, fear creeping through her gentle tone, even as her words hitch with Peter’s fingers in her ass. “We can still enjoy this, but don’t make it hard for him.”

 

“Not givin in,” Credo murmurs, as Edith undulates across his torso.

 

“Please, Credo. It won’t be you who’ll suffer,” Edith pleads. Peter scissors her ass particularly hard to make the point.

 

Despite himself, Credo nods.

 

“So, Credo,” says Peter, same tone, same speed. The shivers are running all over Credo’s skin now and he’s full hard now. “Your little Credo does you proud, finally.”

 

Peter smacks Edith’s buttock and she squeals. “Mark that, girl. Just as well you’ve had practice, he’d split you in two otherwise.”

 

“The girl in his Suit is lucky. She’ll have no complaints,” agrees Edith. “He’ll pain her first though, with that girth.”

 

“He won’t be her first, if all goes to plan,” Peter says, still in that same tone. His hand has never stilled, nor sped. Credo can only move to shudder under the touch.

 

“Don’t talk about Verity like that,” Credo manages to grit out.

 

“Let’s talk about her,” says Peter, indicating to Edith that she should carry on with her courtesies to Credo’s chest and stomach. Edith leans over and begins to kiss and lick and suck over his chest, her hands ghosting a trail over his shoulders and stomach.

 

It should be too many hands, but Peter seems to know exactly how to control his reactions, timing it with Edith’s movements.

 

“Tell me what you like about Verity,” says Peter. “Close your eyes if it helps.”

 

Credo doesn’t close his eyes. He’s not going to give Peter the satisfaction. Credo meets his eyes and he hopes some kind of defiance is clear in them.

 

He doesn’t want to talk about Verity, not here and not like this, but he can’t help himself. He can’t stop himself from speaking, just like he can’t tamp down the shivers along his skin and electric pulses in his muscles as they tighten under his skin.

 

“I like her eyes, I like how dark they are.” 

 

“Tell me more. She has lovely lashes.”

 

Credo gasps as Edith sucks on his nipple, running round it with her tongue.

 

“I love the shape of them. I love how you can read everything in them, she can’t hide anything in them.”

 

“I think that’s the Arabic heritage, when only the face is shown, only the eyes can speak.”

 

Edith has one hand running through Credo’s hair, scratching his scalp and he presses into it with a groan. It feels so good. Her other hand is running over his abs and down to his balls, after each touch, slips it to the crease of his thighs.

 

Credo jerks up in to that touch. “I love her energy. I love how clever she is. I love how strong she is.”

 

“She’s going to need it when she’s married, raising a child and training at the Archive. She looks like she’ll be insatiable – work all day, then fuck all night. You’ve seen her dance, Credo, I think she’ll throw herself into it.”

 

Peter takes his hand away and tugs on Edith’s hair, indicating she mount Credo. “If we fuck like we fight, a woman fucks like she dances. All that dancing means she’ll be tight. No wonder she’s so skinny. She never stops.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she mouths, as she kisses him sadly, sweetly, fully. Credo responds, fully returning the kiss. He wants to move his hands to touch her, but he can’t.

 

“Tell me, Credo, tell me about Verity,” says Peter.

 

Credo can hear the sound of buttons popping on a fly and he jerks as much as he can when he feels the weight on the bed change as Peter kneels over his legs. He’s still wearing his trousers, Credo can feel the fabric against his legs.

 

“Relax, Credo. I want to hear about Verity while we share her here.”

 

Edith stiffens with a cry and her eyes widen as Peter’s prick pushes against her ass, but doesn’t enter it, not yet.

 

“Tell me, Credo,” he says as he stokes Credo’s dick before lining it up with Edith’s wet entrance.

 

“She’s got strong, nimble fingers, they’d be so firm and strong on my shaft and body as they stroke and trace over me.” Credo can’t help himself now and part of him hates himself for it. “Like she’s done already. Tracing over my stomach. I can’t help but push into her touch.”  

 

Peter’s placed the tip of Credo’s sword into her sheathe. “Just a moment separates youth from man. Take him right to the hilt, girl. Let him have first thrust, you’ll be duel wielding soon enough.”

 

Peter pushes her down and she takes Credo all the way, too fast and her head rolls back against Peter, a mix of pleasure and pain rolling over her face.

 

Credo arches up from the bed with a hoarse cry. He manages to move his hands with the shock of it, but he can only get them to her hips.

 

Peter stays pressed to her as she moves as much as she can, setting up the same speed that he’d used with his hand. She gives little cries and hitches as she moves. Credo can feel the muscles in her thighs shift and ripple under her skin as she pushes up and drops down.

 

“I want her to shake when I enter her. I want her to sob my name because it’s all too much for her,” Credo continues, breath catching and his voice shaking as his shaft is enveloped within her hot, tight wetness.

 

It’s so much better than he ever dreamed, even the way it’s happening. He can’t help his hips trying to thrust up into her, trying to brace his legs for more leverage. His fingers are going to bruise her hips and legs tomorrow, he’s digging in so hard.

 

“So tell me Credo, tell me how you’ll have Verity,” croons Peter. “She’ll be double sheathed soon, she’ll come apart under us.”

 

“Verity’s so slim, my hands will span her waist, I’ll run my hands over her ribs and thumb her little nubs till they stand proud. I’m going to trace all over her ribs, under her stays. I might even have her keep them on as I take her,” Credo stutters, breathlessly. He can’t get enough air in his lungs and he doesn’t know why Peter wants him to keep talking.

 

She keeps up her rhythm, rolling her hips alongside her thighs’ motion.

 

Peter’s been pressed against her ass the whole time and now he pushes in, with a quiet groan. She goes taut at the pressure and the intrusion, her mouth a large, silent O as she can scarce breathe. Credo draws blood on her hips as he feels Peter’s cock through the thin wall that separates both sheathes.

 

Peter gives her a moment to adjust to the fullness she must be feeling. She’s trembling uncontrollably.

 

Credo’s panting, huge hoarse rasping breaths. He can’t talk anymore. He doesn’t have anything left now but for what comes next. He wants it to be over. He doesn’t want to stop.

 

Peter has one arm wrapped around her chest and one hand against her nub, rubbing the join where Credo’s thick within her core. She’s got one hand on Peter’s ass, as if she’s trying to stay him and the other is intertwined with Credo’s strong fingers.

 

Peter tenses his thighs and starts to thrust.

 

There’s not even any point in her trying to syncopate the rhythm, Peter is too strong for her and the pace he sets is brutal.

 

Trapped in her tight, wet heat, pinned down as he is, Credo can only hang on as Peter’s cock slides hard against his, it’s a new sensation when he’s been overwhelmed by it all. His skin feels like it’s crawling off his body. He manages to reach up enough to pull her down onto his chest, Peter keeping her there with a hand on her back.

 

Credo’s arms wrap around her back, binding her to him, holding her steady into Peter’s thrusts. He can feel her hair draping over him like a silk scarf and her body’s slick with sweat as she’s forced to take them both. Credo can feel her pert nubs rubbing against his chest with each of Peter’s pounding drives into her ass. Her breath is sob-sighing into Credo’s ear, as her face is buried into his neck.

 

Pulling on her hair, till her face meets his, Credo kisses her hungrily, sweeping his tongue around her mouth. She’s not so far gone she can’t return it, pulling on his hair enough to make him hiss.

 

That low coiling in his back starts to tighten and Credo knows he’s close.

 

He feels her walls pulse around them, stretched around them as she is and she tenses up through her whole body.

 

The grip, the clench and Peter’s slide is all too much for Credo and the coil in his back snaps.

 

It’s like an earthquake’s gone off in his spine as he spurts deep inside her.

 

He bites back the name on his lips. It’s not right to say anothers’ name when she isn’t the one he’s with and Edith has endured so much for him.

 

Peter’s rhythm quickens even further and loses its beat as he draws near to his climax.

 

Credo holds on to her even as she’s too sensitive and squirms to escape it all.

 

Peter drives her on and manages to bring her off again, squealing and gasping as she comes. Credo feels the ripple of Peter’s orgasm along his cock as the other man spurts into her ass with a growl. He falls forward on his elbows and sees Credo’s fucked out face and nods.

 

Credo nods back as he strokes Edith’s face and hair. She’s panting atop him and she can’t stop shaking. They both groan when Peter pulls out her ass, cleaning himself on the bottom of the sheets and putting his still hard dick back in his trousers.

 

Edith gives a small sobbing sigh, breath hitching as she comes back to normal and it distracts Credo. It takes him a good few moments for him to get himself together enough to ask Edith how she is.

 

She doesn’t move and doesn’t meet his eyes. He makes no effort to move or make her move, simply stays lying there and stroking her hair.

 

“I didn’t hear him come in,” says Edith, finally.

 

Credo looks around the room. “I never heard him leave, either.”

***

Chapter Text

 

“Watch her face! Watch her face.” Kyrie says as they get Violet to the settee. Violet can feel strong arms carefully pulling her into place, semi-reclined on the chair.

 

“I wish I had that effect on all the ladies,” she hears him say. He catches her shoulder and the pain brings her round. Violet hisses as he withdraws his hand and sees the blood.

 

“That looks nasty,” he says.

 

“I’ve had a busy day,” Violet slurs. “Where’s Kyrie?”

 

“I’m here.”

 

“Inma bag. Get it signed. Don’t question. Ask Nero.” She puts a hand to her face, touching her jaw.

 

“You didn’t hit your face,” says Nero. “And yeah, Kyrie, just sign whatever it is she’s got. I’ll tell you why in a minute.”

 

Violet can hear someone rummaging in her bag.

 

“UO Contract with my name on it?”

 

Someone must confirm it, because Violet can hear a pen scraping across the paper. She breathes a sigh of relief. Someone presses a glass of water into her hand. Violet can focus better and there’s a well-built man kneeling next to her, supporting her to sit and a hand on the glass.

 

“Easy now.” He accidently smacks the glass into her teeth and Violet squeals.

 

“I can manage,” she says, hand to her mouth. She looks round the room and her eyes widen when she sees Lady. “When’s dinner ready, Kyrie?”

 

“I’ve just sent Nero to dish up. You having it with us or not?” Kyrie doesn’t even know why she’s asking. She knows what the answer is.

 

“Not. I’m going for a shower and then I’ll come back down when dinner’s over.” Violet casts a longing glance at the kitchen. That stew smells delicious.

 

“I’ll leave a plate in your study. What about dessert?”

 

Violet shakes her head.

 

“Aw, c’mon,” says Dante. “How can you pass up that stew? You need to get meat on those bones. You’ll fall down the cracks in the pavement.”

 

Violet gives Dante a pained look, while Kyrie glares at him. “You can explain it. Get it over with.”

 

Violet goes to have her shower, while Kyrie takes a deep breath.

 

“Did I fuck up? I get the feeling I fucked up,” says Dante.

 

“Do you remember the teenage girl who got hauled out the Med about 18, 19 years ago? Every bone in her body broken and her face smashed in?” says Kyrie. “They tried to find out who she was but she didn’t have any memory?”

 

Dante thinks for a moment. “Vaguely, but I was…kinda busy then. I didn’t really watch the news.”

 

Lady and he exchange a glance and Kyrie doesn’t notice the slight catch in his voice.

 

“It was all over the news at the time – it was huge. La sirena spezzata, she was called,” says Kyrie.

 

“Broken Mermaid,” translates Dante. “Like I said, I was busy. That would have been around the same time as the earthquake that exposed those ruins and I was caught up with that. I’d just set up my shop and it nearly got demolished by the earthquake.”

 

“Well, that’s who Violet is. They’ll never fix her jaw, it’s held together by plates and wires and she can’t eat solid food. She doesn’t like eating in front of strangers and she hates having to explain it to people, because they won’t shut up about it. it’s like they think they can help her jog her memory and it’s upsetting for her.” Kyrie looks at them sternly, as if she’s daring them to say something. “We still get news crews at the door every time there’s an unexplained mystery programme on.”

 

“Like we said, Kyrie,” says Lady. “We had other stuff to think about then. We won’t mention it to her.”

 

“OK,” says Kyrie. “It’s just that strangers usually make a big deal of it. But I guess you aren’t really strangers.”

 

“I hope not, after saving the day,” grins Dante. “Hey Kid, you’re a shitty waiter! My belly thinks my throat’s been cut!”

 

“God, Dante, you’re a walking fucking dustbin,” chides Trish. “At least wait till everyone’s been served.”

 

***

 

Violet can hear them chatting downstairs and looks at the mess of her shoulder in the mirror. She’s had worse and it’s missed the gnarly scar on her left shoulder that looks like an animal bite. She traces her fingers over it for a moment, before sighing and getting in the shower.

 

What a fucking awful day.

 

She feels a bit more human when she comes out, but the gash from the lance is deeper than she thought. She can’t quite get the gauze pad positioned right and she needs to, it’s still raw and seeping.

 

Violet sighs. That stew smells gorgeous and she is missing the banter round the table.

 

She gets up and goes to the study, collecting the plate of beef stew and mashed potatoes Kyrie’s ran up and goes down stairs.

 

The conversation at the dining table falters as she struggles with the door and she nearly drops the plate. “Some help here?”

 

“We’re not asking you to juggle!” Call Nero and Dante, drawing groans from the three women.

 

“Do I have this to look forward to?” Kyrie holds a hand to her face in growing horror.

 

“He’ll get worse as he gets older,” Lady says, soap opera serious, with a hand on Kyrie’s shoulder. “I’ve known him since he was that age and it’s a progressive, incurable disease.”

 

“Oh, Empty Night, how can I escape the madness?” Kyrie wails, flinging her arm over her eyes like a Southern Belle.

 

“There’s nothing else for it, Kyrie,” says Trish. “You’ll just have to kill him.”

 

She picks up a Sundae spoon.

 

“Do it, Kyrie. It’s the only way,” says Lady.

 

Nero hides behind Dante. “Save me! She’s a violent devil behind that pretty face! She beats me up! It’s only a matter of time before she kills me!”

 

Dante’s trapped holding the door and the dinner plate for Violet as Kyrie grabs the spoon from Trish and starts chasing Nero around the room. He’s jumping over settees and dodging around the table as Kyrie clambers after him, whooping and yelling threats.

 

Dante somehow manages to get Violet to the table and sat down without dropping her dinner on the floor. The spare seat is between him and Kyrie.

 

“That gash is still weeping. Do you have a bandage or something?” He asks, sidestepping Trish trying to grab Nero. “Is it always this mad here?”

 

“They’re not usually this bad,” replies Violet, handing him the gauze pad. She’s wearing a pair of pyjamas with a spaghetti strap vest top, so it’s easy enough for her to pull aside the strap.

 

Dante takes his time positioning the pad so it covers the whole gash. What he’s really doing is looking at the animal bite.

 

“Nasty scar you’ve got back here,” he says, casually, carefully.

 

“I’ve got a lot of nasty scars. You’re going to have to be more specific,” replies Violet. “Which tattoos has that gash gone through?”

 

“It’s gone through the top of – it looks like a glyph or a sigil,” Dante says as he pats down the edge of the pad over the damaged tattoo.

 

“That one’s fine, I’ll get it sorted when it heals. That one’s just decoration,” she replies. “I was worrying it had gone through the one next to it.”

 

Dante pats the pad a final time. “That’s you.”

 

“Cheers,” she replies. She turns to the lovebirds who are now having a mock fight for their lives, though Kyrie is losing. Nero’s got behind her and has his arm around her waist and he’s holding both her wrists so she can’t smack him with the spoon. They’re yelling and giggling. “Nine Hells, will you pair pack it in?”

 

Nero sets Kyrie down, stealing a kiss as he does so.

 

“What are you two like?” grins Dante and ruffles Nero’s hair.

 

Nero yelps and knocks Dante’s hand away, trying to smooth it down.

 

Dante looks at his hand in disgust at the sticky hair wax on it and rubs it on his jeans.

 

“You need good hold in the heat of battle,” says Nero, totally serious. Everyone just looks at him, before bursting in to fits of giggles. “What?”

 

Violet nearly chokes on the tiny bit stew she’s eating. “Worse than fucking women, the men in this family.”

 

“Wonder where he gets that from?” Laughs Trish. Lady kicks her under the table.

 

“My brother,” says Kyrie. “Credo was vain, wasn’t he, Violet?”

 

“Sparda’s balls, was he ever,” says Violet, covering her mouth as she swallows. “That beard. That beard drove me nuts. He used to measure it to get it right.”

 

“No!”

 

“S’true, right Kyrie?” Violet sips her wine. Kyrie’s brought up some of the really good bottles from the cellar. It’s been flowing rather freely through the meal and everyone is pleasantly tipsy. Even Dante’s a little buzzed, though that’s from the company, rather than the alcohol.

 

It’s pleasant to just be, for once. Before all the bullshit starts again.

 

“Beard rash! You just be glad he shaves, Kyrie,” says Trish. “That goddamned stubble is the bane of my life.”

 

“Thank fuck for aloe vera gel,” says Violet. “My thighs are burning just thinking about it.”

 

Nero’s head’s on the table with his hand over his ears. “Make it stop,” he groans.”

 

“You ain’t complainin’ when I’m down there to start with,” purrs Dante in a tone that even makes Kyrie look a little hot and bothered.

 

“Just so you know,” giggles Kyrie, a little breathlessly. “This is a really old house and the walls are really thick.

 

“They’re not that thick,” says Violet, this time really choking at Kyrie and Nero’s horrified looks.

 

Dante leans across and thumps her back, before handing her her glass of wine. She glares at him.

 

“Can’t have the client dyin’ on me now. We haven’t been paid yet,” he jokes and everyone at the table looks at him, then Violet.

 

“What?” snaps Kyrie. She scowls at Violet.

 

“We already here when we got the job,” says Dante. “We were always coming to see you. Already spoke to the Kid.”

 

He looks across to Nero, who nods confirmation.

 

“Things went a little west today at work and I need independent contractors that I can trust,” Violet says smoothly. There’s not a hint of explanation or apology in her tone.

 

“West?” Nero exclaims, incredulously. “You kissed Falzon. It’s so far west, we’re off the fucking map!”

 

It’s Violet’s turn to have everyone look at her. “It was rather more effective than shooting him in the face, tempting though that was.”

 

“What the fuck? Why were you kissing Falzon of all people? Credo’s barely cold in his…he’s not even in a grave and you’re kissing other men? And him? You hate him! We all hate him!” Kyrie is actually standing over Violet as she rages. Nero actually has a grip on her arm and is trying to pull her to sit down.

 

“It seemed like the right thing to do at the time,” replies Violet, serenely drinking her wine. “And it completely threw him. He didn’t know what had hit him. It was beautiful.”

 

“He’s gunning for us, for Nero! Are you fucking insane?” Kyrie isn’t stopping.

 

“And your little stunt at the Town Hall the other day didn’t paint any targets?” Violet replies, gesturing with her glass. “Did you put my blue agate bracelet back, by the way?”

 

“It worked! We got the tourists back!” snarls Kyrie. She tries to shake Nero off, but he’s holding fast  and pulls her to sit. He keeps a hand on her shoulder so she can’t get back up. “He said he got the result he wanted!”

 

“Is that what you think?” says Violet. “Yeah, Falzon got the result he wanted, because Falzon always gets the result he wants. What you did was persuade everyone else that was the result they wanted.”

 

She takes another gulp from her glass and refills it as she empties it.

 

Dante catches Nero’s small headshake and tries to take the bottle from her. She twists away from his grasp so he can’t get her glass. “Fuck off, it’s Haut Brion and 2000 was spectacular!”

 

He raises his hands in surrender and sits back in his chair.

 

“What’s more to the point, dear sister-in-law, is why in all the Nine Hells is Falzon pushing for more tourists when he fucking hates them?” Violet has another gulp.

 

Trish and Lady look at their desserts.

 

“Kyrie, shut up,” says Nero, hanging on to Kyrie’s upper arms as she tries to stand.

 

“You didn’t have to goad him by fucking him off and kissing him, Violet!”

 

“He’s raped enough women, one lil’ stolen kiss won’t make a blind bit difference,” snarls back Violet.

 

“Doing something unexpected lets us see how the foe handles themselves under pressure,” says Nero, trying to help. “And it was really fucking unexpected.”

 

There’s a quick look between Dante and Trish, but only Lady sees it.

 

“Aw, fuck this for a game of soldiers,” says Violet, standing up and throwing back her glass and grabbing one of the bottles off the table. “I’m going for a walk.”

 

She storms out of the room, weaving a little unsteadily. A moment later the front door bangs.

 

“Isn’t anyone going to go after her?” says Lady. “She’s drunk and in her jammies.”

 

“You go, Nero,” says Kyrie. She’s still angry, but she’s calming. “You might be better at talking her down than me. Credo had the magic gift for diva taming, just like you do.”

 

Nero doesn’t want to leave Kyrie despite Tony shouting in his head to get after her, for the love of God, before tonight gets worse!

 

Dante sees his hesitation and decides to save the day. “Don’t sweat it, Kid. I’ll go. I’m neutral. She’ll maybe talk to me and if she doesn’t, well, I’m a big boy. I can take it.”

 

He stands up and gets his coat, thinking for a moment before taking Rebellion. “Where does she go when she’s thinking?”

 

“Graveyard,” replies Kyrie. “She says the dead can’t hurt you, so it’s the safest place in town.”

 

“Not in my line of work it isn’t,” says Dante.

 

***

 

He tracks her to the graveyard, where she sits on her usual bench. It’s the one where she ran into General Agius.

 

“Hey, Boss,” he says, trying not to startle her.

 

Violet shoots off a few half-hearted summoned swords at him, that he dodges easily.

 

“I bet you can do better than that,” says Dante, as he sits down at the other end.

 

“I bet you can too,” she replies.

 

“You wanna share that bottle?”

 

“Nope. It’s a 600 euro bottle of wine and worth every cent.”

 

Dante leans across and takes the bottle out her hand anyway. He very quickly knocks back the half bottle left, easily fending her off. “Damn straight. I’ll hand it to Credo, he had taste.”

 

“Course he did. He had me,” Violet nods with the certainty that she is, indeed, amazing, as she shivers.

 

“I’m getting the feeling you had him, not the other way around,” says Dante. He takes off his red leather jacket and puts it round her shoulders.

 

“You drunk my wine,” says Violet mournfully, pulling it close.

 

“You’ve had more than enough,” says Dante.

 

“You’re not Credo. You don’t get to tell me what to do.” She thinks for a minute. “Credo didn’t tell me what to do either. Kont mandra sieħbi, when I met him.”

 

“I’m guessing that means shitfaced?” says Dante. “How’d you meet him?”

 

“No, shitfaced is Ħara, but we don’t add the -faced because you’re too far gone,” she replies. “I’d got a job at UO and come to here with some friends to see what it was like, got mandra in one of the dockers’ pubs and I was dancing on the tables and the Knights got called and Credo was the Sergeant of the patrol that came and he’s hauling me out the pub and I puked all over him. He arrested me and sat in the cell with me all night and held my hair.”

 

“Goddamn, but that’s so romantic,” says Dante, drily. “Beats getting a motorbike thrown at me.”

 

“I get the feeling women throw bikes at you a lot,” giggles Violet.

 

“Only the important ones.” He figures he’ll risk it. “So you wanna tell me why we were killing death statues for you last month?

 

“Because I was paying you?” Violet guesses. “Why’s your password Hyacinth?”

 

“My mother’s favourite flower. And yeah, that’s one reason and it’s a good reason,” says Dante. “Just, next time, pay Trish cos we never see it if Lady gets it first.”

 

“I’ll do that,” she slurs, getting her phone out and tapping a few things. “There, done.”

 

“You’ve probably summoned Chthulu, state you’re in.” His phone pings. “Huh, you didn’t.”

 

“I can’t summon demons. Not on my phone. I got a friend in America who can do it. I am so patata.” She holds her head. “It’s spinning.”

 

“You’re making about as much sense as one,” smiles Dante. “I’m not surprised it’s spinning.”

 

“No, that gravestone is spinning,” she says as she points.

 

Dante turns and looks. An Angel is indeed, spinning on the spot, before it vanishes. There’s a discernible ripple around it, like a pond. The ripple ricochets around for a little, before smoothing out.

 

He draws Rebellion and walks cautiously up to it, mindful of Violet following him. She’s still staggering with bravery and the last thing he needs is her to blunder into this…whatever this is.

 

There’s an aura of power coming off it. Dante would say a wrongness, but as he gets closer, he realises that’s not quite right. It’s more an otherness, like it’s ancient and natural. He’s felt it before with fey and yokai, minor local deities. It’s earthy and elemental.

 

Dante runs a hand round it. It’s like water on a beach, shallow and getting deeper the further you go in. He doesn’t flinch when he feels the hand on his shoulder, at least he knows where the lush is. He glances down at her, but she’s entranced by it.

 

“What can you see?” he asks her softly. She’s seriously chemically altered right now and that’s pretty much the same as a trance.

 

Violet looks like a child watching something wonderful. “It’s all light and energy. It’s beautiful. It’s elsewhere. It’s an Elsewhere. I haven’t seen one since…The last time I saw one.”

 

“An Elsewhere?”

 

“A door to Elsewhere. Portal. Gateway. Fairyland. TARDIS. An Elsewhere.” She hasn’t stopped looking at it. “I can see the equations and spells that make it work. They’re amazing. It’s like Stargate. I can see numbers and languages that haven’t existed for thousands of years and don’t exist yet. That one-“ she points to something Dante can’t see, but he can feel “-that doesn’t exist on this plane and it never will. That one’s emotions, because they don’t have words there. It’s all colours and sounds.”

 

He slowly pushes Rebellion’s tip into the Elsewhere. It feels like the sword’s going through jelly and the energy’s singing up it, making it glow and ring, like a tuning fork.

 

Violet’s bracelet is glowing and as she reaches her hand towards the Elsewhere, he can feel the energy part.

 

Alarmed, he grabs her wrist, touching the bracelet. There’s an audible click as the bracelet unlocks and falls open. It’s only the safety chain that stops it falling off her wrist entirely.

 

“What the fuck?” Violet gasps and she sounds sober. She very quickly and carefully draws back her arm and snaps the bracelet shut again. “Nobody should be able to get that off me. Who are you?”

 

Dante doesn’t answer her. His attention’s taken up by the change in the energy in the Elsewhere. He grabs hold of Violet and rolls them both away from the portal.

 

“That’s a big fucking bear,” says Violet, stupidly, staring at the massive bear that’s burst out the Elsewhere. It’s followed by Knights, but they’re not like the one’s he’s seen around Fortuna. They’re shouting in some Arabic language he can’t understand and it looks like they’re trying to co-ordinate an attack.

 

Dante’s seen smaller houses.

 

The bear is too fast for them and can’t get over or through the high walls of the graveyard. It rounds back on them, sweeping them away with its metre long claws.

 

It doesn’t feel right. Not demonic, but not right.

 

One of the Knights sees Dante and Violet, shouting at them in that Arabic gibberish. He does make out one word, “Sparda!” but that’s it.

 

Neither of them get much of a chance to reply, because the bear decides to take its chances with the dinner on the floor.

 

Violet flash steps through a wall as Dante summons a glyph that he bounces off and over the bear, shooting it as he goes. The animal bellows and slashes at him, gashing his leg. Dante swears and lands badly, but he lets himself drop into a roll and by the time he stands and jumps lightly round, it’s healed.

The bear rumbles towards him, surprisingly fast for a creature that size. It raises a paw the size of a small car, swiping at this new irritation. Dante parries the claws, knocking the paw away.

 

It stumbles a little and Dante swings Rebellion down over his head, crashing a helmbreaker on the leg of the creature. It cuts open the leg of the animal down to the bone.

 

Maddened now with pain, the Creature lunges forward to snap at Dante, but he’s already leapt off the nearest wall, landing on its back. The animal stands on its hind legs and it’s all Dante can do to hold on. He drops Rebellion and shoots the bear in the head.

 

The bear’s injured from the demonic bullets in its brain and drops to all fours again. It rolls to rid itself of the attacker on its back and Dante jumps onto its stomach, grabbing up Rebellion from the grass and stabbing it so hard and fast his arm’s a blur.

 

The creature’s stomach opens in an eruption of blood and viscera and it finally passes out with a confused look on its face. It looks peaceful as it goes onwards.

 

Dante gets up, panting and looking round for Violet, as the Knights come running over to Dante. They seem in awe of him and one of them speaks to him, but still he can only make out “Sparda.”

 

One of the other Knights brings Violet over to them. He’s got a firm grip on her upper arms, as she’s still staggering with bravery. He’s speaking to her and she’s hesitantly answering. She looks across at Dante.

 

“I think he thinks you’re Sparda. Do you look like your Dad?” she asks. She’s still drunk, but she’s sobering up enough to concentrate.

 

“As far as I know, spitting image.”

 

“They’re delighted they’ve found you and they want to know how you found yourself in this place.” Violet’s Knight hasn’t let her go. “They miss you, since you left a few years ago.”

 

Dante’s Knight speaks again.

 

“They’re confused how you don’t understand them,” says Violet. She replies something to them and points back at the Elsewhere.

 

The Knight shakes his head and points at Dante.

 

“Godspit and shit, stop fucking complicating things,” she says in that same tone.

 

She looks like she’s about to vomit and begins to heave. The Knights understand that and step backward, except for the one holding her up. Violet smoothly turns in his arms and projectile vomits Credo’s expensive wine and Kyrie’s excellent dinner all over the Knight’s chest and stomach.

 

He drops her in disgust, swearing as he does so. Violet steps with him, pushing him over, before stepping back to Dante and grabbing hold of him. He doesn’t push her away, but grabs hold as the glyphs form under their feet.

 

They see confusion on the Knights’ faces and an outstretched hand as blue flashes and they’re suddenly in the back garden of Credo’s house.

 

Violet steps away from Dante and sits down heavily on one of the garden chairs. He stays leaning against an orange tree.

 

“I don’t think I’ve got your jacket,” she says, brushing it down.

 

“it’ll clean. What was that back there?” He asks.

 

“That bear was ors tal-Gandlora. It’s a Maltese thing, from before we came to Fortuna. Those Knights were speaking a Fortunese dialect of Maltese that’s five hundred years old. I’ve only ever read it and even then.” Her voice trails off as she throws up behind the seat.

 

“So the difference between Shakespearean English and now?” he asks.

 

She nods.

 

“Normally, someone says I don’t look like the kind of person who would like Shakespeare,” says Dante.

 

“I don’t judge. We’ve all got hidden depths. And The Bard has everything. Drama, love stories, the human condition. He even has dick jokes.” She throws up again. “Sparda’s fucking balls. I should not drink.”

 

“So, that Elsewhere must be a portal to Fortuna five hundred years ago,” he says.

 

“This time. Those Knights could step back through and find themselves a thousand years in the future. Or it could fizzle out and leave them here. Like I said, doorway to Elsewhere.” She stands up unsteadily. “I can puke in my own toilet.”

 

She takes his jacket off and leaves it on the bench and starts to walk to the back door.

 

“What’s your favourite Shakespeare play?” Dante asks suddenly.

 

“Othello. I’ll watch any version of it. I love the Bollywood version that came out a few years ago. You?”

 

“MacBeth.”

 

He hears the door open and Trish say a few things to her, before goodnights are exchanged. The door clicks shut and Trish comes out. She curses as her heels sink into the grass.

 

“Everything OK? Nero has mad diva taming skillz.” She brings him out a strawberry Sundae. “You missed dessert with all the fun and games.”

 

“Fuck yes,” says Dante, happily as he tucks into the dessert. “Kyrie lives up to her advertising. I have diva skills as well. I have to with you two around.”

 

Trish snorts and brings out a second spoon. “How complicated is this job going to be?”

 

“I think the expression is hafna liba ttir.”

 

“Fuck,” replies Trish and steals a strawberry.

Chapter Text

 

Fortuna two decades ago

 

“Oh, you’re still here, Mr Redgrave,” says Captain Agius when he comes in. “Will we be seeing you tomorrow or will Verity have a well-deserved rest?”

 

“I was rather thinking that I would stay for dinner,” replies Vergil, ignoring the Captain’s pointed comment. “Verity’s already told Alice to make a little extra. I was hoping to meet Mrs Agius.”

 

“She remains indisposed,” says the Captain. Through gritted teeth he tells Vergil he’s welcome to stay for dinner. “Though I do think that Verity does need a rest now. Perhaps, my dear, you would prefer to have dinner in your room and have an early night?”

 

“No, Papa, I’m fine. I’ve lain around enough,” says Verity, her voice sweet with a steel undertone. “I’m fine now the stair carpet’s been repaired.”

 

Both men see it for what it is – something went very wrong in the Agius household the previous night and Verity means to reproach her father with the bruises on her face. She doesn’t flirt with Vergil at the table, but she draws attention to her face every opportunity she gets.

 

Pinny says nothing, only giving one-word answers when she’s asked anything, before she can’t help herself. “Papa – have you accepted a Courting Suit for me?”

 

Agius stops eating and throws a look at Vergil, before looking back at Pinny, considering his answer. “I have been asked what Courting Gift would be suitable. I informed him that when it becomes material, he can ask you himself. I have also turned down one on your behalf.”

 

“You always said we would be consulted when the time came,” says Pinny accusingly.

 

“And you will be, for the time has not yet come, Agrippina,” warns Agius. “You still have three years left on your training and Verity has five, so there will be no Courting for either of you until then. And now we will not discuss this in front of our guest.”

 

“So you haven’t accepted one for either of us or did you just tell them to wait?” asks Verity. Her bruising has come out worse now and the bleeding in the sclera of her eyes makes it look like her upper face is veiled.

 

The way she rushes so smartly to her sister’s defence makes Vergil think of Dante with a pang.

 

“Verity, we’re an Old Family and it’s different for us,” Says Captain Agius in a gentler voice. “I’ll give you as much choice as I can, but it may not be as much as you’d like.”

 

“So you’re not marrying one of us to Peter Falzon?” Pinny cuts across him, eyes blazing.

 

“As I said, Agrippina, we’re not discussing it at the dinner table,” Captain Agius growls and he has the same look in his eye that he had when he took his hand to his wife.

 

Vergil leans back in his chair with his glass of wine while the discussion rages. “Pity, I’m finding everything about Fortuna’s customs extremely-” he swirls the red about his glass, as if he’s considering his words “-interesting.

 

“So I’m told, Mr Redgrave,” replies Captain Agius, sipping his wine. “Just remember, you will leave eventually. These girls will have to remain here, so I’ll thank you not to fill their heads with Mainland customs. That life is not for them.”

 

“I’m in no hurry to leave, Sir,” says Vergil. He can’t help his eyes flick to Verity as he speaks. “I’ve found I’ve become quite entranced with the mysteries of Fortuna.”

 

Captain Agius looks between them for a moment, before erupting in huge, thigh-slapping guffaws.

 

“That, Mr Redgrave, will upset the apple-cart and no mistake.”

 

***

 

After dinner, Captain Agius excuses himself and leaves the three teenagers alone, but makes it clear that Mr Redgrave should return to his lodgings within the hour.

 

He and Verity snuggle up on the settee, as Pinny pours the remains of the wine between their three glasses. She sits down with a thump on the other settee. “So what we heard them talking about this morning is true. He’s accepted Peter Falzon for me.”

 

“It’s not a shock, Pinny, he’s been chasing you for weeks and Credo asked after me not a fortnight before today,” says Verity.

 

Vergil’s arm tightens around her, but he says nothing.

 

“I wonder who he turned down for you?” continues Verity. “Cassius, perhaps?”

 

“I doubt it. I dally with him, but that’s all it is,” replies Pinny. “But Falzon? Empty Night!

 

“What crime is Falzon guilty of?” Asks Vergil. Whatever mystery that surrounds Fortuna, his instinct tells him Falzon is at the heart of it.

 

“He makes my flesh crawl, Mr Redgrave. There’s something…unsavoury at best and well…”

 

Pinny’s voice trails off and she looks uncomfortable.

 

Vergil cocks his eyebrow. “At worst?”

 

“Evil, Mr Redgrave. Anke l-dubbien ma hara fuq lilu.”

 

Pinny finishes her wine, before storming off to her room.

 

“She’ll be sneaking out the window soon enough,” says Verity. She turns her face up to Vergil and he gently kisses her. Her skin is hot under the bruising and he’s more careful than he would normally be, even as she tries to deepen the kiss.

 

“Do you feel well enough to start solving our mystery, Miss Agius?” he asks, a little mischievously.

 

“I should think so, Mr Redgrave,“ she smiles her little smile. “Bring some trousers and a belt, if I must climb out of windows, for skirts are so ungainly.”

 

“Count on it,” he grins and kisses her hard. He tries to pull back as she hisses, but her hand’s on the back of his head and holds him firm. He loves that she’s comfortable with being uncomfortable - if she stays in his world, she’s going to need that.

 

***

 

Two nights later, Verity is wearing a shortgown, boots and his jacket as she shimmies down the drainpipe between her and Pinny’s rooms. She hasn’t bothered with her hijab, just pleated her hair into a long rope that snakes down her back.

 

From the angle he’s standing at, Vergil has a fantastic view of her legs and ass. They’re long and toned and from how she’s contorting herself to get down that pipe, she’s really flexible. He helps her the last few metres and hands her the trousers. Verity holds on to his arm as she changes, but there’s nothing flirty between them and he approves of the way she understands that this is business.

 

Except when he puts his belt on her, their eyes fixed on each other as he slides it quickly through the loops and buckling it at the front. Vergil tells himself that there’s no flourishes nor flirting so she can tell when a companion is suiting her up for battle.

 

“Where first?” is all she says.

 

It’s like she’s passed another test and he almost feels a sense of relief as he slides the snakeskin closed in the clasp of the buckle.

 

“Opera house,” he replies.

 

Neither make any move to kiss the other, just small nods as they break contact and move off into the night.

 

***

 

They’re not troubled by Patrols while they’re still in Top of the Town, where the Old Families and well-heeled citizens live. There’s not even that many tourists wandering around at this time of night. It’s chilly, just enough to frost, as it’s still only early spring with warm days and cold nights.

 

Once they get down towards the Business District and the Tourist Quarter, however, the Patrols increase. Music thumps from the bars and coffee houses frequented by citizens during the day when the tourists are too hungover to be abroad that early. At this time of night, the Patrols don’t enforce the dress code, even though legally, it’s in place. They’re much more concerned with keeping order with young drunk foreigners from an alien culture.

 

Verity can’t help but gawp at the women with their big hair and skimpy dresses. Vergil looks to where she’s watching one group of girls shouting and swearing at each other in skyscraper heels and drunken English. They’re drawing the attention of some Knights.

 

One of the girls notices Verity looking at her and calls something to her and beckons. One of the Knights looks across and shouts something at Verity. He looks like he’s about to come over to her before Vergil hauls Verity into an alley. He can hear the Knights come running over and pulls her close before flash stepping onto a roof and pulling them both down, a hand over her mouth.

 

“Shhhh,” he whispers in her ear and she nods. He doesn’t pull his hand away.

 

They wait, lying on the roof as the Patrol searches the alley for them. They’ve got their swords drawn and they’re stabbing the rubbish lying about it.

 

“I don’t understand where they went,” says the one who’d spotted them first. “I know I saw them come in here.”

 

“How’d you know she was a local?”

 

“She was over-dressed compared to those qaħb. She knew damn fine she shouldn’t be here, not even her headscarf on.” They can hear him looking in the dumpsters and swearing when a rat jumps out at him.

 

“You’d better clean that sword before you resheathe it,” says the other Knight.

 

“There’s nowhere she could have climbed up,” says the first one. They can hear him trying to climb up the wall.

 

There’s a screech from outside and girls screaming at each other. Vergil raises his head to look over the street and several of the girls from earlier are hauling at each other’s hair. The Knights swear and rush to break it up.

 

Vergil hauls Verity up and they continue running across the roofs, jumping across the gaps and flash stepping across the wider breaches.

 

And then the Opera House is before them across the street from the roof of the Fortuna Inn.

 

Vergil looks like he’s contemplating the distance when Verity puts her hand on his arm.

 

“Let me, Mr Redgrave,” she says, almost playfully.

 

“Then you need to focus, Verity, and not be distracted by frivolities,” he replies, sharply. “I’m not going to die for a pretty dress.”

 

Verity’s dark eyes meet Vergil’s ice blue and he swears they flash with anger at his reprimand. That little sideways quirk plays briefly on her lips and she looks like she’s about to argue with him.

 

“Not dying sounds like excellent motivation to me,” she scowls as she straightens to her full height and looks over to the Opera Houses’ side door. Vergil can feel the energy begin to coalesce around her and he steps behind her, pressing himself against her. He can sense her work through the spell in her mind, separating the portals from here to there.

 

He can tell the moment when she begins to pour her will into the spell and manipulate the energies across the void. The power starts to pull at his feet and he can see the light from the glyph that’s forming and spinning.

 

“Show me your motivation,” he whispers in her ear, enfolding her in his arms.

 

She shudders and then there’s so much light and colour and they’re not on the roof anymore. They’ve ported into a storeroom. His thumb is ready to flick up Yamato, but there’s nothing. They step away from each other, expecting an ambush or Knights busting down the door to arrest them.

 

Verity’s breathing is loud in the dark room, like she’s ran a marathon. “I’m fine,” she replies to Vergil’s quizzical glance. “That was the first time I’ve ported that far.”

 

“You’re very powerful, but very raw,” observes Vergil. “We’ll need to practice more.”

 

“You sound like my tutors,” frowns Verity. “I spend hours every day practicing and studying. I’m so much better than I used to be.”

 

Vergil begins to move off. “You need to refine that power, but we’ll work on that together. The idea is to push your limits, not blow them out completely. You need to leave something in reserve.”

 

She walks faster to keep up with him. She is annoyed. “You speak as if you know magic and you forget my young age.”

 

“I know power and how to use it,” he retorts. “I’m only two years older than you. Don’t be such a child, Verity.”

 

Verity blinks rapidly to hold back the sudden sting of tears. “I was asking for allowances, not making excuses. You aren’t paying for the right to insult me.”

 

She storms off ahead of him into the next room, leaving Vergil knowing he’s right, but that he’s somehow done something wrong. Part of him is infuriated at her and the other part wants to mollify her.

 

It strikes him how little experience he has with women.

 

But he’s not running after the foolish little chit.

 

She can wait on him till she calms down.

 

He’s so intent on his righteous anger, that it takes him a while to realise that he can’t hear her.

 

What he can hear is the sounds of battle somewhere above him and the inhuman giggling tells him it’s probably not Knights. The cold clutch of fear in his heart speeds his feet up a broken staircase, flash stepping and changing his form as he goes. He bursts into the room and Yamato is out as he takes the first scarecrow easily. He’s already on to the second and third, slicing through them before they even know what’s hit them.

 

He still can’t see her.

 

They’re smarter than the average scarecrow and they just keep coming. He slides rapidly through them, slashing as he goes, surrounding himself with Summoned Swords to control the horde. He fires them off as he leaps over them and as many as he takes out, more come.

 

Where the Hell is she?

 

He’s able to tamp down his panic for the job in hand – it’s not that different from being aware of his brother’s position when they worked together, but Verity isn’t Dante  - and his strikes ring true, not one hit landing that wasn’t seen before Yamato leaves her saya or Force Edge his back, but his ears still strain for the sound of her beyond the doorway.

 

Another wave comes as he’s bounced back against a strike he didn’t see coming, smashing into shelves and sending boxes flying. It’s all props and clothing for the Opera House and it’s hard not to get entangled within them on the rough paved floor. He goes down, but has enough time to pull off a teleport and summoned swords at them.

 

He pushes his will into sending a spiral of dark energy from Yamato and it clears enough of a path that he has breathing space. Still they come, another wave, but the exit’s blocked, so he can’t get out and he’s not leaving without her, infuriating, obstinate, beautiful devil that she is.

 

If he couldn’t get out that way, then neither could she…

 

He feels the spell before he sees it, sees the mix of glyphs and sigils overlying with more runes and symbols, many of them not meant for what she’s trying to do, but she’s forcing it anyhow. The energy spins and twists on the floor and ceiling. As he looks up, Vergil sees her perched on the rafters above the door. The power twists and spins round her like an aura and he can almost see it tearing across the void between the dimensions to pour into the physical spell she’s weaving.

 

The overflow from it is making it more and more difficult to hold his devil trigger.

 

He can sense her reaching a crescendo and powers down his Trigger just as she casts.

 

The two glyphs smack together in the middle of the room, disintegrating the scarecrows as they come together. There’s an explosion of blue light and sound that ricochets around the room like a bomb.

 

Even Vergil feels nauseous and weightless simultaneously, but there’s searing pain as he’s thumped into the wall, smashing another set of shelves. He’s dimly surprised there’s any still standing.

 

He forces himself to his feet, readying for another attack and pulling deep from his reserves.

 

Almost drunkenly, he makes his way over to her as he can feel her losing consciousness. He just about catches her as she falls in a flutter of blue leather. She’s bleeding out her ears and nose and she’s burst almost every blood vessel in her eyes. Her sclera is crimson with black irises.

 

“Verity! Verity!” he says urgently, as if his voice alone can bring her round. There’s blood on his fingertips where he’s touched her face. “You’re bleeding from your eyes, you little horror. What did I tell you about reserving your powers?”

 

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a Vital Star, just a small one and crushes it against her teeth.

 

The effect is immediate. Verity comes round choking and spluttering. “What the hell is that? It’s disgusting!”

 

“Something you should get used to,” says Vergil, voice harsh and face soft. “Even a devil may cry for the fear of your next trick.”

 

“Dan ix-xitan ghandu icun mara,” she grins weakly and there’s blood and green fluid on her teeth.

 

“Credo will be unable to resist you,” says Vergil as he helps her stand.

 

She pouts and thumps his arm.

 

“I can’t wait to make you pay for that,” says Vergil, with a glint in his eye. “Can you go on?”

 

She nods. “Credo won’t get a choice and neither will I.”

 

Verity begins to walk off, but Vergil stops her. “What happened to getting off Fortuna and seeing the world?”

 

“Don’t fill my head with Mainland nonsense,” Verity mimics her father. “We’ll be left behind when you’re long gone.”

 

Vergil laughs and lets her go. Her jest disquiets him far more than it should. He sets it aside for now, it’s nothing to do with the job in hand.

 

They move on through the door and find themselves on a balcony. They sneak along it, hoping the Patrols don’t look up. At this time of night, the town is buzzing with revellers, mostly drunk and arguing with each other. Vergil catches sight of a small woman knocking a large Knight out cold and thinks that that would really have amused his brother.

 

They come to another door and find themselves in a large, church like room with a crystal floating in a blue light down the front.

 

“This is our second Kapella, when the Opera House is in use,” Verity explains. “And that is a confined demon that’s been split up and placed around various points on the Island. It tries to reconnect to itself. It gives people the power to port without needing to know how to do it.”

 

She points out the platform on the balcony underneath them. It looks like a design on the floor.

 

Vergil leads her down the stairs and stops her just before the twisting pillar that encases the crystal. He walks the final few feet towards it and pulls it from the energy. He feels it react to his devil trigger, light twisting and circling around him in a white aura before settling back within him.

 

“What kind of work are the Order involved in?” asks Vergil. He finds the idea of splitting a demon, either physically or its essence abhorrent.

 

“All kinds, especially since that big chemical company opened here a few years ago. Most of our Alchemists were taken on by them and they’ve brought in a lot of their own people. They share their work with the Archive, so it’s literally a big –“  she tries to think of the word she’s heard used “-skola kbira, faċilitajiet ta 'taħriġ…”

 

“University?” suggests Vergil.

 

“University,” she nods. “Most of our and their Alchemists pass through it.”

 

They’ve walked back up to the platform with the design on it. It’s spinning and alive now, like it was one of Verity’s glyphs. Vergil feels it respond to him as he stands on it and hears a spot open up on the balcony above him. He glances at Verity, who gestures to the grim grip. “See if it works for you. It doesn’t work for everyone.”

 

Vergil concentrates, then marks the spot with a summoned sword. He flies through the air like he’s been catapulted, so it’s not teleporting. He turns to Verity and holds out a hand to her.

 

“I don’t know what to do with these,” she says, uncertainly. “How’d you do the sword thing?”

 

“Vee,” he says, surprising himself at using a contraction of her name. “Close your eyes and I’ll talk you through it.”

 

Verity looks doubtful.

 

Vergil huffs in irritation. “Do you feel able to port up here quickly?”

 

“No, I’m tired.”

 

“Then it makes sense to use these grim grips and conserve your powers for when we need them,” he says, trying not to sound as if he’s explaining to a child. He’s quickly working out where it comes to love it’s not right or wrong that matters, it’s right or left. He wishes that he had Dante’s ease with the opposite sex or better yet, that his parents had been able to tell him what to do.

 

Being with Verity drives home how alone in the world he is and it shouldn’t matter, but it does. Other than her, right now he has no one.

 

“Close your eyes and stand on the platform,” he says, voice low. He sees Verity suppress a shiver, but she stands on the platform.

 

It’s why Verity’s joke about Credo bothered him so much. It’s only been a week, but he can’t imagine her without him nor him without her.

 

She gasps as it reacts to her and she looks up at him. “There’s a grim grip forming beside you.”

 

“Can you feel it?”

 

Verity nods.

 

“Then imagine it’s pulling you up towards me.”

 

She doesn’t close her eyes, but locks her gaze with his. Vergil thinks he can make out her eyes in the mess of her face. He forms a sword so she’s got something to work from and holds it point down, the way the Knights do when they stand to attention.

 

She bites her lip as she focuses, forming the sword out of the ether beside her.

 

Vergil says nothing, but lets her work.

 

She fires it off and it hits. Suddenly she’s flying through the air and Vergil grabs her as she lands, the momentum spinning them a little. She clutches him just as hard.

 

“It worked,” she says, as if she can’t quite believe it, exhilaration shining on her face.

 

“It did,” and he can’t help but return her smile and suddenly he’s got her pressed up against a pillar, mouth against hers.

 

She returns it just as forcefully, tongue duelling, slipping and sliding around the other, circling over the roofs of their mouths. There’s no art, nor teasing to their kiss, it’s just raw need as their hands trace as frantic a path as their mouths.

 

Vergil breaks off from her lips to kiss over her jaw and throat, hand twisting in her braid, pulling her head back so he’s got more access. Her fingers dig in to his neck and scratch, marking him. It doesn’t stop either of them.

 

A particularly loud shriek of laughter from the revellers outside bring the couple to and they part slowly, breathing heavily.

 

“We need to keep focused on the task at hand, Mr Redgrave,” says Verity, breathily, but even through the blood in her eyes he can see they’re shining.

 

“Then you need to stop distracting me, Miss Agius,” Vergil says, mock sternly as he sucks her lower lip. He grins as they part. “Where next, you think, Vee?”

 

“The Opera House. I want a look at that floor,” she replies, breaking away.

 

They make their way back to the Opera House.

 

It’s like all such buildings that see public usage and performances, a cross between tired and expectant. Their footsteps are loud and echoing in the space.

 

Vergil watches Verity as she walks around the outside of the dropped floor.

 

“Says to me no one’s been down there yet for a look,” he says.

 

“I think I can unlock it,” she replies. “Or port us under, but I don’t like porting into places I’m not familiar with. I don’t want to port us into a wall.”

 

“You could always unlock it and port us out,” suggests Vergil.

 

“Alright,” Verity says as she holds out a hand to him. He comes over and takes it.

 

Her breathing changes as she mentally follows the mechanisms of the floor and how they fit together. Vergil can almost see a blue aura tracing along the floor, as if it’s lighting up a glyph. She works out where to hold back and where to press and there’s a ringing sound as the dropped floor lights up. They give each other a surprised look before stepping on to it.

 

Verity clutches at Vergil as the floor begins to descend.

 

It lowers into a cistern with a raised walkway in the centre. There’s lit braziers along the wall.

 

Vergil’s thumb is on Yamato as he listens and looks around. He glances over to Verity, who’s closed her eyes. There’s a fine blue mist flowing out around the room, but she shakes her head and the mist withdraws.

 

They move out to the end of the walkway, mindful of an attack coming from the water.

 

“Can you feel that?” asks Vergil.

 

“I feel like I’m walking into a thunderstorm,” agrees Verity. “There’s a huge build-up of power in here. Stone and water channels magical energy like nothing else.”

 

“It feels like a battery,” he agrees.

 

“Stone tape,” she says as they reach the end. They look at the metal design with its carved pattern.

 

“Are we right under the hellgate?” Asks Vergil.

 

“I think so.”

 

“That pattern is designed to spread power around, isn’t it?” He says, crouching down and touching the metal. “I think that’s copper.”

 

“I think you’re right. I think it’s a magical battery to power the hell gate. Someone must be down here everyday to keep the fires burning.” She walks around, mindful of the edge. “So I suppose they make the connection by putting something magic in the centre.”

 

“What do you think it could be?” he asks. “It’s narrow, whatever it is.”

 

“Sword maybe? Staff?” Verity frowns for a moment. “I’m sure I read that one of Sparda’s swords powered the Hell Gate. One of them had the power to cut through dimensions. I can’t remember the name, though. Something Chinese, I think.”

 

“Yamato, it’s Japanese,” says Vergil, carefully watching her reaction and pulling Yamato more into her field of vision. “What else do you know about them?”

 

“It was a nodachi, I think,” she says. “It’s quite long. I know more about Western swords than Eastern ones.”

 

“Anything else?” He twists Yamato back and forth in his hand and the fact that it’s an unnecessary move should clue her in, but Verity doesn’t catch it.

 

“I think we’ve seen everything here,” Verity says, moving past him to go back down the walkway. “I’m sure both swords could do it. The other one, Sparda, Force Edge or something. We’ll go over it tomorrow, I’ll get the pass for the Caged Library and we can look at the more obscure legends.”

 

“More obscure?” He hurries to catch up to her.

 

“Yes, Temen-Ni-Gru, Sparda and Thekla, some of their adventures defy belief and it had to end when she sacrificed herself to close the Portal between the worlds. It’s heart-wrenching – they were so in love.” Verity’s face is becoming more animated as she recites the tale. “It’s even more romantic than Romeo and Juliet.”

 

She clasps her hands together as she speaks.

 

“Sparda had a human lover?” Cuts in Vergil, grabbing Verity’s hands.

 

“Well, yes,” responds Verity, confused. “It’s a common tale – a reprobate falls for a virtuous woman and to win her heart improves himself. It seems to be at the heart of love-based treasons as well. Cupid really needs to consider his arrows more judiciously.”

 

“You forget the counter to that tale, Vee,” says Vergil. It’s taking all of his strength to conceal his agitation at Verity’s revelation. He feels like the ground’s shifting under his feet and won’t stop.

 

“Counter, Mr Redgrave?”

 

Vergil hasn’t let go of Verity’s hand. He’s squeezing it tightly and hasn’t realised how much it’s hurting, given her bruising from her fall the previous week, but she makes no sound nor sign he pains her. “So many reprobates ruin a good woman.”

 

“Then I would counter that either she deserves it with her lack of wit or she wished for it to happen and so will turn it to her advantage to win her freedom,” she replies with her sideways quirk.

 

That smile cuts through all his whirling thoughts and he thinks “At least I still have you.”

 

“Which are you, Miss Agius?” he teases, cocking an eyebrow.

 

“Which are you, Mr Redgrave?” she asks, eyes glinting. “We should go on. The morning draws near.”

 

They use the floor to return to the Opera House, to conserve Verity’s energy.

 

“Vergil!? What the fuck?”

 

A tall, well-built man is standing by the far door, shocked recognition on his face. He looks almost horrified. He’s drawn his gun and the way he’s got it aimed, it’s trained on Verity

 

Vergil doesn’t hesitate, pushing Verity out the way and drawing Yamato in one smooth move. He flash-steps towards him and swirls Yamato in a swift slash.

 

The man in red parries it with his handgun and he’d draw his sword but for the blue glyph forming under his feet. He leaps away from it before it goes off, landing on the railing round Sparda’s statue. He jumps away, pulling his own red glyph up so he jumps higher onto the statue’s scaffolding.

 

Vergil bounds up after him and hesitates for just one second as he thinks he recognises his father. 

 

“Vergil! Wait!”

 

The man has to draw his sword and Vergil admits to himself, it’s a good replica for Rebellion. He calls a rain of summoned swords, forcing the other man to leap off the half-clad statue. He lands near the front row of pews and draws his other gun, shooting at Vergil.

 

 He doesn’t land a hit, Vergil’s too fast, flash-stepping to close the distance, as he lets off a barrage of glowing blue swords. The man in red steps off a forming glyph, but it doesn’t matter, it powers down as Vergil reaches him in a clang of steel.

 

They have a brief, clashing fight as each man slashes and parries the blows, with the man in red just gaining the upper hand, jumping away and over him, another red glyph giving him distance. He turns mid-air and shoots at Vergil.

 

Vergil spins Yamato so fast she’s a blur and only stops to lay some of the bullets on the ground, flicking them back at the man in red.

 

He moves just as fast to deflect them, ricocheting them into the wall and pews near Verity. She summons a glyph that absorbs them.

 

Vergil Devil Triggers and striking Force Edge on the floor, sends a swirl of dark energy at where the stranger will land. It hits him and knocks him flying, but he recovers quickly, meeting the next swirl with a well-timed arm block. Red energy ripples across the shield he’s summoned.

 

He doesn’t see the blue glyph form beside him that absorbs the shield and explodes. He’s hurtled across the room and into the benches, breaking them. He lies there dazed.

 

Vergil vaults over the railings of the pulpit, somersaulting in an elegant indigo flash, Force Edge ready to bring down the stranger’s head in a battle ending helmbreaker.

 

At the last second, the stranger draws his sword and blocks it with the blade, one hand flat against it.

 

Vergil’s sure of two things – the man thinks he recognises him and the man is a dead ringer for his father.

 

“Who are you? How do you know my name?”

 

“Dante.”

 

Vergil kicks him in the stomach. “Liar!”

 

The stranger grunts. “I can’t explain it either.”

 

He swipes his foot under Vergil’s legs, bringing him down. He distantly hears a woman shout “Vergil!” and sees him ported away in a blue glyph to the other side of the room.

 

It’s done so forcefully that Vergil breaks the benches when he’s discharged from it. He grunt-groans when he hits and he’s staggering a little when he gets back up. He’s lost his Devil Trigger and is back in human form.

 

“I don’t want to fight you,” says Dante, chest heaving.

 

“Then you’ll be disappointed,” replies Vergil and swings back in for the attack.

 

Dante meets the slash with a low swing of his own and both men grunt at the contact.

 

“We don’t have to do this again,” says Dante.

 

They’re caught in a blade lock, but Vergil twists his way out of it. it’s the kind of blow that should have sent the stranger’s sword flying out of his hands, but he recovers it well enough. He punches Vergil in the face with the hilt, knocking him backwards.

 

Vergil turns it into a backwards roll, leaping backwards over the railing and onto the arms of the statue. He nearly loses his footing as the tarps covering it slips and he’s only saved by stabbing Force Edge into the marble.

 

Blue glyphs form under the bricks sitting on the scaffolding, launching them at Dante.

 

He shoots them out the air like clay pigeons before turning on Verity and firing at her, but the bullets don’t hit her. She’s got a shield up to deflect them.

 

But it looks to Vergil like he wasn’t aiming at her, but by her, just enough to look good. The younger man’s certain if he wanted to hit Verity, the stranger could.

 

So why isn’t he?

 

He aims another heavy rain of summoned swords down on the stranger, forcing him to block them, but at least he’s not shooting at her. He keeps up the rain of blue swords as the stranger stands up, keeping his shield in place, red energy rippling over the surface with each blade striking home.

 

It’s an effort for the stranger, but he’s not tiring the way Verity is. Vergil looks across to her and she’s bleeding out her nose again. She looks across to the platform above the stranger.

 

Vergil follows her gaze and sees small glyphs form on the join of the metal skeleton of the horn. He looks back to her and nods. He flash-steps up the frame of the scaffolding and in one hard swipe strikes the horn clean from the head.

 

The glyphs pull it down the front of the sculpture and down on the man in red, the planks of the scaffold coming down with it, raining onto him. He shouts, but it’s cut short.

 

“Hold your weapons! You’re under arrest!”

 

The racket’s brought several Patrols in to the Opera House and one set are heading for Verity. All of them have their swords drawn.

 

Vergil’s not looking at the ones demanding he come down and starting to climb up. He’s looking at Verity.

 

She points to a piece of empty floor without looking at him and her fingers are beginning a countdown. She’s looking at the floor by the Knights who are approaching her.

 

Vergil gives his cold smile. He knows exactly how this is going to play out.

 

He throws Yamato like a boomerang just as Verity blows up the benches in front of the Knights who are coming to arrest her and flash steps over to her, grabbing her and porting to where she indicated.

 

Yamato twirls through the air, cutting the wooden uprights of the scaffolding and sending them crashing down on the Knights.

 

The sword comes spiralling back into his hand as Verity runs through forming the glyph that will port them several streets away from the Opera House onto somebody’s roof.

 

Vergil would talk about it with her, but Verity is dead on her feet and it’s nothing that can’t wait till tomorrow.

 

He doesn’t take her back to her house. Instead he takes her to the Archive Lodgings. He tells himself that he’d have taken her home if she’d said. Vergil considers most humans beneath him, he’ll never admit even to himself that he’s soul-crushingly lonely and misses his brother like meat misses salt.

 

Maybe that’s the reason Vergil Sparda fell in love with Verity Agius so fast, maybe it isn’t.

 

Truth be told, he doesn’t want to be parted from her, not now he’s seen her in combat and how well they meshed as a team. He knew he’d seen something that set her apart from all the rest and his heart sings to know he was right.

 

 Vergil tells himself, as Verity lies against him wearing one of his silk shirts, the curves of her body warm and soft against his, that this is the reason that when he leaves Fortuna, she’s coming with him. It would never occur to him that her soul, her fire, the fact she can go toe to toe with him in every respect add up to I love you and have since the moment they fell off that damned fountain.

 

Maybe it doesn’t matter how you meet your Soulmate, just that you do.

Chapter Text

 

Violet’s already up when Kyrie comes down.  They don’t look at each other for a moment.

 

“Rough night?”

 

Violet looks over at Kyrie. The younger woman is sorting the table for breakfast.

 

“Yeah. I had a lot of nightmares.”

 

“Same thing?”

 

“Isn’t it always?”

 

Kyrie pauses, stands upright.

 

“I’m sorry,” they say in unison and the tension in the room evaporates.

 

“I’m not giving you it back,” says Kyrie.

 

Violet looks puzzled.

 

“The bracelet. There’s something about it,” she replies. “I shouldn’t have been able to get that meeting eating out my hand the way I did.”

 

“You’re just that good, Kyrie. Shit, we’re out of everything.” Violet looks through the fridge. There’s enough for three, but not six people.

 

“Want to chance a big shop run?” Kyrie comes over to look in the fridge. It doesn’t miraculously fill up. “It’s early enough the Knights won’t be down there.”

 

“We’re going to have to. I’ll get the robes,” says Violet, rooting in the cupboard for blue Pilgrims Robes. “Here we go.”

 

“Got the cash if we get fined?”

 

Violet pulls notes from a tin. “Yep. Let’s get to work.”

 

***

 

The supermarket in the old warehouse is 24 hours, but it’s still pretty quiet in the car park, maybe just ten or twenty cars. Almost everyone is in Pilgrim’s Robes, except for the few Knights nearly finishing a Night Patrol.

 

Everyone looks steadfastly at the floor or to the shelves. Nobody meets anyone else’s eyes, unless they’re in with someone. The Knights make extra sure they aren’t looking, unless a Captain appears and they have to start fining people on the spot.

 

“So, eggs,” Kyrie says in English. She’s put jeans on under her robes, Violet’s still in her jammies. “Do you have no shame?”

 

“I’m wearing robes, who’s going to see? Eggs are down there.”

 

“I hate when they move things. Takes longer to get round.” Kyrie scowls. “It’s like they’re getting kickbacks if we’re fined. Bread.”

 

“Next aisle. Look left. Knight on the right.”

 

The Knight in question turns abruptly to look very interested in the ingredients of a tin of soup.

 

“What did you mean earlier? About the meeting?” asks Kyrie, quietly.

 

“You’re used to holding an audience and making them feel things. You’re an internationally known singer, that’s what you do on stage. It’s taught you how to use it for other things.” Violet picks up the milk as they pass it.

 

“Greek yoghurt as well. I just remembered that you told me that certain stones channel certain emotions.”

 

Violet picks the yoghurt up as they pass. “Right, Kyrie. You had a thousand angry people eating out your hand because of the pretty blue stone. What’s next on the list?”

 

“Fruit. Fresh, frozen or tinned? That’s what Nero said.” Kyrie looks at Violet and then past her. “Godspit and shit. Captains.”

 

Violet looks. “Well they’re only sealing the doors. We might as well get the rest of our stuff.”

 

The young Knight they’d passed earlier is looking for a way out the shop, muttering in annoyance. “I just want to get something to eat. I hate night patrol.”

 

“Do we need to get much more? And Nero is right. Just next time, have your debate a little less loudly? The walls aren’t that thick,” Violet says as she takes the shopping list from Kyrie.

 

“Potatoes. Pasta, rice, meat. Toilet roll. Washing powder and bleach. Cheese. Shampoo, shower gel. Conditioner and Nero’s hair stuff. Veg. Oatmeal. Flour and butter and then that’s us.” Kyrie recites the list from memory. “Same stuff as usual, just more of it.”

 

She pauses for a moment. “Why did you never marry Credo? And don’t say reasons.”

 

Violet gives her an appraising look, like she’s considering her answer. “That’s left field.”

 

“Violet!”

 

“I wanted him to bin me off for someone who could have children. He wanted to adopt, rather than be without me.” Violet’s eyes tear and she stops herself blinking so they don’t fall.

 

“So why didn’t you?”

 

“I’ll tell you in the car. I’m not baring my soul in a Tesco.” She looks down the aisle to the door so Kyrie doesn’t see the tears fall. “Are they coming in, because we might be able to avoid them if they are.”

 

Kyrie peers up the other aisles. “No, they’re just IDing everyone at the door.”

 

“Get a receipt for the fine, then. UO’s started paying it after Sanctus withdrew the protections for Fortunese UO workers.” Violet looks mischievous. “Unless you get us out of the fine.”

 

Kyrie glares at her, then looks speculative. “You think I could do it?”

 

“I think you should have a go.”

 

They’re through the till with Violet packing as Kyrie loads it on the conveyer belt. They keep glancing at the door, while the young Somali Muslim shop assistant makes small talk with Kyrie, whom she knows from Kyrie’s job at the refugee shelter. She’s speaking in Somali, which Kyrie has a working knowledge of. The young woman gestures at the door a bit.

 

 It sounds like gibberish to Violet.

 

“Any suggestions about how I should start?” asks Kyrie.

 

“I don’t know. How do you gear yourself up for a performance?” replies Violet.

 

“I go through the scales.”

 

“I don’t think that will help right now. Unless you sing and I make a run for it with the trolley.” Violet fiddles with the bags to make them easier to get into the car quickly.

 

Kyrie fiddles with the bracelet and then takes a deep breath. Her whole demeanour changes as she takes hold of the end of the trolley and Violet pushes.

 

They’re just walking through when the Captain stops them. “ID please, ladies.”

 

“We’ve got frozen stuff and our digs are over on the bay,” says Kyrie, pleasantly, but with a hint of urgency.

 

“I’m dreadfully sorry, Madam. Of course.” He steps aside so that they can leave.

 

They’ve never loaded up that car so fast in their lives.

 

***

 

“Before we start today, Knight Balzan, I should like to make one thing crystal clear.” Falzon pours himself a coffee as Nero stands to attention before him, Red Queen drawn, but her blade resting on the floor, his hands on the pommel. “I hold you in no way accountable for the disgraceful behaviour of your female relatives. I can only shudder at how Supreme General Micellef ran his home. I’m delighted that you have proven to be above that nonsense.”

 

Speak. You need to acknowledge him, Tony says from beside him. Nero can see him out the corner of his eye, but he can keep his focus on Falzon. He’s had enough practice with Kyrie chattering nonsense while he works.

 

“Thank you, my Lord.” You could never have imagined that it would have turned out as it did. “I had no idea the day would turn out as it did.”

 

“Of course you couldn’t, Nero.” Falzon rubs his mouth again and it’s an unconscious move.

 

It’s still bothering him. Good. Tony’s a quiet speaker, but the malice in his tone is so loud Nero wonders how Falzon can’t hear it.

 

“However, if you can rise above the disorder of your home, then so can Madam Alighieri and Sister Micellef.” Falzon sips his coffee. “We will take them in hand for the Times to Come and restore some dignity to Fortuna. I have faith that you and Sister Micellef will be shining examples of the best of Fortuna to those who will be sharing the island with us. Have you discussed your upcoming nuptials with her?”

 

“Yes, My Lord,” Nero pauses as Tony prompts She wishes to wait a decent time to mourn her brother. “We’re holding off setting a date because of Credo.”

 

“Of course, however, while we give the dead their due, we cannot pause our plans for them. Time waits for no man.” Falzon adds more cream to his coffee. “And it certainly won’t wait for us.”

 

“My Lord?” asks Nero, uncertainly. Tony frowns and Nero does have to fight to ignore him as he glances at him.

 

“You must come to dinner with myself and some other members of the Guild and Committees. I should like to give your wedding plans a prominent place in the Tourist’s Guild’s new campaign for the renewed Fortuna.” Falzon pulls out his diary and motions for Nero to do the same. Nero pulls out his phone.

 

“Not always a man of tradition, Knight Balzan?”

 

“In some things, you have to move with the times,” replies Nero.

 

“Indeed. You built that handgun yourself, did you not?” Falzon motions towards Blue Rose.

 

“Yes, My Lord,” says Nero, aware of the comforting weight of the sidearm against his leg.

 

“Does it not bother you that it’s against the dictates of the Order?” Asks Falzon.

 

He has a point. Ranged weapons are unbecoming of a warrior.

 

“Because Sparda didn’t use guns?” says Nero. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t use a motorcycle sword either.”

 

Falzon laughs. “True, true. You can justify anything if you think about it hard enough.”

 

I’m sure Falzon can and again, Nero can feel the malevolence seeping from Tony. He points at Nero’s phone. Dinner. You’ve a wedding to plan.

 

“My Lord, what date suits?” Nero prompts.

 

Falzon picks a date in ten days’ time and Nero really hopes that neither Kyrie nor Violet have something on. That sorted, Nero takes up his appropriate stance behind Falzon.

 

For someone who’s so married to tradition, Falzon seems very keen to push this wedding through, says Tony as he lounges against Falzon’s desk. He casts a casual eye towards Falzon, but the older man is intent on his work.

 

“People marry young in Fortuna. I guess it’s the demons and most of the work around here is dangerous – mining and fishing.” Nero replies, thinking of everyone he knows. Very few didn’t wed and begin a family by 21, 22. Credo was an outlier, but it wasn’t for the want of asking Violet. Dorcas and Alexander, must have married at about that age to have Credo, who was already late teens, early 20s when Kyrie came along.

 

Even so, to ignore the mourning period for Credo. Is it still 13 turns of the moon? Persists Tony as he gets up and starts to walk round the office. Nero can hear his boots tap against the stone floor.

 

“I think so. I never paid much attention to it. I mean we hadn’t even planned on getting married.”

 

Because you’re together, you’re as good as married? Tony sounds just a little bit mocking, but there is an underlying tenderness there.

 

“Well, yes. Piece of paper doesn’t change that.” Replies Nero.

 

I can assure you it makes an awful lot of legal difference. Stroke of a pen and Kyrie lost half her house and her mother’s wedding ring. Tony pauses so that his words sink in.

 

Nero doesn’t reply.

 

And that angel around her neck – is that not your Courting Gift? That gift starts the clock ticking to the Master’s Bedroom in 13 turns of the moon. Do they still have Wedding Nights in the Castle? He turns from examining Falzon’s shelves, his fingers skimming the books.

 

“Old Families and Members of the Order,” Nero has to think for a moment. “It’s still mandatory.”

 

Are they still witnessed – live coverage? Tony asks, casually. He puts his finger on the spine of a book and pulls.

 

It falls to the floor with a thump, making both Nero and Falzon jump. Tony gives a small smile and vanishes.

 

***

 

People tend to be creatures of habit. They tend to do the same things, in the same ways, most days.

 

It makes it easy for them to function, reduces the brain power needed for daily tasks and freeing up more space for difficult undertakings.

 

All creatures do it. Humans, demons, mice. They all have a pattern to their days.

 

Dante isn’t a morning person, so he misses breakfast. He figures that Violet would have woke him up if she needed him and the bed’s so comfy as Trish lies against him. He snuggles down closer, listening to the sounds of the house as it moves and creaks. He can feel by the way she’s lying that Trish is awake and listening just as intently to the noises, familiarising herself with the family routine.

 

It’s the first thing they do in any new place.

 

They wait for a bit once everyone’s out and it doesn’t sound like Lady’s up either.

 

“You’re on my hair,” mumbles Trish.

 

“It smells so good,” he murmurs back, stroking the hair he’s not lying on. “That coconut?”

 

“Mmm-hm.” She squirms a little as Dante takes his hand past her hair and down her side to the top of her leg and back up, lazily stroking.

 

Dante’s got some morning wood working and it seems like a shame to waste it.  He’s snuggled up that close against her that it fits neatly in the crease of her ass. There’s no danger in the touch yet, either one could break off or it could go nowhere, stay a comforting snuggle between partners.

 

It could go everywhere.

 

Dante’s been on edge since Lady had first brought them the job. Part of Trish wishes she’d passed on it. Trish will never forget his face when he saw that photo.

 

Dante’s moved slightly, enough to free her hair and his hand’s still making that lazy trail along her skin. He’s moved so that he can watch her face, get a gauge for if she’ll say no and get up for breakfast.

 

She never says no, she can’t say no to him. Not to Dante.

 

Not if it means she never has to see that look again.

 

His hand’s trailing across her stomach, running along where her top’s ridden up. He’s not moving his hand off that narrow band of flesh between her shorts and her top, but she’s sensitive there and she shivers. Trish bites her lip and suddenly she’s aware of Dante’s huge chest, huge dick, huge legs, huge everything looming over her.

 

Trish isn’t small, but she feels tiny right now against him. He drops a line of wet, open kisses over her nape and shoulders. Trish gives a small moan as he blows over some of them, the cool sensation making her shiver. Dante smiles against her shoulder.

 

She’s aware of every slide of his chest against her back. She can feel the impression of his amulet into her skin. He slides his bottom arm under the pillow so he can embrace her and Trish intertwines their fingers. His top hand slips up under her top, stroking over her ribs and stomach, gentle traces and spins that make Trish catch her breath. She turns her face up to him so he can see her respond.

 

Dante likes to watch, likes eye contact.

 

An heir to Sparda. The blood runs inside him, too.

 

Lady looks at Trish first, then hands Dante the photo and all the jokes about museums and zoos die on his lips.

 

He looks stricken.

 

There’s no denying it and neither of them even say it.

 

His lips move, like he’s trying to speak, but he can’t make a sound.

 

Dante leans down, his mouth moving up her throat and her face, licking and kissing as he goes. Trish holds his hand tighter and her top arm reaches up to the back of his head, burying her hand in his hair. It’s Dante’s turn to moan against her cheek as she grips hard enough to hurt, just ever so slightly.

 

She pulls him down and they both sigh as their lips meet in a deep but gentle kiss. It’s a little sour, morning breath, but that soon passes as their tongues curl and slide around each other, teasing more gentle moans from them both. Dante starts to go a little harder and he clacks his teeth against hers.

 

“Who…Mine?...How?” Dante eventually gets out. He can’t stop staring at the picture. “I-I-I’ve never been to Fortuna. How old is he?”

 

Lady doesn’t speak.

 

Dante looks up at her and she’s seen that look when he was denying his tears over his brother. “What’s his name?”

 

“Nero, I think.”

 

Trish jumps and Dante teases her lips with licks and kisses in apology. His hand pushes up her top so he has access to her breasts and her back arches as he palms them with callused hands, deliciously rough against her sensitive skin. He’s surprisingly gentle this morning as his hand strokes circles that finish with his palm running round her nipples. Trish squirms a little and makes a sound of pleasure that has Dante breaking off his kiss to rub noses with her, it’s just that cute. He moves back over her and licks her lips.

 

She’s wriggling her ass against his crotch and he’s relishing the pressure on his dick, trapped as it is between them. It’s a different sensation, rubbing against her cotton boyshorts. His hand gets just a little harder, a little rougher as it roves over her body. Trish’s breathing gets a little shallower, a little faster.

 

Trish can feel the precum dampening small patterns on her skin and she reaches behind her to take his dick in her hand. Dante grabs her hand and slides both hands between her legs, pressing against her clit. Trish twists her legs together, trapping their hands against her clit.

 

Dante traces the lines of the youth’s face. “How old, Lady?”

 

“He looks late teens? We’ll find out when we get there.”

 

Trish walks over and looks at the photo. “He could be a brother, rather than a son.”

 

“He’s a tough little fucker,” says Lady. “I’ve ran into him a few times.”

 

He was the Order muscling in on your jobs? And you never fucking said?” Trish snaps.

 

“I didn’t make the connection. He’s a cocky little bastard. I knew he reminded me of someone – you when you were that age.” Lady is truly apologetic. She’s not her usual abrasive self.

 

Even just lying there with their hands tight against her clit and her lips, the pressure’s building and spreading out across her skin. Dante bites her shoulder, hard enough to mark her and Trish jumps. He’s not in Devil Trigger and it’s not been discussed, so it doesn’t count, but still.

 

Dante for his part, gives a short, sharp cry when her ass grinds against his dick. He must like it, because he bites her again, same place.

 

It’s Trish’s turn to cry out.

 

“C’mon, Babe, you got more in the tank,” Dante growls in her ear and begins to move their hands back and forth in the tight, damp clench of her thighs, till Trish picks up her rhythm in the movement of her hips.

 

The sensations hitting both of them makes all the joking stop.

 

“And you still never guessed? Lady, he’s the spit of Dante, for fucks sake!”

 

“Trish!” Dante’s voice sounds like glass, easily broken. They’re his family and he hates it when they fight.

 

Lady walks over to the bar and pours three drinks. Dante doesn’t notice the one she places in front of him. Trish gives her a shy smile when the brunette passes the whisky to her and Lady ducks her head slightly. They are each other’s family too.

 

“I truly didn’t realise,” she says softly.

 

“Who hired you?” Asks Dante.

 

“I don’t know the name. But she was adamant that he wasn’t to be hurt and she said he was -and this was her exact words – “An heir to Sparda. The blood runs inside him, too.”

 

The heat builds up all over Trish’s skin, spreads out molten along her nerves, like she’s being seared from the inside, Dante’s mouth on hers swallowing her cries and moans. She can’t settle with the sensations, can’t stop shaking as it builds and her heart pounds harder than she thinks possible.

 

She breaks the kiss, eyes dark with passion. “In me,” she grits out. “Want you in me, b-before I -ahh!

 

It hits Trish hard, she always goes quick this way and Dante knows it. Half-Demon’s got mad skills from somewhere, because he flexes his hips and he’s at her entrance, ready to push in.

 

“Dante, Dante,” Trish damn near pleads and he smiles that lazy, playful, deadly smile and pushes in, timing it with the spasming of her walls. He does lose it for a second and groans her name, during a really hard pulse, but Trish knows what’s behind this, knows that he doesn’t want to lose it, that this fuck is about making her lose it.

 

He’s under more pressure from this situation than he’s letting on.

 

Way more.

 

“So Nero’s important to someone. Why do they want this job done?” says Dante. “No one’s heard from Sparda for years and I don’t recall him, but he wouldn’t have left my mother, so I don’t think this Nero is my brother.”

 

“You definitely think Sparda’s dead?” asks Trish.

 

“He wouldn’t have left my mother.” Dante’s tone brooks no dissent. He traces the frame of Eva’s picture. He doesn’t look at Trish and that tears her up. He’s never told her, but she knows that sometimes still he’s freaked out by the fact that he’s fucking a woman who looks exactly like his mother. It’s why he’s never Marked her and he never will.

 

Dante’s all the way in now and he pauses for a moment to enjoy the movements he’s wrenching from her body, from her clenching cunt, her shivering body, to their intertwined fingers, grasping so tight her knuckles are white. He could just keep her on the edge and he wouldn’t need to do a thing, she’d get him there.

 

Trish’s hips rock against their hands, keeping up the pressure on his dick. She can feel him deep inside her. Dante’s big and he’s filled her to the brim, touching every part of her as she moves. Trish’s clit is so sensitive from coming, it’s almost painful.

 

It just drives all thought from her brain as her body takes over and just reacts to the feel of Dante in and around her.

 

She hopes he knows how much he means to her.

 

Mostly she doesn’t, not after all this time. She’s got a different personality to Eva, so her mannerisms and expressions are different, in the same way that identical twins don’t look the same to the people who know them.

 

She glances at Lady and realises she’s thinking the same thing.

 

“Dante….” Lady begins. He looks up at her. It’s beginning to occur to him as well.

 

“You’re a massive flirt, but you’ve never been a whore. You don’t do casual and what you do scares off most women. You have to be really committed to sleep with someone,” says Lady. “Before you met Trish, there wasn’t that many someones and there was only one chick at the time Nero must have been conceived.”

 

Dante starts to move, as much as the position they’re in allows and Trish just breaks. She just gets so desperate, like she can’t contain the sensations rocketing through her body and she’s dissolving. But he’s in her and around her and it’s a question she can’t even begin to answer and she anchors herself against him.

 

Every touch, every movement sends her higher, breaks her further apart.

 

It’s the closest to Heaven that a Devil like her can hope for.

 

“And I know where she is,” agrees Dante. “I don’t know where Vergil was all the time, even when we were talking.”

 

“You didn’t speak to him for a year before Temen-Ni-Gru. Nero’s the right age for it.”

 

Dante knocks back his drink and Trish gets him another one. He starts to laugh and the women look at each other uncertainly.

 

Dante laughs till the tears run, but he’s smiling. “I’m the brash, flirty, skanky ho, but it's Vergil, the methodical, cautious, reserved one who knocks someone up. Cracks my shit up.”

 

Dante’s movements get harder, faster, erratic and dimly Trish knows he’s close. His grip on her tightens, not that she’s going anywhere and he’s going to coax one final orgasm out of her exhausted body.

 

She can feel it building, like a dam’s about to burst and everything that’s gone before was just the floodgates being opened in warning. There’s a burst of electricity as Trish loses her control on her Devil Trigger and it flairs over her like an explosion as she comes.

 

It goes white behind her eyes and she’s floating in the void.

 

She feels Dante come and the sensation of his dick pulsing deep inside her feels far off. She can feel through it all he hasn’t lost it, not the way she has. She can still feel him against her, like he’s the rock and she’s the ocean.

 

He keeps her running through it for as long as he can, but he has to let her down eventually. He holds her through her final tremors and cries fading to sighs, the colour comes back into her world.

 

Dante kisses her tenderly. “You good, Rocket Queen?”

 

Trish licks his lips, catching his lower lip in her teeth. She doesn’t bite though.

 

“You’re still on my hair,” she smiles and it’s the closest she can get to I love you.

 

They lie there a little longer before they decide they really do need to get up. The chimes for First Prayer are ringing out across the Town.

 

Lady’s already downstairs, sitting at the breakfast table. She’s already on her second helping of Greek yoghurt and granola and there’s a veritable cornucopia spread before her on the table.

 

“Making yourself at home, I see,” grins Trish, reaching for the coffee pot. She can tell by the smell it’s not the cheap stuff. She refills Lady’s cup, before she fills Dante’s. “They have real cream for the coffee?”

 

“Credo’s got a cellar full of 600 euro wine, they aren’t going to have cheap shit,” says Dante. “Violet was very reluctant to hand over her wine last night.”

 

“You find out why she hired us for the Saviour, yet?” asks Lady, eyeing up the toast rack. “Kyrie’s making me work for this. We’ve been left with the dishes.”

 

“Fair enough,” replies Dante. He has a huge helping of nearly everything on the table on his plate.

 

Trish shakes her head. “We probably should lie low for today, until Violet’s sorted out passes.”

 

“Probably,” replies Dante. “But let’s face it, no one will recognise you with clothes on, Gloria.”

 

“I’m pretty sure they’ll recognise you, asshole, ‘specially since you shot Sanctus in the face.”

 

“You never see The Godfather?” mumbles Dante through a mouthful of toast and jam.

 

“No.”

 

“We’ll need to fix that. Classic film.” He swallows. “There’s a scene when Michael has to shoot someone in a diner and Clemenza tells him that when he shoots the guy, it won’t matter that he’s not wearing a mask, cause no one will recognise him anyway. All they’ll see is the gun.”

 

“Did he smash his way in through the roof to shoot the guy?” asks Lady, sitting back in her chair with a bowl of grapefruit chunks.

 

“Well, no, Clemenza hid the gun in the bathroom,” says Dante.

 

“Was he wearing a bright red leather duster and cowboy boots?”

 

“Of course not, he was in a suit. It was 1950s New York.” Replies Dante, a little exasperated. He takes a bite of a croissant. “What is this, almond paste? God, that’s delicious.”

 

“So he was less…Italian?”

 

“He was from a Mafia family. He couldn’t get more Italian if he tried.” Dante stuffs the croissant in his mouth. “Muph lishes.”

 

“God, that’s so attractive,” says Trish, voice dripping with sarcasm. “No wonder I can’t resist you.”

 

“Dante,” says Lady. “I’m betting that Michael didn’t leap through a ceiling, in full view of a thousand people, wearing a bright red leather coat and shoot the Pope in the face in church, then get in a swordfight with his bodyguards.”

 

“Well, no, he just ran out the front door after dropping the gun.” His face is still full of almond croissant, so it’s hard to tell if that’s what he actually said.

 

Lady and Trish mentally divide up his body with a look. There’s no way that they’re keeping Dante indoors, not even if they tied him to the bed. There isn’t enough food on the island to keep him occupied all day.

 

“There’s Pilgrim’s Robes in the closet. Just don’t wear the red coat under it,” says Trish. “And keep the damn hood up.”

 

“So, hitting up the Tourist hotspots?” asks Lady.

 

Dante looks down at his croissant. “Let’s just say, I got a guidebook.”

 

“You want company?” asks Trish.

 

Dante shakes his head, turning it away as he eats his croissant. “Pass me the jam, Lady,” he says and can’t quite hide the catch in his voice.

Chapter Text

Fortuna two decades ago

 

Lord Scerri stands in the Opera House with Sanctus, surveying the damage.

 

It’s wrecked.

 

“How in all the Nine Hells was this able to happen, Scerri?” asks Sanctus, but both men know it’s rhetorical. “Why?”

 

“I will have my best men on this, Your Holiness,” Lord Scerri assures him. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Captain Agius approach and maintain a respectful distance from Sanctus. Credo stands slightly behind him.

 

“I find it difficult to believe this damage was caused by just two people, despite what the witnesses say,” says Sanctus. “I never dreamed when you persuaded me to let foreigners in, this would be the result.”

 

“Clearly, this is the work of locals enraged at your wise decision to allow in the foreign craftsmen to adapt the island to provide the amenities that the Mainlanders are accustomed to,” replies Scerri. “None of our people have the skills and the island has to adapt quickly if we’re to reap the same benefits as Ibiza and Ayia Napa.”

 

“I’m wondering if it’s worth it.” Sanctus looks at the damage to The Saviour.

 

“We wouldn’t have the money for that, without the cash the Tourists have already brought in, Your Holiness,” Scerri says. His voice is calm and reasonable and doesn’t echo the irritation in his eyes. “The engineers tell me the structure of the building is unaffected, so repairs should be speedy.”

 

“See to it,” says His Holiness, sweeping out of the Opera House followed by his Assistant.

 

“That man is insufferable,” mutters Lord Scerri. “Captain Agius. You have something for me?”

 

“I’ve rounded up some of the local troublemakers and I think we can get some of them to accept responsibility for this mess,” says Captain Agius. “Your-“ and he almost says Ladybird “-other Assistant is speaking to some of them and convincing the Knights in the Infirmary they didn’t see what they saw.”

 

“Remind me what they saw, good Captain,” Lord Scerri says and both men pick up the danger in his tone.

 

“A young man and a young woman battling with a man in red, My Lord,” replies Agius, carefully. “Unfortunately, the man in red escaped when he was being arrested.”

 

“A young woman who meets the description of your daughter, my good Captain.”

 

“I very much doubt that, Lord General. Verity is in no fit state to be attending her studies, much less be traipsing about with boys.” Agius hopes his face is straight.

 

“Credo, do you have anything to add?” asks Scerri.

 

Credo comes forward before he speaks. “The young woman in question displayed the same powers as Miss Agius, was very tall and had black eyes, as if bruised. There’s very little doubt it was her.”

 

“I refute that, Knight Micellef. Verity was in bed when I left this morning and I’m sure her tutors will tell you she hasn’t the finesse to cast and keep casting to cause the damage we’re seeing here. She has power enough for three, but the control for none.”

 

“There’s truth in that,” agrees Credo. “She tends to waste all her magic on one spell and then she can’t perform for the rest of the day.”

 

“Tell me Credo, do you think it was Mr Redgrave and Miss Agius?” asks Scerri.

 

Credo pauses, like he’s considering. “I believe so, though I have my doubts. May I remind My Lord General that there’s really nothing we can do, given that it is your wish they…”

 

Credo’s voice trails off. He doesn’t want to state the obvious in front of the girl’s father.

 

Captain Agius tries not to look triumphant. “If I may, My Lord, get back to my duties?”

 

“Yes, go, go,” says Scerri. He watches Agius’ retreating back.

 

“I’m beginning to have my doubts about this whole operation,” says Scerri.

 

“My Lord?” Credo can’t keep the break out his voice.

 

“Are you alright, Credo?”

 

“I’m fine, My Lord.” A muscle works in Credo’s jaw and his fists clench. “Why would you say that?”

 

“I thought that Vergil Sparda would do some investigating with an Agius and have a holiday romance. I didn’t imagine that he’d cause this level of disruption.”

 

“Might I suggest something, Lord Scerri?” says Credo. “The question we should be asking is ‘What are they investigating?’ “

 

Credo looks down.

 

“I checked the cistern when I heard. It’s still powered,” says Lord Scerri.

 

“They may well find The Saviour and the labs. I’d say we proceed with that in mind and let them discover them. Then we can get a better sense of what the Son of Sparda will actually do. It also means we can steer him towards what we can afford to lose and away from what we can’t.”

 

Scerri looks approving. “I see the merit in your argument. Give them an adventure to bond them and direct them. I always thought you’d rub off on Peter. I should have thought he’d rub off on you too.”

 

Sparda’s Balls, never, thinks Credo. “Your plans are at such a tender stage, Lord General. You cannot save this world from its chaos without a Son of Sparda to rule in your name.”

 

Lord Scerri considers this for a moment, then pats Credo on the shoulder. “My dear Credo, I do believe you’re right. Go and tell Peter of your plan. I will draw the attention of His Holiness so that you may work unmolested. It will be interesting to see what the Son of Sparda thinks of our plan. He may well choose to join us.”

 

Credo grits his jaw so hard, he’s surprised he doesn’t break his teeth.

 

Scerri notices, but misinterprets Credo’s ambivalence. “You worry that you may lose out on wedded bliss with Verity?”

 

“Among other things,” Credo says carefully. “I’ve worked hard to serve your dream.”

 

“Sacrifice is the nature of service, Credo. You’ll be fending off the Courting Suits from other suitable young ladies.” Scerri smiles and it’s ugly, like a grimace. “Perhaps you’ll marry a Tourist.”

 

Credo smiles weakly, then takes his leave.

 

***

 

Verity comes to slowly. She’s warm and cosy. She’s in pain like she’s danced all night or been concentrating in the Practice Room, leaving another hole in the wall, but she’s cosy, so it doesn’t matter.

 

It starts to hit her in increments.

 

The bed feels wrong under her.

 

The noises and the smells are wrong.

 

The light streaming in through the window is coming in on the wrong side.

 

There’s a hard, warm and very male body pressed up tight against her, his breath soft against her hair.

 

Verity tries to rise in alarm, but the arm draped over her tightens and the legs entwined with hers become just a little more entangled. Vergil’s so tight against her that she can feel his heart beat against her back.

 

Don’t you move,” he whispers, sleepily.

 

There’s nothing she can do but settle back down as the Chimes for First Prayer peal through the air.

 

Wait, no. Those chimes are wrong for First Prayer.

 

“Vergil, that’s Second Prayer.” She’s starting to panic slightly as she tries to get up. “We’ll have been missed.”

 

“Miss Agius,” says Vergil, holding her firm as he snuggles against her. “Let’s see exactly who misses us.”

 

Verity huffs, a little annoyed, but he fits so perfectly against her. “Mr Redgrave, I’ll remind you of the truth of my father’s words.”

 

“I should think that after last night, they’ll already be setting the date for you and Credo. I’m clearly a bad influence on you.”

 

Verity giggles and turns in his arms. “We wrecked the Opera House last night, didn’t we?”

 

He smiles and brushes some tendrils of hair that have worked loose from her braid off her face and behind her ear. “We did. You improved quickly.”

 

“Your words stung me. I wanted to make you eat them,” she replies. Her hand reaches across his back and she almost whips it back with a gasp. “You’re naked!”

 

 “You certainly did that.” He holds her elbow so she can’t pull back her arm. “Not quite naked, though it’s how I’d normally sleep.”

 

It’s then she realises that she’s not as dressed as she should be. “Where are my clothes?”

 

“Away for cleaning. Who sleeps in their clothes?” Vergil’s got his lazy, deadly smile playing on his lips. He starts brushing his fingers up and down her arm, elbow to shoulder, over the silk sleeve.

 

Verity shivers at the sensation of the silk sliding against her skin.

 

The covers have slid down to their waists and she glances down at Vergil. He’s toned, muscular and even his small movements are graceful. His eyes watch her examining him like he’s a priceless piece of art or an artefact for a ritual. She touches him, hesitantly at first, running her hand over the ridged muscle of his chest, the dips and hollows of his back. She bites her lip as she feels them flex under his skin as her hand passes.

 

Her hand passes over an especially sensitive spot and he flinches. She’s about pull her hand away, when he growls, “Don’t you dare,” and with one arm under her and the other at her elbow, Vergil rolls onto his back, pulling Verity with him.

 

She’s only clad in his black silk shirt and her underpants, so she can feel every line of his body against hers as the silk slips along her suddenly too-sensitive skin. Their breathing’s quickened as they’ve both become hyper-aware of the other. She’s too young and too inexperienced to control her reaction as all that covers her sex from his, is thin cotton gliding across his silk boxer briefs.

 

The space between her legs feels empty, wanting to be filled. She can feel Vergil’s cock hardening underneath her, pressing into places only her fingers have been. Her heart thumps like it’s trying to escape her chest and it’s echoing the throbbing where Vergil’s cock’s straining against his boxers.

 

He’s barely breathing as he waits to see what she’ll do next. He wants her so badly, but he’s not going to make her take the final leap from girl to woman. She’ll come to him.

 

And she does.

 

She kisses him hard and fast and desperate, her eager tongue sweeping over his, along the roof of his mouth, hard circles as she can’t get enough of him.

 

Vergil can’t get enough of her.

 

The hand at her elbow slips to the back of Verity’s head, pressing her to him as their lips work against each others’.

 

She can’t help but instinctively rock her hips against him, seeking ever more friction against his cock. He pulls her closer, tighter, as if he could get right inside her. Her body writhes atop his and through the silk, he can feel her perfect little nubs hard and round against his chest.

 

He sweeps his hand along her back, hearing the hiss as it strokes down the silk. His hand never goes anywhere that isn’t covered, not yet. He uses the sensation of the material gliding over her body as if it was extra hands touching her and he’s getting the most gorgeous moans and sighs from her.

 

Vergil can hold himself in check more than Verity can – this isn’t new to him the way it is to her. He’s not sorry that he’s using that control against her, just a little bit. She’s beautiful when she’s turned on and frantic and can’t contain all that emotion, all that sensation. It’s like her skin can’t contain her soul and he knows how it feels, because this is Verity. It’s skewing his usual detachment in bed, but he wants this to be amazing for her. It’s not that he’s a selfish lover, he’s not, but there’s never much emotion involved for him. He enjoys sex, like he enjoys and savours fine wine and expensive clothes, but this is the first time there’s someone whose needs and desires align and overtake his own.

 

Verity pulls back from their kisses and she’s struggling to speak.

 

His hands keep up their ceaseless stroking, not wanting to lose their contact or her reactions. His eyes take in her flushed and shining face and the way her eyes keep dropping from his face.

 

Vergil says nothing, just waits on her to speak.

 

“Pl-please, can y-you,” Verity stutters out. “Please, I-I need you, need you to…” She can’t meet his eyes with her request. One of her hands has reached for his and she’s half-heartedly trying to pull it to where she wants it, but not enough to make it clear.

 

“No, no,” says Vergil, hitting the notes that make her shake. He takes the hand she’s holding and forces up her chin. “Look at me, Verity. Meet my eyes.”

 

Her face is scarlet, she’s blushing. She raises her eyes a few times before she meets his and swallows with a shudder.

 

“You’re my woman,” says Vergil and his voice brooks no dissent. “My woman does not ever beg or plead. You demand, you order, you tell, but you never, ever beg. Do you understand me, Verity?”

 

She takes in a shuddering breath, before answering. She nods, as much as his hand under her chin allows her. “Yes.”

 

“So, Vee, command me,” he says in a low growl.

 

Verity casts her gaze down as she clearly struggles with articulating something so intimate. She swallows several times.

 

Vergil makes no move to push her on, just waits, watching her out his ice blue eyes.

 

Then, suddenly, Verity looks up and finds her voice. “I want you to touch me the way I touch myself.”

 

Vergil’s predator smile plays along his lips.

 

“Show me, Verity,” he says, still in that low growl.

 

She colours even deeper, but she takes his hand and puts hers over the top of it. She slides their hands under the waistband of her pants and parts the thick black curls until she reaches the little nub underneath the apex of her inner lips.

 

Vergil’s eyes flick between their fingers disappearing between them and her face. She’s biting her lip again and he thinks she’ll actually draw blood.

 

She presses his fingers down on her clit harder than he thought she’d like, starting off with little rubs, straights and circles. She varies the movement, but not the pressure. It doesn’t take him long to get in the rhythm of what she likes, pressing strong fingers down on her clit. When it’s actually time for them to make love fully, he thinks, he’ll play around and tease her a little, but for now, he learns how Verity likes to be touched.

 

He pulls her in for a kiss, timing it with their fingers, tongues slipping and sliding against each other as much as their fingers twirl around her clit. He thinks that she’s going to come quickly because of the novelty of the situation and she’s already had a lot of build-up. She guides him to start adding mixes of little and hard twists of the poor little nub to their foreplay and it doesn’t surprise him that she likes a little pain mixed in with the pleasure.

 

He starts to tease her mouth in the same way, sucking on her tongue, running his along the inside of her lips before hard and gentle bites.

 

Verity moans deep in her throat and returns his kisses in kind, so it’s almost a contest between them as she rocks into his hand.

 

He cannot wait till she’s ready for this to be foreplay to the main event. When they know each other’s bodies’ better and he can make good on his promise to keep her on the edge, knowing she’ll fight him every inch of the way.

 

Vergil praises what ever Gods there are that he met Verity at the start of his life, not towards the end like his father and mother.

 

There’s a cry against his mouth as Verity stiffens and nearly breaks his fingers, her orgasm’s that strong. Vergil works her through it, doesn’t break either their kiss or their contact. Her other hand’s in his hair and she nearly rips it from his head.

 

 He bites her lip and he does draw blood, laving the teeth marks with his tongue to soothe the sting.

 

She’s gone as far as she can with this climax and Vergil entwines their fingers as he takes their hands out of her pants. She collapses against him, panting and giggling. Vergil can’t help but grin at her reaction.

 

“So, Mr Redgrave,” she says, as Vergil traces the lines of her face with his free hand. “Am I worth your money?”

 

“All of it, Miss Agius. Every single penny I’ve got and my soul, too.” He’s about to kiss her again when there’s a knock at the door. “That’ll be lunch and your clothes.”

 

“Nine Hells! You can’t open it!” she says in alarm. She gestures to herself and to his impressive erection that’s barely contained within his boxer briefs.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, Vee. After your recent performance, you need to eat and keep your strength up.” Vergil opens the door to the maid who tries very hard not to look. She does, however, look past Vergil to the bed where Verity is sitting cross legged and red faced.

 

“Oh, hello, Miss Verity,” she says in surprise. “Alice brought over a dress for you from Miss Pinny. How did she know you’d be here?”

 

“We train at the Archive, Marta,” replies Verity.

 

“Oh, yes, Miss, so you do. Have you heard about the Opera House?” Marta says as she lays the table and sets Verity’s clothes on the chair. The maid is clearly bursting to tell her the gossip.

 

“What’s happened?”

 

“Oh, Miss! There was a riot in there! Workers from the Mason’s Guild blew up the seats and smashed up the statue of Our Saviour in protest at all the workers from the Mainland coming and building that new supermarket at the West Docks.”

 

“No!”

 

“Oh yes, Miss, it’s crawling with Knights. Captain Agius has arrested half the Mason’s Guild, Miss. Oh, it’s ever such a mess.” Marta looks like she’s settling in to give all the gory details.

 

Vergil hands her back the tray and opens the door. “Back to your duties.”

 

Marta looks at him in confusion before remembering herself and jumping up. She clasps her hands and bows, before sneaking a final look at Verity.

 

Vergil shuts the door before setting out lunch and pouring the coffee. Verity collapses back on the bed, pulling a pillow over her face. “Sparda’s Balls! She’ll tell everyone I’m in here.”

 

“Good,” says Vergil, sitting down and helping himself to mutton pie and cheese.

 

“Good?” squeaks Verity.

 

“I’ve nothing to hide and neither have you.” He pushes a plate towards her. “Come and eat. You’ve hipbones sharper than Yamato.”

 

Verity gets up and flops down on a chair. “You won’t have to live here after you’re gone.”

 

“Neither will you. Drink your coffee.”

 

“Vergil, it’s different for girls.” Verity looks at him as if she’s wondering how he doesn’t understand this basic fact. “You’ve got money and freedom. I don’t have any of that. I have…pocket money. I have enough to keep myself in fripperies and pretty dresses, but not enough to say…buy a house. I’d never be allowed to go on holiday by myself like the Tourists. I’m not even allowed on half the Island. I’ve never left this Island.”

 

“I thought you were determined to get off it?” Vergil hands her a coffee. “Or are you all talk?”

 

He sounds challenging, more than disappointed.

 

“I will get off Fortuna, but I have to be clever about it. I can’t just leave.” She sips her coffee. “I have to have a good reason to leave, money to set up, so a job. That takes time. And then I have to be very careful about it. I’ve seen some girls, and yes, boys, especially from Old Families try to get to Italy or France and they had Knights come after them and drag them back. Rosanna Calleja, the bride from the other day, she tried to get away on the Tourist ferries. Faith Committee sent some of their Knights, her Suitor and her father after her, caught her in Palermo. She was confined to her room and starved until she consented to her Courting Suit.”

 

“And I told you,” says Vergil, evenly. “It’s nothing you’ll need to worry about.”

 

“Because they seem intent on pushing us together?” she says. ”Clearly there’s a nefarious plan afoot.”

 

“You heard Marta. Your Father’s arresting half a Guild, when he must know damn fine it was us, we’re neither of us wallflowers,” points out Vergil.

 

“Papa is protecting us. Mostly me, but that means he has to protect you too, lest you turn your coat about me,” she replies.

 

Vergil looks at her and decides that at the moment, this is not a hill he needs to die on. She hasn’t got all the facts surrounding him and he doesn’t have all the facts surrounding Fortuna and his Father.

 

“So what are our plans for this afternoon?” he asks. “Though my shirt will miss you.”

 

She smiles that crooked half smile. “I was thinking Caged Library at the Archive. Some research that doesn’t involve blowing up half of Fortuna.”

 

They eat their lunch in a companionable silence.

 

***

 

“You’re absolutely sure?” Peter says to Marta as she serves him soup and coffee. “Thank you. I’ve missed lunch with the nonsense in the Opera House.”

 

“It was definitely Miss Verity, Peter. He was clad in naught but a prison for his John Thomas and she was in his shirt and on his bed, a pure doxy!” Marta makes it sound so much more scandalous than it is, but it’s something Peter encourages. Marta works in the Archive Lodgings for the access to better gossip more than the better money.

 

It’s something that’s stood Peter in good stead in the past. She trades in information and so does he. “And they make out they’re so proper too.”

 

***

 

Credo opens Vergil’s door. They haven’t bothered to straighten up the bed and the smell still lingering in the air makes him worry about what he’ll find.

 

He should have accepted Peter’s offer to come up here instead. Why’s he torturing himself like this?

 

Credo walks through to the bathroom, sees the shaving brush hung up to dry and he wonders if Verity shaved Redgrave before they went out. He can almost see her, sitting on the counter, hair pouring over her shoulder, wearing one of the black silk shirts, long legs lazily swinging, Redgrave shirtless as she starts shaving him, laughing her crystal laugh.

 

It’s a beautiful shaving kit, granite bowl and brush handle, silver tipped badger hair. Sterling Silver stand. Credo can’t help but run his fingers over it.

 

He notices a black shirt in the washing basket and something tells him to look at it. He pulls it out the wash, holds it to his face and inhales it. The scent of sweet violets is strong, the way it is when he’s danced with Verity at balls and parties. He knows that scent as well as his aftershave. He breathes in her scent again, building himself up to check the drawer with the sheaths.

 

Credo resists the urge to smash up the room, the shard of jealousy through his heart’s so sharp he can scarce breathe. He takes a moment to collect himself again, before he opens the drawer on the bedside cabinet and takes out the Durex box. It says 40 XL and Peter had counted 38 before.

 

Credo tips them on the bed and counts them three times, just to be sure.

 

It’s still 38.

 

So either they aren’t using any and Redgrave doesn’t seem like the type to let passion get in the way of caution or they haven’t gone all the way yet.

 

He puts them back, careful to make sure he’s left the room exactly as he found it.

 

He takes the shirt with him.

 

***

 

“Same with all the Old Families. In and out of beds like any hedge-whore, just a better quality of sheet to lie on,” she agrees. “Miss Pinny’s no better. Dallying with Cassius Calleja and no Courting Suit in sight.”

 

“Cassius Calleja? He’ll never offer one. Everyone knows he and his brother will wed Chetcuti girls, so he can dally as much as they like.” Peter dunks his bread into his soup. “So did your sister say what happened when they found out Verity wasn’t there? I thought she was supposed to be dying a death after tripping on the carpet?”

 

“You’d think so after the mess her face is in, but no, she’s climbing down the drainpipe in the middle of the night, like her sister,” says Marta. She’s loving the attention. It’s not often she gets to hold court like this with Knights, even if it is Peter and she grew up with him.

 

Peter knows how to flatter. He learned from the best.

 

“I cannot believe that Pinny Agius is such a little hellion. She looks like butter wouldn’t melt,” he declares.

 

“You know what they say - Beware a pretty face,” agrees Marta. “Alice says there was such a kerfuffle when they found that Miss Verity wasn’t abed. Hauled Miss Pinny upstairs to check Miss Verity’s wardrobe to make sure her clothes weren’t missing, in case she’d ran away like the Calleja girl and Madam Agius got up from her sickbed  - sickbed my arse! Captain-Sir cracked her a good one same night Miss Verity tripped on the stairs – and started screaming all manner of filth at him, so he planted a few good facers on her. Alice says her nose is broke and the doc can’t set it.”

 

“Is it really that bad?” Peter leans in.

 

“It gets better than that, Peter,” says Marta, conspiratorially.

 

“No!”

 

“Oh yes,” she nods. “The Captain told everyone to act like nothing’s wrong.”

 

“Well he doesn’t want anyone knowing she’s run off,” says Peter, setting Marta up for what comes next.

 

“No, Peter. He doesn’t want anyone acting like anything’s wrong when she comes back.”

 

Peter doesn’t answer as Credo comes back down, still holding the black shirt.

 

Marta notices it, because of course she does.

 

Peter turns back to her, taking one of his daggers from its sheath and some money from his wallet.

 

Marta goes silent.

 

“Remember, Marta. Mouth shut, ears open,” says Peter as he stabs the remaining bread and leaves the money on the table.

 

“Well?” he asks Credo outside. He offers him the bread from the dagger.

 

Credo looks at him, but takes it.

 

“I think she’s still pure, but she won’t be for long.” Credo looks at the shirt. “What do we need for the Spell?”

 

Peter thinks for a moment. “Her hair and knowing when she last had her monthlies.”

 

“We need to get in her room then,” says Credo. “I know Verity keeps a diary. She’ll probably record it in that.”

 

“Other than that, we just need a location,” says Peter. “He’s come to find out about his father, where next would he go?”

 

“Well they went the Castle when Verity was showing Redgrave around. My guess is back there.”

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri.

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon and Knight Credo Micellef

 

Our plans to set the Wedding Spell have taken a state of some urgency.

 

Verity is recovering – or can suppress physical discomfort – faster than we anticipated and is moving into a physical relationship faster than we predicted with Vergil Sparda. We don’t want to lose the advantage that her virginity offers re conception. It’s the only point where we can accurately predict and manipulate the Son of Sparda’s uncovered coupling with Verity.

 

Our major concern is where to set the spell – we cannot risk it being triggered by someone it was not intended for. Knight Micellef thinks the Castle. Knight Falzon considers this too risky and too obvious.   

                                                                                                                  

Vergil Sparda is aware of the Spell being cast there and will likely be looking for it.

 

They have been carrying out some sort of investigation, which has resulted in considerable damage to the Opera House, so we may plot a possible route for the laying of the spell there.

Chapter Text

Dante reluctantly leaves his red duster behind. He’s got a blue coat that he can wear instead.  He takes Ebony and Ivory in their holster that sits on his ass, so they’ll be hidden under the Robe. He decides to use his guitar case for Rebellion. That way, he’s got her, but she’s not obvious.

 

The last thing he takes is the Operation Resurrection file that Trish had stolen first. It’s not left his side since she brought it. He’s re-read it so many times the words are burned into his eyes, but he can’t stop, like picking a scab.

 

Neither woman has tried to get it off him. Dante has very few hot buttons, but his lost family is one of them. He flexes his left hand, looking at the palm. He’s often wished there was a scar there, so there’d be physical proof that Vergil had been in this world, had left his mark on it.

 

Dante sets off on his tour of Fortuna, walking in the footsteps of the brother he lost so long ago.

 

He goes first to the graveyard to see the Elsewhere. He’s cautious when he goes, far more circumspect than he’s used to being. This recce shit is not really in his nature, but he has too much riding on it.

 

There’s a funeral going on way down the bottom and it strikes Dante how big this graveyard is for such a small place, even allowing for the Saviour’s death toll. They’ve finally started dismantling the massive statue and that’s revealed the poor bastards crushed to death beneath it and more hijabs appearing in the Plaza.

 

Dante reaches where the Elsewhere had been the night before, but there’s nothing. He picks a few flowers and throws them over the gravestones where it had been, figuring that the locals would just figure flowers were a custom where he comes from. He’d probably get lynched if he throws stones and he doesn’t need that now.

 

They land on the grass on the other side of the grave. It’s closed and he hopes the Knights made it back. There’s no trace of the massive bear and no, he’s not even going to try to pronounce it.

 

Dante wanders round the graveyard, noticing the ages that most people died – fairly young. Not many seem to have made it to their 80s. Most seem to be forties or younger, even coming into the modern age. It surely can’t all be demons, even allowing for the main industries on Fortuna.

 

He walks past the grave of Agnus on his way to the tomb he really wants to see.

 

Dante stops for a moment at the Micellef plot. They haven’t done anything for Credo yet, though it gives him a start to see that his name is on a stone alongside his parents, with just a birthdate for him, but no second bracket closing off his life.

 

Violet’s name’s underneath, with a date of birth that he knows to be arbitrary. The fact that Credo had a stone with her name on it tells him all he needs to know about the couple – Credo Micellef truly loved her, but Dante’s got his doubts it was as strong on her side. What’s the poem - If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.

 

From what he’s seen of Credo he very much doubts Were all stars to disappear or die, I should learn to look at an empty sky.

 

Dante puts a hand on the grave and says in a low tone, lest anyone overhear, “We saved them. Thanks for keeping him safe all these years.”

 

He straightens and turns to look for the Agius plot. He sees an older man in a General’s uniform and Dante thinks he recognises him from the news. He steps close enough to listen to the General tell the girls in the grave about his day and how well Josh is doing. He asks the grave how well Josh’s cousins are doing and how he’d really like to see them before it’s too late.

 

He tells them his future plans and that Falzon won’t like it, but someone needs to put some decency back in Fortuna.

 

He wipes tears from his eyes and tells his dead daughters that he’s sorry and that he wishes he’d been a better father. He picks up the previous days’ flowers and takes them to the bin. He nods to Dante, but it’s clear he doesn’t really see him.

 

Dante watches him go, making sure he’s left the cemetery before he approaches the grave. There’s a date for a woman who’s identified as the beloved mother of Agrippina Thekla and Verity Eliza Agius, adored daughters, dearly missed. There’s a bouquet of violets and of lupins on the younger and elder girls’ grave.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Dante whispers to them. “I’m sorry you both got dragged into this shit. Other people can’t stop turning my family into a drama.”

 

He pauses for a moment.

 

“I promise I’ll get him for you, for Vergil. We already got Scerri. I’ll get Falzon and Agius too.” He speaks quietly. This is for Pinny and Verity’s ears only. He knows they can’t hear him, but he says it anyway. A couple of tears roll down his cheek and he wipes them away, trying not to remember the last time he cried.

 

It doesn’t work and he remembers anyway.

 

It’s only the rain.

 

He stands up abruptly and turns round to see General Agius standing in front of him.

 

“I knew you’d come.”

 

***

 

Nero and Falzon stare at the book on the floor like it’s about to bite them.

 

Nero goes over to it cautiously, Falzon watching him.

 

Nero doesn’t feel anything coming off the book as he picks it up, but it falls open to what be a well-thumbed page – ley lines in Fortuna. Nero closes it as he doesn’t want to look like he’s snooping, but he still reads the title as he puts it back. A History of Time Anomalies in The Eastern Mediterranean and as he puts it back in its space, he can see the shelves are filled with similar books on subjects as diverse as science, history and the supernatural.

 

“There’s no way that book could have fallen, My Lord,” says Nero. “It’s just gone back in its space. It’s solid.”

 

Falzon’s watching him, but Nero can’t get a beat on him. “So it would seem, Knight Balzan. Seismic activity or ghosts, do you think?”

 

“I didn’t feel any tremors, so it must be a ghost,” says Nero, completely straight-faced.

 

Falzon comes to stand beside him, looking at the bookcase. “What do you think, Knight Balzan?”

 

“I think there’s a lot of people who would be haunting you, My Lord, even though we’re in a Castle that’s seen a lot of action,” replies Nero.

 

Tony reappears beside Nero and he jumps with a shout.

 

“Are you alright, Knight Balzan?” Falzon is looking at him like he’s mad.

 

“Wasp!” shouts Nero. “Ow! Ow!”

 

He starts hitting his arm. “Consent for Dismissal?!”

 

Falzon waves at the door. “Go, go!”

 

Nero runs out holding his arm.

 

Tony walks after him, shaking his head in askance.

 

***

 

Nero checks the toilets to make sure they’re empty. “What the hell, Tony?”

 

I was going to ask you what you thought of Falzon’s reading material, before you decided to remind the man who wants your sister-in-law’s head on a stick of all the things he’s done that are bad enough to get him haunted. Tony leans against the stalls. Falzon was actually asking about his books, you clod.

 

“Oh.”

 

Empty Night, Nero. Sometimes you can be so insightful and quick, you astound me and then you can be so moronic, you astound me. Tony’s shaking his head, but he looks exasperated, rather than outright angry.

 

“You pulled a book out, dude! You’ve gone from being the voice in my head to dropping actual books on the floor, so excuse me for being a little shocked!” Nero hisses. “How did you even do that?”

 

I have no idea. Your reaction was somewhat amusing, though. I may experiment further with my new-found condition. Tony raps on the wood of the stall and it echoes through the bathroom. You got out of it well enough.

 

“I’d better get back before Falzon wonders what’s happened to me,” says Nero.

 

I think he’s already doing that, smirks Tony.

 

Nero gets the sense that if Tony’s smiling, he should be worried.

 

Falzon’s sitting at his desk when Nero reappears. He gives Nero a brief nod as the younger man takes up his allotted place, but Nero notices him glance at the bookcase every so often. 

 

***

 

“So what are we doing?” asks Kyrie, looking in dismay at the pile of paper and computer records in front of her.

 

Ms Kye looks up from the records she’s collating. “You are reporting on what was ordered, what was spent and where it went. Until Madam Alighieri can get to the various Records Rooms, this is how we can get an approximation on what went where, so we can see what the Black Budget was. We’ve a rough idea what went where, but often patterns can be picked out that show other indications.”

 

“Indications of what?” asks Kyrie.

 

“Any anomalies, unexplained wastage, machinery wearing out too fast, high production costs in materials and resources, lab space requisitioned that can’t be explained for what they require it for.” Ms Kye gives Kyrie a tablet with a map. “So you can identify physical areas with their numbers so we can check the figures after you. There’s rough formulae for use of resources, so you can do approximations.”

 

“I don’t science,” says Kyrie. “I’m only doing this job so I’m protected by UO. Can’t I just type letters and make tea?”

 

“You think I actually do any science?” says Violet, coming in with more records. “Ms Kye, that’s the Devil May Cry Team’s passes and visas organised and signed off. Have them ready for me by the time I leave.”

 

“Yes, Madam.”

 

“Only time I ever actually did any real science was college,” continues Violet. “Further up the ladder I go, I spend more time managing budgets and people than actual research. The science just means I understand where the budget’s going.”

 

Violet glances across to Ms Kye. “Go on, you can say it.”

 

Ms Kye puts down her stylus and clears her throat. “Make a cup of coffee, Kyrie. Milk and two sugars, please.”

 

Kyrie laughs. “How long have you been wanting to say that?”

 

“Since I found out I was getting an assistant.” Ms Kye turns back to her screen.

 

Violet comes out to the staff kitchen with Kyrie. “I’ll give you a hand.”

 

“I don’t know what to make of Ms Kye,” says Kyrie.

 

“Neither did I, at first, but I’d still be cautious what you say in front of her,” replies Violet.

 

“I’ll just put the whammy on her,” grins Kyrie as she mimics casting a spell. “I still can’t believe we got away with the shopping this morning.”

 

“Me neither.” Violet points out where things are kept as Kyrie makes drinks. “I’d had my suspicions for a while though. I just didn’t say it to Credo. You know what the Orders’ like against magic they can’t control.”

 

“I know it’s-“ Kyrie searches for the right word. “-doubtful about it.”

 

Violet grimaces. “You have no idea. Anyway, I’ve thought for a long time you were defensive magic. I’m offensive.”

 

“That must have been fun when you found that out,” says Kyrie, pouring the water into the coffee machine.

 

“It was. It was even more fun for the hospital staff when they had a big hole in the wall.”

 

“What happened?” Kyrie pours the milk into Ms Kye’s cup. She doesn’t bother with Violet, who takes hers black.

 

“I’m not sure, it was only a few weeks after I’d been found, so I was still in a medical coma,” Violet frowns. “Some reporter or something got in past the carabinieri and because I must not have recognised them, even though I was out of it and apparently all my alarms and body monitors went sky-rocketing as I panicked. I’d even managed to get out of bed, which considering my legs were shattered was impressive.”

 

She turns back to the coffees and loads them onto a tray. “Enough of me, we need to get you fight ready.”

 

Kyrie takes the tray from her. “Does that get me out the number crunching?”

 

“No.”

 

***

 

“So, the knicker seller is having an affair with the hairdresser?” Lady’s tucking into the croissants she can’t get into the fridge.

 

“But the hairdresser’s married the mechanic, the one with the 70s tache.” Trish has her feet up with a coffee as they watch one of Kyrie’s beloved British soaps. “Oh my God, he’s just murdered the barmaid’s husband! But he’s the baby’s father!”

 

“Which baby? The one the gay couple are having?”

 

“No! the knicker seller’s mother’s baby!” says Trish, pointing at the character. “The one she’s having with the mechanic.”

 

“I’m lost,” says Lady as the old time trumpet begins on the theme tune. “So who was the woman with the toy-boy then?”

 

“I’m not sure, but she had great hair.”

 

“She looked like a cat’s ass.”

 

“But with great hair.” Trish drains her cup. “Now what? I don’t think I could take another soap with weird accents and pretty women oddly attracted to those Neanderthal looking brothers.”

 

“I liked the Manchester one. Those chicks look like they could take on a pile of demons, then drink the fuckers under the table,” says Lady. “Oi, oo d’fink yor speakin’ to, Layday?”

 

“That wasn’t bad,” agrees Trish. It was actually terrible, but they’ve no way of knowing that. “I think we should be really bad houseguests and see if we can find anything that tells us what the hell Violet’s playing at. It was definitely her who hired you?”

 

“I think we’re past any doubt now, Trish,” replies Lady. “She’s high Order, so unless she wanted Agnus out the way so she could get promoted, I cannot see a reason. She didn’t even really bother to hide it from me when I took the job. What did she say to Dante?”

 

“Her cellar is full of expensive wine.”

 

“How the other half live,” sighs Lady. “I’ll do the bedroom, you do the study?”

 

“Sounds like a plan,” says Trish, standing up and stretching. She turns the TV off and closes it back into its cabinet. Kyrie had been insistent about that. “What the hell kind of place makes owning a TV illegal?”

 

The two women head upstairs to the bedroom and Violet’s study.

 

Trish opens the door, but she can’t get in. There’s a ringing sound and a blue barrier appears as she tries to step over the threshold and a sharp pain shoots through her head. She drops to her knees with a cry, clutching her head.

 

Lady comes running, crouching down next to her friend. “Trish! You OK?”

 

Trish pants through the pain until it goes. “I think so. I think she’s got it warded.”

 

Lady cautiously puts her hand over the threshold, but there’s nothing. Her hand is in the room from her elbow.

 

“You’re brave,” says Trish, still wincing.

 

“Put your arm in again,” says Lady.

 

Trish glares, but does it again, with the same result. Lady is still unaffected.

 

Lady comforts Trish till the pain subsides, then helps her up. “We’ll swap.”

 

Trish nods painfully. “What are we looking for? Anything specific?”

 

“I have no fucking clue. I have no fucking clue about any of this. It just gets weirder and weirder.” Lady throws her hands up. “How is he? Really?”

 

Trish looks at the master bedroom door. “Coping. Just. We fuck this up, I don’t know if he’ll ever forgive us. And I can’t lose him.”

 

Lady squeezes Trish’s arm. “We won’t.”

 

They swap rooms.

 

Trish looks over the room and through the drawers, feeling a little guilty as she does so. She doesn’t really find anything, but lots of books on subjects as diverse as quantum physics and xenobiology to folklore and the supernatural. There’s books on portals, both supernatural and theoretical interdimensional physics.

 

She shouts as much to Lady, who replies with the same. “She’s got a lot of fucking books.”

 

“Look through them,” calls back Trish. “See where she’s read the most or if she’s hidden anything in them.”

 

“She keeps a journal,” says Lady. “There’s like an entire bookcase of them going back twenty years. There should be one in there.”

 

Trish looks by the bed, but it’s easy to find. She mouths a silent prayer of apology to whatever God is listening and reads it. it’s mostly the same, details of the nightmares that Violet has on a regular basis or things that occur to her, to-do lists. She’s scary organised.

 

Some of it Trish can read, where Violet has written in English or Italian, but she’s no hope with the Fortunese. It looks like someone’s stole all the vowels. She’d picked up enough to get by when she was masquerading as Gloria, but this is handwritten by someone fluent in the language and Violet’s got old-timey cursive going on. It could be a recipe or a demon-summoning ritual she’s written and Trish has no way of knowing.

 

Her latest nightmare was all of last night. There’s several entries, but they’re all largely the same.

 

“Trish! Come here!” It’s Lady’s tone that brings Trish running.

 

Lady brings the journal out of the study. “It was in with the other notebooks.”

 

Trish takes the notebook from Lady. The pages are yellowing and the date on it is 20 years earlier.

 

Diary of Verity Agius  - KEEP OUT PINNY! proclaims the fly leaf.

 

It’s not the writing they pay attention to, though they’ll get to that.

 

It’s where the pages fall open to photographs she’d used as markers – the strips of passport photos that all lovers seem to do, an ultrasound and about ten standard photos, showing the couple from the strip, separately and together. A couple are fairly intimate, without showing too much.

 

One shows her laughing as his ice cream cone falls down his front, while he looks less than impressed, but won’t say it to her. A couple of the photos show what’s clearly a wedding photo – they’re showing off their rings, a stylised snake braided round the band- she has flowers in her hair and a posy. They look so happy. There’s a bump under her summer dress in one of the wedding pictures.

 

The man’s looking at her like she’s descended from Heaven and there’s a soft look on his face that neither woman thought they’d ever associate with Vergil.

 

“He looks so like Nero there,” says Trish, voice shaking. “He looks at Kyrie like that.”

 

Trish can’t read the writing on the back, other than a date and their names.

 

The ultrasound she can read though.

 

Bambino Sparda, 20 settimane

 

“That’s an Italian hospital,” says Lady, quietly, reading the name. “And that wedding photo is outside an Italian City Hall.”

 

“When was Temen-Ni-Gru?” asks Trish.

 

Lady works out the dates quickly. “About six months after that ultrasound.”

 

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Trish covers her face with her hands.

 

“Two questions, Trish,” says Lady. “What the hell is Violet doing with that journal and how the fucking hell do we tell Dante?”

 

***

 

“I knew you’d come,” says General Agius. He sounds resigned.

 

Dante says nothing. He doesn’t trust himself.

 

“Twenty years come Midwinter Night.” Agius looks back to Verity’s grave. “Seems fitting you’d come back when he was of age. I knew we’d never hide it forever. After all, it’s the slow blade that penetrates the shield.”

 

Dante looks down on Agius from his full height and he knows the look in his eyes would chill the Sahara.

 

“I won’t stop you, Vergil,” say Agius, quietly. He speaks as a man who has met his fate and some measure of peace with it. “Just let me see Josh right first and know that there hasn’t been a day since she…he…it happened that I haven’t regretted it with my whole being.”

 

Agius looks back at Dante. “If I can I have one request? Consider it the request of a man who knows he’s dying.”

 

Dante nods. He still doesn’t speak.

 

“Kill me last. I want to see Falzon suffer. Kill me last.”

 

Dante says nothing, just offers Agius his hand.

 

To his surprise, Agius takes it. They shake on it and Agius walks off without another word.

 

***

 

General Agius goes back to his car, Josh opening the door for him and driving just like he’s a normal Assistant. The man’s raised him, so he can tell when something’s different about him.

 

“Are you OK, Grandad?” He asks.

 

General Agius seems, not happier, but less troubled than usual.

 

He turns to his grandson and hugs him. It takes Josh by surprise as Grandad is usually more reserved when in uniform and is careful to observe protocol.

 

“Yes, I am.” He breaks the hug off and steps back, but he’s still got his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “I’m so proud of you, Josh. Your mother would be too.”

 

Agius gets in the car and Josh eyes him in the rear-view mirror.

 

“Take me to the Castle. I need to speak to General Falzon.”

 

Josh nods and starts the car.

 

* * *

 

Dante’s surprised he’s got into the Castle, but they’re desperate for the Tourists to return and all they see is his money. Euros, dollars, pounds, they don’t care. All money is green when it hits the bank.

 

They don’t even really look at his face, though he figures he’ll have a problem when he’s been around a bit longer and they recognise him. All they see is the blue robe. It’s not even required here, it’s a DTA, Designated Tourist Area.

 

It’s all different from the last time he was here.

 

They’ve fixed the wall that hid the staircase, but from the way the curtain hiding it billows, he thinks there must be a door now. He looks up and the heavy wooden chandelier has not been replaced.

 

He wonders what Sparda’s Victory Over Mundus looked like when it hung on that same wall.

 

“Hey, Dante. Dante!”

 

He’s lost in thought when Nero comes across with Josh and some coffees and sandwiches. Dante startles a little, but luckily doesn’t reach for his firearms or Rebellion. He must register Nero as safe now.

 

“Hey, Kid. How’s it going?” He takes a proffered coffee from Nero, who sits down beside him. He looks at Josh pointedly.

 

“Oh! Josh, Dante.” He gestures his hand between them as they nod to each other. “Dante is that Dante, so keep it quiet.”

 

Josh’s eyes widen, but then he shrugs. “I’m just chatting to a Tourist. It’s what they want anyway.” He looks at Dante and says proudly, “We’ve got Twitters.”

 

“I saw that,” replies Dante. He looks at Josh, noticing how much he takes after his mother, tall with her defined features.

 

Dante doesn’t just have Trish’s stolen file. Dante has one of his own combined into it.

 

“So, hitting up the Tourist sites?” asks Nero. “You want to split this sandwich?”

 

Dante shakes his head. “I’m good. Kyrie puts on a massive spread for breakfast.”

 

“Just as long as you did the dishes. It drives her nuts when the kitchen’s untidy.” Nero sips his coffee. “And she’s got a good aim.”

 

“We’re pussy-whipped and proud, Kid,” grins Dante. “Price we pay for home cookin’ and a warm bed.”

 

“Trish and Lady don’t strike me as the cooking type,” grins Nero.

 

“A Man doesn’t live on pizza alone,” smirks Dante. “You hear that?”

 

The younger men listen for a moment and there’s the sound of distant yelling. The whole Great Hall quietens.

 

“Is that?” Josh says.

 

“Sounds like it. No wonder we were sent on a coffee break,” replies Nero.

 

Dante cocks an eyebrow.

 

“Grandad and Falzon. Grandad’s been weird since going to see Mami today,” confides Josh. “He’s decided to run for Supreme General, but that’s between us.”

 

Nero chokes on his coffee and gets it down his uniform. The sound of him brushing it down is the loudest sound in the Great Hall.

 

“You make anything out?” Dante murmurs. Demon senses are super sharp.

 

“A bit.”

 

Josh shakes his head. “Just the voices.”

 

“You agreed, Agius. I kept to it. I stayed away, I backed you in Committee every turn and now you’re throwing 20 years out the window? Nine fucking hells, man!”

 

Nero mouths Falzon to Dante.

 

“Fortuna’s suffered at the hands of power-hungry scum like you for far too long, General Falzon and look where it’s got us!” Agius fires back.

 

“You’ve no fucking room to talk about power-hungry, Agius. Your greed destroyed your daughters.” Falzon snarls.

 

“You and Scerri destroyed my daughters. I never agreed to going as far as you did.” Agius retorts.

 

“You never turned down your promotion on principle, did you, Agius? Everything I did, I did for Fortuna. Everything you did, you did for yourself!”

 

“I stopped lying to myself about that a very long time ago,” says Agius, so quietly that Nero and Dante strain to hear him.

 

“It didn’t stop you holding her down while she screamed. Maybe I’ll let that drop next time you’re asked where’s Verity?” There’s the sound of Falzon recoiling from a blow and Nero’s on his feet and running, Josh hot on his heels.

 

Dante follows, even though he’s expecting to get stopped any moment.

 

The three men burst into Falzon’s office, but Dante hangs back behind the door.

 

“General, are you alright?” asks Nero.

 

Falzon is clutching his stomach and from the way he’s looking at Agius, the older man has signed his death warrant.

 

Everyone in the room can see it.

 

“You get precisely one of those, Edward,” Falzon says in a voice so cold they can almost see their breath. “Knight Agius, take General Agius home.”

 

“Yes, My Lord,” replies Josh, clasping his hands and bowing his head, before looking between Falzon and his grandfather, burning with curiosity.

 

General Agius doesn’t come immediately. Never taking his eyes from Falzon as he straightens his uniform, Agius moves in his own time.

 

Josh and Nero exchange shocked, incredulous looks with each other as the darker young man follows his General from the room. Josh says something to someone outside the room, who replies in accented Italian.

 

Nero sees Falzon’s face and steps outside. “Everything’s fine now,” he says quietly, before continuing in a normal tone and in Italian, “You’ve made a wrong turn. The Gallery is out those doors and right. This area is restricted to Tourists.”

 

The voice thanks him and they can both hear footsteps receding.

 

“Tourist took a wrong turn,” says Nero, dropping back into Fortunese. “Are you alright, my Lord?”

 

Falzon comes round the desk and stands up with an effort. “I will be, Nero, I will be.”

 

Tony stands in the corner of the room, clapping. There’s a deadly smile playing on his lips.

 

Outstanding.

 

***

 

Falzon decides to leave early, but he doesn’t go home.

 

Instead, he has Nero drive him to a brothel near Port Cerula. Falzon looks at it for a long time, saying nothing.

 

Nero watches the punters come in and out. Tourists don’t come here, unless they’re asking for trouble. It’s the roughest pub in the roughest part of the port. The car attracts tacit glances, but the local gang lords won’t touch it.

 

There are Knights patrolling, but they don’t really do anything other stop brawls breaking out between drunks fighting over the same whore.

 

“I was born in that room there,” says Falzon and points to a room high in the attic.

 

Tony’s sitting in the passenger seat. Both he and Nero look up at the window.

 

“I slept in a box under my mother’s bed until I was too old, then I was moved to a group nursery. She could spend the time she wasn’t working with me, but the rest of the time, I was in the nursery. We were looked after by whores too old to get any clients.”

 

Falzon is quiet, with almost no emotion in his voice. Nero turns in his seat to face him.

 

“It was better than some of the others. The children were used most cruelly. We were not. We earned our keep, cleaning, fetching drinks, whatever other services were required. It was hard, but the harder you worked the more you could earn. Even then, the organised crime groups on the Mainland were moving their filthy velenu through Fortuna and we turned a blind eye. We were not and still aren’t set up to deal with smuggling.“

 

Nero can almost see the child Peter running between ships and bars with messages and goods for drug smugglers.

 

“But it was a hard life for the girls, for the women. There was only one route for them – maybe the pretty ones could find a patron to take care of her. But for most, like my mother, there was only one way out for her. To make the men bearable, they would drink or take the velenu and soon it would be all they cared about. My Mother began spending less time with me and when she did, she would be less and less caring of me. I could see her getting sicker and sicker. I worked hard and had nothing to show for it, as I gave it all to her, because she said she needed it.”

 

Nero can see it all in his mind’s eye, the drug-addled whore, whose life was so miserable that she sought to escape it any way she could, slowly separating from her bewildered son. Even Tony listens quietly.

 

“She spent it on velenu. I would bring it for her and the men, I’d walk in on them doing the most debased acts while I was their errand boy. She dropped any standards she might have had to feed her addiction.”

 

Falzon looks Nero in the eye as he says, “I’m glad that you were spared that.”

 

Nero’s throat is dry. He can only nod.

 

Tony’s lip curls at this and the look he’s giving Falzon promises damage.

 

“She ended up on the street. Her looks were gone, her body was failing and she had nothing left. She was thrown out of the brothel for stealing from the other whores and sowing discord. I was allowed to remain. I was a hard worker and I was stronger than I looked. I worked doors from the age of 14. It led to other work for the same scum that smuggled the velenu.”

 

Falzon looks over to the boats. “I worked hard, kept my mouth shut and learned how things worked. My only fault was my temper, like you. I never let a man slight me or get one over on me, no matter how long it took to avenge myself. I was an angry man, Nero and what drew my ire more than anything was the likes of the Old Families sponging off Fortuna like leeches, when there were people such as myself and my mother, trapped in our poverty and hopelessness.”

 

Falzon’s voice is barely audible as he continues and it’s clear only his body is in the car as he remembers.

 

“I broke into Supreme General Scerri’s house. I hadn’t just stolen, I had smashed and damaged as much as I could in my contempt for him.”

 

He pauses for a moment at the traffic jam on memory lane. It’s clearly a very painful, but a very precious remembrance for him.

 

“Lord Scerri could have called the Knights, could have ran me through on the spot – he would have been more than able. But he didn’t. He sat me down and said the strangest thing to me.”

 

“He asked me who I served. And I told him I didn’t know who I served. I don’t even think I served myself.

 

Even Tony’s transfixed at this telling.

 

Nero can feel a chill sweeping over his skin.

 

“I asked him who he served and Lord Scerri said something greater than himself. He served Fortuna and he served Sparda. I said we all served Spada.”

 

Falzon pauses. He’s overwhelmed by the memory.

 

“Lord Scerri said he served Fortuna as much as he served the Saviour. Fortuna existed because of the Saviour and the Saviour existed because of Fortuna.”

 

Falzon places his hand on Nero’s shoulder. “He said ‘I offer you the chance to serve something greater than yourself. I offer you the chance to serve Fortuna.’ ”

 

“And then I heard myself say ‘Yes.’ I was 17 years old and sooner or later I’d’ve ended up at the bottom of the harbour. I don’t know what he saw in me, Nero, not really, but I will always be grateful that he did. I served Fortuna out of duty at first, but I’ve come to love her, more than I’ll ever love any woman. I’ve done terrible things for her, but I do believe that my sacrifices were for the greater good of Fortuna.”

 

Tony’s slowly shaking his head, but whether in disbelief or denial, Nero isn’t sure.

 

“I think you understand, Nero. You took up arms for Fortuna in her time of need, when you took on the Saviour statue. You put Fortuna before yourself. “

 

Nero doesn’t correct Falzon, that he put Kyrie before himself.

 

“Fortuna’s changing, Nero. The modern world, with its drugs, warfare, its crime and its corruption. The African refugees, Umbrella Ouroboros is coming for her. She’s dying.”

 

She damn well needs to die and you along with her, says Tony.

 

Nero resists the urge to glance at Tony.

 

“But know this, Nero. The things I’ve done, if there’s a Heaven for the Merciful, I’m not going to see it.” Falzon searches Nero’s face, as if he’ll find the answers there.

 

Well, Nero, this is your in.

 

“I’ll always serve something greater than myself, My Lord,” Nero says, as he nods.

 

Falzon nods slowly. “Take me home, Nero. It’s been a long day and we both need to rest with our families.”

Chapter Text

Fortuna, two decades ago

 

The walk down to the Archive is interesting.

 

The various construction trade Guilds are demonstrating outside the Opera House and they’re taking up most of the street. Knights ring them so they’re contained and it’s difficult for Vergil to push his way through the crush, his arm around Verity to keep her close.

 

“What are they protesting about?” Vergil asks over the din. His language proficiency isn’t up to the demonstrating workers.

 

“What Marta was saying. They’re angry about being blamed for the Opera House and they’re angry about the foreign workers coming in. They want their colleagues released.” She glances at Vergil and she looks a little guilty.

 

“Is anything likely to happen to the prisoners?”

 

She picks up his inference and blanches. “No. Papa wouldn’t do that. He always says that when you put a man to the question, you can’t trust his answers. Why, should we confess?”

 

“As interesting as that would be, if I’m right, I don’t think it’s wise to show our hand this early, Vee,” he says, looking back at her.

 

“Show our hand? I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. Mr Redgrave.” Only her eyes show confusion. “I’ll see if I can get us through faster. Hie, Knight Calleja!”

 

Pinny’s Knight spots her and makes his way over to her. He raises his eyebrows at her bruising, but steers a path for them. He passes on much the same gossip as Marta, though he’s heard the rumours about a young couple fighting in there. He expresses the usual anti-tourist feeling that Vergil’s used to hearing.

 

“I’m surprised, Knight, that one as young as you would think that. Not that I think the Mainland is any kind of Utopia, but there, such views tend to be related to an age group.”

 

“It’s not easy, seeing what they’ve got, against that we lack,” he says. “But respect for culture and tradition is not a lack to be proud of.”

 

They’ve reached the Archive and he bids them farewell.

 

Verity collects the Key for the Caged Library and takes Vergil up a flight of stairs into a huge, old-fashioned Library. It’s like something out of a museum.

 

Verity and Vergil both take deep inhales at the same instant of the scent of ink, vellum and wood.

 

“I love that smell,” grins Verity. She automatically talks in a low voice.

 

Vergil grins back. “It’s beautiful.”

 

They aren’t alone in there, there are other Pilgrims and Archive staff bustling quietly about, speaking in hushed, low tones.

 

“So, where shall we direct our studies, Mr Redgrave?” she smiles.

 

God, she’s beautiful.

 

“You mentioned Thekla and Temen-Ni-Gru, so let’s start there,” he says.

 

Verity nods and walks over to the far side of the Library. She claims a desk by a huge, dark shelf that already has two chairs and a pile of books on it. She looks at the pile. “Some of these are what we’re looking for, but I can’t see Temen-Ni-Gru – Legend, Theory and Practice. It’s over at that shelf somewhere.”

 

She points at a shelf a little down from where they’ll be sitting.

 

“Verity!” Pinny’s waving from across the Library. There’s a tall, bald man in black with her.

 

“I’ll have a look for it while you talk to your sister,” says Vergil. Verity’s about to walk off, when Vergil pulls her back, planting a sweet little kiss on her lips. She nearly skips off to see her sister.

 

She nods to Pinny’s companion, who bows to her.  She can see Pinny’s hidden look of distaste from behind him. Neither woman can truly hide their feelings from showing in their eyes.

 

He turns to her and waits.

 

“Mr Arkham, this is my sister, Verity Agius. She’s a trainee Archivist like myself. Verity, this is Mr Arkham, my Pilgrim Tutor,” says Pinny.

 

Verity and Arkham bow to each other.

 

“I understand, that like myself, you are students and practitioners of the Dark Arts,” he says in a deep, slow voice.

 

“We make no distinction between Light and Dark in the sense you intend, Good Sir,” says Verity. “We see simply Art. The how of its Practice lies in the heart of its Practitioner.”

 

“Even fire may burn the furnace keeper,” he replies. He bows to her. “If I may take my leave of you for an instant, Young Misses?”

 

Verity and Pinny bow and he turns on his heel, walking slowly towards the shelving where Vergil is standing.

 

“Well, what to make of that?” says Verity. “Why is it you always attract the ones the flies won’t shit on?”

 

“You sidestepped that blade, Vee,” says Pinny, repulsion upon her pretty face. “They had intended him for your gentle teaching, as he’s a foremost scholar of Demonic Magic and History and they see big things for you. I’m simply the pretty face for the pretty boys.”

 

“The weight of expectation can be crushing, Pinny,” replies Verity.

 

“I imagine the weight of Mr Redgrave is crushing, you dirty stopout,” says Pinny, with a tease in her voice.

 

Verity blushes and her smile quirks her lips. “Not quite yet, but I am well-pleased nonetheless.”

 

They giggle, hushing themselves lest they attract the censure of the Archivists. Pinny fills her in on the hullabaloo her absence had caused that morning.

 

“And so we are to ignore my absence? I am to face no censure, no repercussions?”

 

“It puzzles me while it relieves me, Verity,” agrees Pinny. “Mama is again taken to her bed because of Papa. Every time I close my eyes, I hear the blows. Perhaps Papa thinks that if he lets this dalliance run its course, he won’t be chasing you to Palermo. Particularly with Credo waiting in the wings.”

 

“You know what they say – Nothing like a child to steady a woman.” Verity shudders. “How do you avoid it?”

 

“The Tourists have ways. We have no time just now, so seek me out before he does purchase your run goods,” says Pinny, her face going carefully neutral as Arkham walks back over to them with his measured, careful steps.  

 

Vergil’s looking through a book detailing the life and times of Thekla, quietly horrified and enthralled simultaneously at the encroaching realisation of his Father’s long passed paramour and her children – his brothers. He feels all the realities in his life tilting again.

 

But not so much distracted that he doesn’t hear the footsteps approaching. He takes his fingers from the page he’s reading and detaches Yamato’s saya from his waist.

 

“So, you’re looking for the book of ancient legends, the tale of the demon warrior Sparda?” Arkham says as he approaches Vergil with a measured, cautious step. He carries a book as if it were a tome of such reverence and the burn that covers his neck and jaw flares and dances with colour.

 

He doesn’t have a manner as much as a miasma. Verity’s observation regarding the flies is not far wrong.

 

Vergil doesn’t give him the courtesy of a glance as he puts the book back. His tone is low and dangerous. “That’s not what I’m looking for. Leave me.”

 

He lowers his arm to his side slowly, hand open, ready to draw.

 

“Then what are you looking for? A demon that impregnates a woman, who then bears twin sons, that’s the story, isn’t it?” Arkham glances at the shelved books, noting the titles for what comes next. He continues his slow advance.

 

There’s a peal of metal as Vergil draws Yamato. He still doesn’t so much as look at him, yet Yamato’s point is scant inches from Arkham’s face.

 

“Leave me. I won’t tell you a third time,” Vergil says, never raising his voice or varying the menace in his tone.

 

Arkham doesn’t flinch. He merely caresses the gleaming, deadly blade before pressing his thumb into her and running it down as he walks towards Vergil again.

 

“People inherently fear evil. However, occasionally, a person may become seduced by evil,” he says as the blood splashes onto the floor.

 

This gets Vergil’s attention.

 

“What are you getting at?” he says as he swipes off Yamato and reverently re-sheathes her. He’s frowning.

 

“Share with me the story of Sparda,” says Arkham.

 

Vergil turns on his heel in a swirl of blue leather, his face hard.

 

Arkham looks after him as he goes, but doesn’t follow him. He turns and walks back to the giggling teenagers. He’d have preferred the younger one, but he is a guest here. An honoured one, but a guest, nonetheless.

 

Arkham knows how to wait.

 

***

 

Captain Agius himself lets them in.

 

“No Alice? Asks Peter. “There may have been questions I would have asked her.”

 

“You want your business spread across the town?” replies Agius. “Even a discreet maid like Alice knowing is a danger to us.”

 

Credo nods. “The best way to keep a secret between three peoples’ to kill the other two, so to speak.”

 

Agius looks at him. “Falzon here, might well do exactly that.”

 

“I’ve no animosity towards you, Captain, why do you insist on fostering it?” Peter stands at the bottom of the stairs. “Shall we?"

 

Agius makes a this way gesture and both Knights climb the stairs ahead of him.

 

“We’re both conscious, Captain Agius, that this particular mission is exacting an unusual toll upon you and Lord Scerri is beyond grateful for the sacrifices you make in his service,” says Credo. “As am I.”

 

“Neither of us need to be your enemy,” agrees Peter. “Not considering the eventual nature of our relationships.”

 

Captain Agius sighs, while looking, if not mollified, at least less confrontational.

 

He stops in front of two doors, with the girls’ names in ornate plaques upon them. Each girl has a design with their favourite flowers on them and mythological creatures sitting on the writing.

 

Neither girl has locked their doors, but Peter doesn’t push to gain access to Pinny’s, merely gesturing to Credo to do the honours.

 

Credo takes a deep breath and opens Verity’s bedroom door.

 

It’s not what he was expecting, but it’s everything he was expecting.

 

It’s a large room, larger than Pinny’s, with enough room for a calling circle on the floor. There’s no rugs on the floor, so nothing to trip on when dancing.

 

“It’s plainer than I thought it would be,” says Credo, stupidly.

 

“She’s been trained to connect spellwork to physical movement as a focus,” says Agius. “So she eschews anything that hinders movement.”

 

Peter nods in approval.

 

The wooden furniture in the room is blond, rather than the dark oak popular through Fortuna, with pretty tracework burned into it. It’s still very traditional. One long wall is completely covered in books and a short wall is shelves of fabric and threads with a frame set up for her tapestries.

 

The lived in part of the room with her furniture is plain, practical and comfortable. Verity doesn’t have a dressing table, merely using a small portion of her desk for her toilette. Her brush sits on the wicker tray that keeps everything confined to that area.

 

Peter has been looking at Verity’s books, looking for her diary. It’s hard amongst all the plain fabric hardbacks, grimoires and notebooks to identify something that could be a journal.

 

Credo runs his fingers over Verity’s desk. Where she sits and writes is shinier than the rest of the surface. He picks up her brush and there’s long strands that haven’t yet been cleaned out. He picks it up.

 

“Peter.”

 

“Oh good,” says Peter, as he walks over. He takes the brush and looks at it. He brightens. “She’s got some roots on this one. She must have tugged a knot. That’s so much better than just the strands. Makes it way more powerful.”

 

“Any joy in finding the journal yet?” asks Credo.

 

“The women I grew up with hid drugs, not diaries,” says Peter. “You knew she had one, so maybe you’ll do better than me.”

 

Credo walks over to the wall-wide bookcase. He stands in front of the section that’s nearest the bed and the desk.

 

Peter watches with interest.

 

Credo lifts his hand and runs it over some of the spines. The books are all different sizes and there’s nothing to clear exactly what they are – text book, novel, grimoire, diary.

 

Credo smiles and pulls one out with his index finger. He opens it and nods.

 

Diary of Verity Agius – KEEP OUT PINNY! Proclaims the flyleaf, the date given on it is three months previously.

 

Peter comes over and reads over Credo’s shoulder. Credo smiles as he reads her witty observations on her tutors and colleagues, straight out laughing at some of them. There’s more than a few where Credo colours and Peter raises his eyebrow, while glancing at Credo.

 

“That’s some torch she’s carrying for you, Credo. I think you should have your Courting Gift ready once our Mr Redgrave leaves. I doubt you’ll have much problem getting her to wear it.” Peter slaps him on the back. “What is it, anyway?”

 

“A compact with violets engraved on it, inlaid with amethysts. It’s still sitting in the box at home.”

 

And then they turn to Credo asking to Court her and his face drops, because it’s all Redgrave from there.

 

“So he told her his first name, but not the surname? She still has no idea who he really is? Interesting,” says Peter.

 

“How so?” asks Credo. He’s cautiously pleased after reading what she’s said about him.

 

“Doesn’t matter. Now you’ve finished reading her deepest, darkest secrets, have you found her symbols for her monthlies?” Peter takes the book and leafs back through it. “That must be it.”

 

He points to the capitals in the right-hand corner of the entries dated from 12 to 7 days previously, PE. He leafs back through the diary, snatching a pen from the desk and making notes on the back of his hand. He mentally counts back before frowning.

 

“Godspit and shit. She’s fertile now, or she’s about to be.” Peter looks at Credo. “We have only a few days to pull this mission off, or we’ll miss our window, given how fast she and Redgrave are moving. They fuck, we lose our advantage.”

 

 Credo’s heart sinks. He glances at Captain Agius. He’s looking at the floor, face grim.

 

Credo looks back at Peter and sets the diary back upon the shelf. His face is resolute.  He is a Knight of the Order and he will do his duty.

 

“Then we’d best get started.”

 

***

 

They’re sitting in Peter’s rooms with his books laid out all around.

 

There’s a knock at the door and it’s the Head Priest.

 

“Lord Scerri sent me over with this,” he says. His voice drips with disdain for Peter and this whole sordid situation. “Why have I been ordered to consort with Scerri’s Ladybird? This spell is sacred! It’s not to coerce some young chit abed for your amusement, Falzon. And you, Micellef? You’re from an Old Family. How can you condone this base amusement?”

 

“Is it all there?” Peter asks, coldly.

 

“Yes!” the Priest almost spits. “Heed this warning, Ladybird. Assuming Our Lord doesn’t set it awry, have the utmost care when you set it up, lest you drain her too fast and you kill her. Micellef – do you know women? It was my belief you hadn’t tasted the delights of love yet. You may find yourself the unwitting victim of this spell, otherwise. It would be your just desserts for the blasphemy.”

 

“Concern yourself with your own mortality, Priest,” snarls Peter.

 

“Why would you impregnate her anyway?” The Priest pauses for a moment. “I would have thought you would wish to avoid that.”

 

“My reasons aren’t yours to question, Priest. You’ve discharged this duty and now need never consider it again.” He opens the door and all but throws the Priest out.

 

Credo looks through it, but it’s all Greek to him. “We’re truly leaving nothing to chance, then, are we?”

 

“No. Just because she’s fertile doesn’t guarantee conception, we’ve a spell to compel it, damn straight I’ll use it.” He runs his hand over his face and his normally pristine uniform is dishevelled and undone. “I wish we could have done a trial run with a lightskirt’s first night. I’d intended to, but Verity’s been quicker off the mark than I anticipated.”

 

Peter takes a deep breath. “Now, where to set it.”

 

Credo thinks for a moment. “The Ruined Church.”

 

“It’s a spot for Dalliances, Credo. Half of Fortuna got their start there.”

 

“In the summer, Peter. Not in the spring, it’s too cold and it’s too fiddly to get to this time of year. You’d have to be seriously determined. We only need it active for a few days. There’ll be some pretext to get them there.” Credo’s unconsciously doodled a map of the Castle, through the Labs and out across the waterfall.

 

Peter nods slowly, speculatively, as he can see a plan start to form. “It is the middle of the week. Everyone is at work.”

 

He claps Credo on the back. “You know, Credo, you’re starting to scare me.”

 

Credo stands up. “Then we have no time to waste. Let’s set this spell and begin the life of Our Saviour’s Heir.”

 

***

 

Committee for the Protection of the Faith

 

Special Projects Division/ Inc Alchemy

 

Designation: Beyond Top Secret

 

Operation Resurrection

 

Phase One

 

Status: IN PROGRESS

 

Reporting to Supreme General Scerri.

 

Update: Knight Peter Falzon and Knight Credo Micellef

 

It begins.

Chapter Text

Dante follows on with his tour using Credo and Falzon’s Operation Resurrection  report as his guide. It’s much the same as the path he’d taken the previous month.

 

The rainforest is already dying. Without Echidna’s influence to maintain the microclimate this high in the mountains, it is beginning to return to typical, drier vegetation.

 

Didn’t mean that there still weren’t chimera seeds still ready to pop though and Dante gets out Rebellion from her case and folds the Robe away in its place. She clips into the magnet in his jacket, almost annoyed at being confined so.

 

He’s at the ruined Church and he hears the tell-tale chittering.

 

He knows this place from the Operation Resurrection File and knowing what happened here suddenly makes him angry.

 

Luckily, there’s chimera seeds to take it out on.

 

Better than that. Chimera Assaults.

 

He grins and lets them bound close to him before backflipping over the top of them, shooting as he goes. He hits a couple and he hears them dissolve. One of them shoots its blades at him and he twirls Ebony and Ivory around the flat of his hand, deflecting them. He hears them clatter uselessly into the wall to his side.

 

They’re smarter than they look, fanning around him and waving their blades.

 

His blood’s up and he wants to feel the bite of his sword into flesh and he pulls Rebellion from his back. He draws the blade to the side, like he’s taking a golf swing and brings her round hard. It takes the nearest demon’s head straight off.

 

Dante feels the rush of air at his back as the assault just misses him with its claws and blocks with Rebellion at his back. He feels claws snag and twisting the sword, he flings it over his head into a couple in front of him, knocking them flying. He slides across the ground, impaling them both on a stinger.

 

He summons a glyph that sends him over and behind the dwindling group and shakes his ass at them, spinning round fast enough to knock the flying blades out his way.

 

Not as elegant as Vergil would have been, but gets the job done.

 

One of the blades hits the assault and kills it and he has to admit, he’s impressed by that.

 

There’s two left and he rushes the first one, twirling his sword round rapidly, never letting it rest as it tries to defend itself. There’s only so much damage it can take before it collapses.

 

The final one, he just slashes at for the visceral thrill of hacking something to death.

 

Dante’s panting as he finishes, but he feels better.

 

When in doubt – hack it out.

 

***

 

Dante has a few further skirmishes as he moves towards where the last Hell Gate was and as he walks around the ancient temple, he busts a few seed pods that must have made it through from last time.

 

“Round-Up the whole damn place,” he mutters. “That’ll fix it.”

 

He comes to stand in front of the where the Hell-Gate had stood, when he feels that sense of otherness. It’s not taking the place of the Hell-Gate, rather it’s about five metres to the left of it, off the plateau of the temple hill, above the tree line.

 

Dante throws some stones into and the tree line ripples as they vanish into the air. He sits down on the smashed slabs he left from the Gate and waits.

 

Nothing comes out and the birds pointedly fly around it.

 

There’s even a sparrow being chased by a hawk that does an impressive almost 90 degree turn when it’s almost on it to avoid it. The hawk manages to break for the other direction and flies away when it recovers. Dinner isn’t worth that much.

 

As he waits, Dante pulls the Guidebook with the helpful foldout map he got from the Castle Tourist Office and a pen. It’s an older book, from earlier in the year and they haven’t mentioned the earthquake that destroyed the Hell Gate in the Town yet.

 

The other three Gates are marked on it and Dante looks at them, really looks at them.

 

They’re in a straight line.

 

He takes Rebellion, because even alone, he has a flair for the dramatic and rests the map on his knees and places her along the line of the Hell Gates.

 

He even draws her point first along the line, Castle Town, Castle, Ferrum Mining Village, Għorna tal-hija Lifgħa and even given the size of Fortuna, he hits them dead on, like dominos. He uses Rebellion as a ruler and when he resheathes her, the black line remains.

 

Dante examines where the line runs, independent of the Hell Gates.

 

It passes right through the top of the graveyard and the tip of the plateau, not far from where he’s sitting.

 

Dante pulls up the app that works as a compass and walks around the arena. All the openings correspond with the points. At some points, there’s the jumps that indicate geopathic stress.  Keeping an eye out for demons, he maps them on the rough rectangle he’s drawn on the guidebook to represent the arena.

 

“Huh,” he says when he’s finished. “Fucking ley lines.”

 

***

 

Dante makes it through the rest of Mitis Forest, with plenty incidents, but nothing he can’t handle.

 

He’s covered in demon blood and ichor, but it’s the cleanest he’s felt since he got back to Fortuna.

 

Dante’s a man of simple tastes and there’s something cathartic about reducing everything down to life or death, feeling your sword cleave a crime against God and Man apart.

 

He’s feeling better about the world when suddenly he’s standing on Grand Album Bridge looking at Head Quarters and his blood starts to boil again.

 

He really hopes tomorrow is difficult.

 

When in doubt – hack it out.

 

***

 

“I remember coming here when I was little,” says Kyrie.

 

“Stop trying to get out of your work,” says Violet as she sits doing paperwork. She’s frowning and comparing something.

 

“I’m not. I’m just saying.” She puts down the fresh coffee cup.

 

“You’re making coffee every half hour. Ms Kye is bouncing off the walls.”

 

“No, Madam Alighieri, I am not bouncing off the walls,” says Ms Kye, sitting working at her desk and not bouncing off walls.

 

“See? She’s so excited, we can’t tell.”

 

“I came to see my mum at work and she took me into a couple of the labs she was working on.” Despite her protests, Kyrie puts down two cups of coffee and some biscuits she’s found in the good cupboard. “One of them was around here, I’m sure of it. But I can’t find it.”

 

Violet looks up from her figures and reports. “It’s probably not wise to go looking round the building for mystery doors.”

 

“It’s not a mystery door. I know exactly where it was,” replies Kyrie, a little put out. “There was a lion on the wall next to it. A carved lion.”

 

“How old were you?”

 

“I was about eight or nine.”

 

Violet sighs. “I don’t get that it matters, but that was a long time ago, Kyrie. Maybe you remembered it wrong or it got bricked up.”

 

“I just wanted to stand somewhere me and mum were together,” scowls Kyrie. “I don’t expect you to get that.”

 

Even Ms Kye knows Kyrie’s gone too far. “Madam Alighieri, I need your signature.”

 

“Violet, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it the way it sounded,” Kyrie stutters, aghast.

 

Violet just looks at her with a mixture of disdain and disappointment, before going out the room to do something else.

 

“Violet!”

 

“That was wrong of you,” says Ms Kye.

 

“She can be a cow sometimes as well,” says Kyrie defensively.

 

“Does that make a blow at her past acceptable? I’m given to understand she had as much a hand in raising you as Madam Micellef.” Ms Kye speaks in a flat, neutral tone, which is worse than being shouted at.

 

“She did, especially once Mum and Dad died. She’s always been there. I don’t remember her not being there,” Kyrie says with a small smile. “She’s like a big sister.”

 

“Shall we look for this door?” Asks Ms Kye. “After all, it’s caused a quarrel. It seems a shame to waste it.”

 

Kyrie takes Ms Kye to where the door had been. “It’s exactly as I remember it, but no door.”

 

She runs her hands over it, but it’s smooth. It’s a continuous part of the wall, rather than having been bricked up. She turns to Ms Kye. “Tyuule, I know it was here. I’d swear on my unborn child’s life.”

 

“Perhaps you’re correct on the door and wrong on the location,” says Ms Kye.

 

“Maybe,” says Kyrie, doubtfully.  She eyes the wall and the carving of the lion, thoughtfully.

 

“What was in there?” asks Ms Kye.

 

“Science stuff. I don’t know how to explain it,” says Kyrie. “It looked like that thing that’s been on the news. The one in Switzerland. It’s just opened and they think it’ll cause black holes.”

 

Ms Kye frowns.

 

“The Large Hardon Collider,” says Kyrie. “I saw it on the news on the telly.”

 

She strokes the wall.

 

“And it was through here.”

 

***

 

“I can’t believe you people get up at this time,” says Dante as he finally makes it down to the breakfast table.

 

“Pity your clothes didn’t get up with you,” says Violet, drily, though it’s clear she’s enjoying the view. So’s Kyrie and they’re whispering to each other and giggling.

 

Dante catches the word, “Twins!” and stiffens, but they don’t mean anything by it. He stretches and rolls his shoulders with a loud crack, letting the two women enjoy the gun show.

 

“Fucking tiġieġ fil-qasam tal-paguni,” snorts Trish.

 

Violet and Kyrie burst out laughing.

 

Dante looks confused. “I’m usually wearing less when I get that reaction.”

 

Nero brings more coffee and toast through. “She called you a chicken in a field of peacocks. It’s an insult to someone who’s full of themselves.”

 

Trish laughs. “Wasn’t actually what I meant, but yeah it fits.”

 

Violet swallows painfully. “It also describes someone who feels…drab, nothing special. There’s a flip of it - pagun fil-qasam tat-tiġieġ – that means someone who makes you feel like you’re the only light in the room.”

 

“Aw, that’s sweet,” says Lady. She doesn’t mention she’s seen it in Verity’s diary, along with some love letters Vergil had sent her or where he’s read the diary and put his own comments in. She didn’t understand most of it – Verity had written in Fortunese, but Vergil had written in Italian to her and Lady understood that. She’d never thought Dante’s straight-laced brother could even think about such elegant filth.

 

They haven’t put the diary back yet.

 

“You’ll need to hurry if you want to make First Prayer,” says Nero.

 

“Why the hell do we need to make First Prayer? We never go. We’re usually working.” Violet asks.

 

“That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it,” agrees Kyrie.

 

“You’ll want to go to this one,” says Nero. He looks out the window. “You’ll want to get the door first though.”

 

There’s a loud knock and Josh is making faces at the window. Kyrie goes to get it.

 

The table falls silent as General Agius comes into the room. He bows elegantly to the ladies and cuffs Josh, who quickly does the same thing.

 

The women round the table follow Violet’s lead with the clasped hands and head bob.

 

“Forgive me, Madam Alighieri, for interrupting your breakfast. I have a matter I require your counsel on,” says the General. He’s carrying a monogrammed leather document wallet.

 

“Of course, Lord Agius,” replies Violet. “You’ll have time for coffee, if not breakfast?”

 

“Coffee, Madam, we’ll take it out to the garden,” smiles Lord Agius. “I’m sure Josh will enjoy some of Kyrie’s cooking.”

 

Kyrie pours out some coffee for both of them and Josh takes Violet’s place at the table. Lord Agius carries the coffees out to the garden and sets them down on the table, alongside the wallet.

 

“I always loved this garden,” he says as he looks around. “All the fruit trees you have. Did Credo manage to bottle his wine this year?”

 

“Sadly, no. Kyrie and I will probably sell the vineyard. We’ve no interest in making wine, just drinking it.” Violet fiddles with her cup. “We do have last year’s aging in storage.”

 

“I’m going to announce my run for Supreme General, Violet,” says General Agius. “I’m going to announce it at First Prayer and I need a Second. You’re a full Order official. You can Second me.”

 

Violet nods. “Of course, Edward. I’d be honoured. Do you have the paperwork?”

 

He pulls forms out the wallet, alongside an elegant fountain pen and hands them to Violet. She takes a second to read them, then signs. She sorts the papers as there’s another form underneath.

 

“Edward, this is your will,” Violet says, her tone questioning.

 

“I need you to witness that I signed it. I also have some codicils within it I’d ask you to ensure are carried through, dear Violet,” he says.

 

“I don’t want to be your executor,” she says, bluntly. She signs it, though.

 

“I’m not asking you to be. I merely want you to look out for Josh for me, when I’m gone,” Lord Agius says as he takes her hands. “My sins are catching up with me and they are many.”

 

“What? Edward, what the hell are you talking about?”

 

“I can’t tell you that, my dear friend and be grateful for it,” General Agius says as he drops Violet’s hands. “I’ll be around long enough to take Fortuna to steadier waters, but not much more than that. Falzon will see to that.”

 

“I thought you and he were friends?” Violet shakes her head in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

 

“I’m bound to Peter Falzon by blood, not love. I’m tired of pretending otherwise. I’ll spend my last years being truthful, even though he’ll kill me in the end for it,” says Lord Agius as he sips his coffee.

 

Violet looks at him as if he’s gone quite, quite mad. “Is this your roundabout way of telling me you’re Falzon’s father, because he’s as much chance of finding his father as I have?”

 

General Agius empties his cup. “I’ll see you at First Prayer, Violet.”

 

He bows to her and walks back in to the house.

 

By the time she comes back into the house, Agius and Josh have gone.

 

“What in all the Nine Hells happened out there?” asks Kyrie. “You should see your face.”

 

“Nero’s right. We’re going to want to go to First Prayer,” she says as she turns to Dante and the two women. “We’ll leave from there. Wear your passes and robes. Fortuna is about to go boom.”

 

***

 

The Kapella is no busier than normal, but it’s still fairly busy for the time of day. Dante, Trish and Lady pull their Pilgrim’s Robes close around them and the hoods down over their faces.

 

Violet leaves them with Kyrie as she goes to sit down the front row with the rest of the Order officials Nero goes to stand with Josh and his age cohort. There’s a whispered conversation between the two Knights and they work their way down to the front, as close as they’re allowed to stand.

 

Dante regards it all with interest. He’s never been one for religion – he’s got memories of people trying to exorcise his father after he’d helped them and he’s never usually around long enough after a job to actually do the tourist thing. Considering his jobs usually involve a metric fuckton of damage, that’s not a bad thing.

 

He already lives in one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and there’s not many people who can say they walked the same streets as their father, 2000 years apart. He wishes he could have walked them with his father and heard Sparda’s tales. Dante isn’t a history buff by any means, but he’s learned that it’s not sharing the interest that’s important, it’s showing the interest.

 

“Who’s Falzon?” he asks Kyrie. They’ve got seats at the back and there’s not many people around them, so they’re not disturbing anyone.

 

She points out a hawk-faced man of average height. There’s scars on his face, the kind picked up in combat. His face is expressionless, apart from his eyes. He looks like he wants to murder the room.

 

Falzon looks up at that point and nods to Kyrie, frowning as he tries to see who’s under the hoods. Kyrie smiles back, open and gracious.

 

General Agius takes the podium and before he gives the service, he runs through any announcements.

 

Dante watches Falzon. The man’s looking like he’s spoiling for a fight and Nero and Josh don’t look much better. They’re probably about to jump on their boss.

 

“And now I have a more personal announcement,” begins General Agius. Violet comes over to the podium and they nod to each other. Violet looks worried, but she hasn’t clocked Falzon.

 

“Since the tragic demise of Supreme General Credo Micellef , the Holy Knights have been without a  leader. General Falzon has carried the burden bravely – “ Falzon smiles and bows his head to Agius – “but he has his own role within our Order, keeping the Faith pure. He must focus fully on that. To this end, I propose to stand for election to Supreme General and guide Fortuna through its difficult time. Some of you will rightly point out my age. I’m 65 and I’ve served Fortuna since I was 14. I don’t have the energy of a younger man. But I do have the experience and a listening ear. I welcome the younger Knights come give their counsel.”

 

“Who Seconds?” calls out Falzon.

 

“Madam Violet Alighieri Seconds,” replies Violet.

 

“No objection,” responds Falzon.

 

Nero and Josh relax, though they’re confused he just accepted it. Dante can see them having a quick conversation and Josh indicates Falzon. Nero shrugs.

 

“I would only stand for five years at the outside, simply to provide a steady hand till I can pass over the responsibility to another and I have no intention of going for Sanctus. Let that role be filled by another.” Agius is looking directly at Falzon.

 

Falzon stands up. “I for one, can think of no better hands than Lord Agius for Supreme General. I find it a fitting tribute to Credo’s long service to Fortuna. In my capacity as Leader of the Committee for the Protection of the Faith, I accept General Edward Agius’ nomination. I declare a hustings open for 48 hours so other Knights can be nominated, with a vote to be taken by the Holy Knights, beginning when the hustings close. In three days hence, we shall have a new Supreme General.”

 

Nero looks over to Violet, then across to Kyrie.

 

“That went way easier than I expected,” she says to Dante.

 

“I didn’t think he’d give in so easily,” he replies.

 

“No one will stand against General Agius. He’s well respected, everyone loved Credo, so Violet seconding him’s like an endorsement from Credo,” says Kyrie, thoughtfully. “Getting endorsed by Falzon seals the deal. But why?”

 

“They’re old friends, right? And Agius does seem to know what he’s doing,” Dante lowers his head to at least look like he’s praying.

 

Kyrie snorts. “And bet your ass, so does Falzon.”

 

***

 

They wait until First Prayer is over before Kyrie leads them down the front to get Violet.

 

“Wouldn’t it be better to wait for Violet to come up to us?” asks Trish. “It’s probably better that the higher-ups don’t see us.”

 

“No,” Dante replies. “Let him see us.”

 

Lady and Trish exchange concerned glances, but Dante is already down the front, guitar case in hand. Violet is talking to Falzon and Agius, when both men look like they’ve seen a ghost over her shoulder.

 

Falzon recovers quicker and he can’t stop the furious look that’s gone as quick as it’s come.

 

“Madam Alighieri, I see you continue to persist in your folly,” he says. “Will I need to rescue your team again?”

 

“I doubt that,” cuts in Dante. “We managed fine last month.”

 

Falzon’s jaw tightens, briefly. He holds out his hand to Dante, who takes it. “I have you to thank for this mess, then.”

 

“You do.” Both men squeeze each other’s hands, neither willing to give. Dante has to hold back from crushing Falzon’s.

 

“You lanced a boil for me, so for that I thank you,” Falzon says smoothly, but there’s no mistaking the malice in his tone. “It answers one question I had – who hired you in the first place.”

 

“I don’t know who hired us last time – I didn’t deal with that. But it was how Violet heard about us and our services.” He looks to Lady and Trish, who nod. He drops Falzon’s hand, now he’s made his point.

 

“My door was always open to you, Violet,” says Falzon to her. “But the time where it will shut approaches.”

 

“I was never going to walk through it, Peter,” she replies.

 

“I’m a good friend to have, Violet, in the Times to Come. I’m not someone you should have as an enemy.” He unconsciously rubs his mouth again. “You of all people should know that.”

 

 Violet’s fists clench and she does that little sideways quirk. “You’ve had your fun with me three times, Peter. Rules say you don’t get a fourth.”

 

“For a barranija you know the rules better than some born here.” Falzon bows and clasps his hands. “Credo taught you well. But he’s not here to protect you anymore. Consider that.”

 

He turns on his heel, with Nero scurrying after him with a wave.

 

“What did he mean, ‘The Time to Come’?” asks Lady.

 

“I guess he just means the future of Fortuna. It’s changing and the old guard don’t like it. That was the point of the Saviour, restore Fortuna to its glory days and impose it on the rest of the world,” says Violet. “Course, I’m pretty sure the French and British armies would have ended it pretty quickly, but I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

 

Lady drops her voice. “So was that why you hired us? Why’d you let it get so far?”

 

“Like Falzon said, it was a boil that needed lancing. Any sooner and it wouldn’t have worked, it’ll be years before they get it up and running again, assuming they even want to and they’re getting watched by the parent company now, because Daddy wasn’t happy with the kids getting up to shenanigans behind his back.” Violet leads the way out of the Kapella.

 

“People died. Doesn’t that bother you?” Asks Trish as they walk towards the car.

 

“Less people died than if the French invaded or if the Saviour got to the Mainland and suddenly demons and magic get out into the open.” Violet meets her eyes coolly.

 

“Trish, it really doesn’t matter now,” Dante says and there’s an unsubtle warning in his tone.

 

Trish gives a small nod and Lady gives her shoulder an affectionate bump.

 

They share a small smile as they make their way to the car.

Chapter Text

Fortuna, two decades ago

 

“Might we study with you? It would seem our interests co-incide.” The ponderous voice cuts across Vergil’s reverie. He looks up to see Arkham, with an obsequious young man behind him and Pinny mouthing “Sorry.”

 

“How so?” asks Vergil. He doesn’t need to look at Verity to feel her dismay.

 

“Miss Agrippina gives me to understand you to be studying the life of Lord Sparda.” Arkham over pronounces the nouns, Agraa-peee-naaa, Spaaardaaa. “It would seem prudent to study together. There may be questions I can answer.”

 

The briefest of glances passes between the couple and Verity nods. Arkham nods to the young man and sends him for chairs. He introduces him as his assistant, Agnus. He overprounounces that as well,  Agnoooooose.

 

They’ve accumulated a fair pile of books and notes between them in the few hours they’ve been there. Vergil has tended over to reading about Thekla and his Father, but after the first few books, the stories and biographies are much of a muchness.

 

It gives him a dark, if gratifying amusement that his Father and he share a type. He steals the occasional glance at Verity as she studies. Her slim, deft fingers flick pages back and forth and her pen scratches the paper as she writes. She bites her lip when she’s thinking and Vergil finds it particularly endearing.

 

“So, you’re studying The Chronicle of Thekla and Sparda?” says Arkham, picking up one of the books.

 

Vergil indicates the pile. “So it would seem.”

 

“Young Miss Verity, share with me what you’ve learned, if you will,” says Arkham.

 

Verity controls her unease at Arkham, her gaze flicking between her sister and her lover. She recites from memory, though she makes it look like she’s reading from notes.

 

“The Demons, under Mundus, decided to invade and enslave the Human Realm, sometimes outright, sometimes working as the figures behind the major historic civilisations. His most trusted warlord was Sparda, a demon who was ruthless, yet had some measure of compassion and honour. He was intelligent, enjoying scholarship and the finer things in life, as his just rewards for his service. He was a skilled strategist and a fearsome warrior.

 

Until he met Thekla, a Phrygian Priestess from Iconium, a young woman known for her bravery, wit and intelligence. She had a strong sense of justice and was willing to put her money where her mouth was. It was this last that led to her drawing the ire of the demons, as she was heavily involved in the resistance against them, becoming a major thorn in the side of the Demon Lords.

 

Sparda made it his mission to capture her and in studying his opponent, became obsessed by her, fascinated by her before he’d even met her.”

 

Arkham holds up his hand. “Yes, that is the story.”

 

Verity stops, confused.

 

Again, notes Arkham, the eye flick between the couple. There’s a whole conversation in that brief glance.

 

“You might read this story in any of these books,” he says, sweeping his hand over the table. “And retell it many times. But what is the story telling you?”

 

“I have always taken the meaning to be that True Love conquers all,” says Pinny. She looks just as puzzled as her sister.

 

“Romantic hornswoggle,” rebukes Arkham. “So typical of young girls.”

 

Both young women bristle, but Vergil squeezes Verity’s hand under the table.

 

“Then might Sacrifice is Necessary in pursuit of a higher goal be the meaning?” asks Vergil.

 

“I believe it to be exactly that, Mr Redgrave,” says Arkham. “The greater the goal, the greater the sacrifice or the gift means nothing.”

 

“I disagree,” says Verity, pushing her hijab back enough to show her hairline. “I would argue the true meaning is the nature of forgiveness.”

 

Arkham looks interested, no, curious, as if he’s finally about to get the challenge he was promised. “How so?”

 

Verity can only gesture with one hand, Vergil is still holding tight to the other.

 

“Sparda was a Demon Lord, Mundus’ right hand. In his name he committed many atrocities,” she says. “He was perhaps fairer and more honourable than his brethren, but he still slaughtered and tortured in both Mundus’ and his own name.”

 

“What do you mean?” Vergil can’t help himself. His world shakes under his feet to hear his Father denounced so and from the lips of the woman who’s going to bear his children, Sparda’s own blood. He’s gripping her hand so tight he can feel the bones grind.

 

Verity frowns slightly and it’s the only sign he’s hurting her. “Do you believe that his betrayal of his brethren and of his Lord undo the real barbarities he both commissioned through others or committed by his own hand?”

 

Arkham is silent, but watchful.

 

“The massacres? The sacrifices? Entire villages and tribes lost to genocides Sparda ordered? The books here but touch upon them and would bid people to forget they happened, and only recall the merest details to impress upon us Sparda’s agony of heart as he woke to justice.”

 

“He wasn’t like that! Not in the stories I’ve heard. E-She couldn’t have loved someone like that!” It’s out Vergil’s mouth before he can stop himself.

 

“It’s always the common people who are forgotten by history,” says Pinny.

 

“We should honour those he slaughtered and know every detail of what he did. Would we be so quick to worship him if those details were common?” Verity continues, heatedly. She’s gesturing to emphasise her words and it’s obvious Vergil still has her other hand.

 

“Almost blasphemy, brave girl, in a place such as this,” notes Arkham.

 

“We’re taught Sparda embodies justice and protection and we honour him by promoting those values within our actions and our society. We should recall those who were sacrificed to bring him to that state and give them their place.” Verity returns, hotly.

 

“We can give honour for their sacrifice,” says Pinny, trying to calm Verity. “Vee, your actions reflect on us both. It wouldn’t do to have such a renowned tutor regret the time spent educating us.”

 

“Education is never a waste, Miss Agrippina. I see why your tutors originally assigned me to your sister,” says Arkham.

 

Whether he meant it or not, Pinny is chastened.

 

“He spent the rest of his long life atoning for his crimes,” says Vergil, stung and trying to defend his father. “He more than made up for it. We don’t have to gloss over what he did before, but we can understand Sparda and what he went through to betray his people.”

 

“And he didn’t come to that conclusion by himself, he fell in love. It wasn’t so much a change of heart as wanting to impress a woman, the price of her love was to stop slaughtering her people.” Verity is not for stopping. “One might argue, that for his future actions in here and other places, whether it was a true turn or not.”

 

“Verity!”

 

“But it was! Ev-she wouldn’t have stayed with him. She couldn’t have.” Vergil reasserts.

 

Arkham’s noticed the slip of the tongue, even if the others haven’t.

 

“I agree with you, Mr Redgrave. Thekla had her own catalogue of rich and varied exploits before falling for Sparda and bearing his sons. I believe that he wished to make himself worthy of her love. Perhaps she merely spurred him to actions he was already considering and in that light, if not love conquers all, then at the very least, love can inspire us to serve a greater purpose.”

 

“One could also argue that after she had set her course, she would have found it impossible to return to her life, as she would have earned the suspicion of her people, so her only option was to carry on.” Verity’s gritting her teeth against Vergil’s grip. Her hand is going blue.

 

“If you’re so opposed to Sparda and Thekla, Vee, why do you say it’s a lesson on the nature of forgiveness?” asks Vergil. The best way to sidetrack her, he remembers, is intellectual arguments.

 

“Because when all is said and done, knowing what we do about what he did, for Sparda to atone for all he did, tells us that even the worst among us are not beyond redemption,” says Verity and her voice is gentle.  “But they must show atonement, not just pay it lip service.”

 

Everyone jumps as Arkham applauds. “Excellently done, Miss Verity. You’ll make a fine Priest or Scholar when your training is complete.”

 

“I’m going to be an Alchemist,” replies Verity. “So still magic, but more science-based.”

 

“I don’t doubt that, though it is a loss to the academic world,” says Arkham, with a hint of regret. “Now, Miss Agrippina, what else does Sparda’s story tell us?”

 

“I’m going to agree with Verity and say that he was so deeply affected by his actions that he didn’t just save humans and remain to guide them,” says Pinny. “He never loved again, his heart was so broken. He never took another woman to Wife or Mate, never Marked her and never fathered any children, even with his dalliances.”

 

“Is that so? Are you sure?” says Arkham, looking right at Vergil.

 

Pinny and Verity look at each other, thoroughly confused.

 

“As far as we know, Sparda never dishonoured Thekla’s sacrifice by taking another to wife or begetting more children,” says Pinny. “After all, a human who can hold their own in the Demon World, is truly a person to be feared and respected. By the very nature of the role, such people are rare as hens’ teeth.”

 

Vergil’s about to do…something. He’s not sure what, when Verity pulls her hand to her. Vergil’s still grasping it so tight, it’s easy for her to slightly overbalance and distract him from Arkham’s goading.

 

“Much of Sparda’s life and disappearance is unknown to us, despite our best efforts,” says Verity, giving Vergil a strange look.

 

Arkham notes the guilty, almost hurt look she receives in return.

 

“My issue, Mr Arkham, is that we have the histories, we have the adventures, but there’s nothing in the tomes and grimoires about the magics and rituals used. There’s only the barest mention of them,” says Verity, moving the conversation on. “Sparda and Thekla used a bespoke ritual to both close Temen-Ni-Gru and bind the Guardians –“

 

“Could you imagine being stuck down there for 2000 years? They must have been so bored,” says Pinny.

 

“Thank you for demonstrating why your sister is considered to hold more promise than you, Miss Agrippina,” says Arkham, dryly. “Continue, Miss Verity.”

 

“-and the Guardians came from all over the known at that time world. Yet, there’s very little reference to the actual spellwork involved,” says Verity. “That is of far more interest to me than romance and adventure.”

 

“You think that such tomes should be freely available? With the damage and the consequences it could cause?” counters Arkham.

 

“I imagine there aren’t that many people who could enact it, so what difference does it make?” she replies. “In my limited experience, those with the talent to write bespoke spells or override others’ spells, are few and far between. The spells and rituals themselves often tend to involve items that are a trial equal to their purpose to acquire. They often require a considerable physical or spiritual cost to the caster.”

 

“You underestimate the desire for power, Miss Verity and the lengths people will go to obtain it. They consider the reward worth the investment.” He leans back. “When you have completed your training, you will be capable of such feats, though likely you’ll be given over to a tutor such as myself to refine your skills.”

 

“Good luck with that one,” Vergil mutters under his breath.

 

“I’m sorry, Mr Redgrave?”

 

“I said that I could see why such literature is hidden away, but this is a Caged Library. I would have expected to find such works in here.” Vergil covers quickly.

 

“And so you will, but there are some that are considered so dangerous, so forbidden, that even their very existence is kept secret, known only to a select few.” Arkham’s scar throbs with colour, belying his calm demeanour.

 

Vergil gives him his full attention. “If there was such a repository on Fortuna, where would it be?”

 

“I’m sure your Princess of Wands can aid your quest,” replies Arkham. “My time grows short. Do you have any other questions you would put to me?”

 

“Demons have a fascination with the Human World? Why? What’s so compelling? Wouldn’t it be better if humans went over there – more power, more magic?” Wonders Verity. “Imagine what could be done with that.”

 

“Indeed child – what glory, what riches would await one who held true power within their grasp?” says Arkham. “And here you raise the question while doubting what people would do for such dominion over all.”

 

“You answered your own question, Vee,” says Vergil, with just a hint of a tease in his tone.

 

“And now, I will take my leave of you,” says Arkham. He stands and Pinny and Agnus stand with him. Both men bow. “I’m glad I was able to have this short time with you, Miss Verity, Mr Redgrave and I hope that we can have more before our business in Fortuna is concluded.”

 

Verity and Vergil rise and bow as Arkham turns on his heel and leaves, Pinny and Agnus running to keep up with him.

 

“Well, now, what to make of that?” says Verity. “Might I request you leave go of my hand? I’m afraid to find it reshaped.”

 

Vergil doesn’t let go, but takes it in both of his and begins to massage the feeling back into it.

 

“My Princess of Wands,” he says, a small smile playing on his lips, his face tender. He frowns slightly. “That’s your significator for your Tarot cards. Do you have them with you?”

 

“Of course I do,” she replies, pulling them out her bag. They’re inside a simple cotton toilette bag, with her initials and violets standing out against the fabric. She reaches inside and pulls them out, handing them to Vergil. “Shuffle them, it’s your question.”

 

“What’s my Significator, Miss Agius?”

 

She pulls a card from the pack. “Knight of Swords, a man that’s tough, brave and very intelligent.”  

 

“You flatter me, Vee,” he replies as he steals a quick kiss.

 

“Not at all, for it describes almost every man in Fortuna.” Verity has a mischievous glint in her eye. “I have used it on occasion for Knight Falzon.”

 

“Not Credo?” He teases. “Shall I lay them out?”

 

“Credo is Knight of Staves and I tend to use King of Staves for Peter.” She nods to the cards he’s shuffling. “Ask your questions, then lay the cards down.”

 

“Is there such a book in Fortuna?” he asks and lays down three cards, looking up at Verity.

 

 “Yes.”

 

“Where?”

 

 “Castle.”

 

“Where?”

 

“Library. So is this to be where our escapades take us next, Mr Redgrave?” Verity’s eyes are twinkling and Vergil’s glad it’s business as usual. She hasn’t noticed anything untoward during their impromptu lesson with Arkham. He can put off telling her for a little while longer.

 

“So when should we embark on our next adventure, Vee? Are you well rested after last night’s endeavours?” He’s put the cards down and is unconsciously massaging the hand he near crushed again.

 

“I think if my father is set upon indulging me, then I shouldn’t disappoint him,” she smiles her half smile.

 

Vergil kisses her palm. “The devil may cry if our daughter is as dutiful as you.”

 

***

 

It’s not too muddy at the Ruined Church and for that they’re grateful. They’ve changed into their civvies lest their uniforms be ruined and the Purser Sergeant fine them for going over their clothing quota. It’s chilly in the evening as the sun sets low.

 

Credo can see his breath on the air as they hike in.

 

Neither man speaks, instead each lost in their own thoughts as the reality of what they’re undertaking weighs heavy on them, though for different reasons.

 

Peter looks at the church and then back at Credo. “Are you absolutely sure this is the right place to lay it?”

 

“It’s secluded and difficult to access,” Credo replies. “We’ve been through this. They’ll be expecting it at the Castle after the fuss Redgrave made there about this very spell.”

 

“I’m all ears to know how’ll you’ll send them up here,” says Peter. “Have Marta pack them a nice lunch?”

 

“And I’m all ears to learn your suggestions, Peter,” retorts Credo. “For they’ve been thin on the ground. Perhaps you would have me poke a sewing needle into his sheaths? All 38 of them?”

 

Peter makes an exasperated huff and fiddles with a button on his shirt.

 

“Do you have a better idea, Peter?”

 

“No, I don’t,” he admits. He shoulders his backpack and draws his sword. “Let’s make a clean sweep of the area and begin our work.”

 

Credo draws his sword and they advance like they’ve been trained, but there’s nothing.

 

“It’s almost like Lord Sparda is smiling upon us,” says Peter as they enter the church.

 

“Where shall we set it? We only need the size of a double bed,” muses Credo as he looks around the church. There’s candles, bottles, blankets and other detritus from generations of courting couples. “It’s bigger than I remember. Up the stairs?”

 

He points to a landing with a door.

 

“Works for the Chetcuti girls,” snorts Peter. “We can’t guarantee they’ll go up there. It’s not like they’re sheltering overnight.”

 

“Which one did you end up having in the end?”

 

“Kristina. So Cassius is picking the fruits of my labours. Wasn’t here though.” Peter shudders. “I like a proper bed.”

 

“The bawdy-house boy has standards,” jests Credo. He thinks. “Peter, go out and come back in.”

 

Peter looks baffled, but does it anyway. He walks down the stairs and into the centre of the space before stopping and turning. “What?”

 

He looks down at the area in front of the steps and back up at Credo, nodding slowly as he realises.

 

“Let’s get started then,” he says, putting down his bag. He crouches as he opens it and pulls out the ingredients the Head Priest gave him along with the spell work for the ritual. He reads through it again, with an apprehensive look on his face.

 

“What is it?” asks Credo.

 

“Nothing, it’s just the weight of what we’re doing and this is a precise spell. It’s easy to fuck it up, as the Tourists would say,” Peter says. He takes some deep breaths to centre himself. “I need you to follow my directions exactly, Credo and without question.”

 

“Of course,” Credo assures him. “What do you need me to do?”

 

“Find north for me, then after that the quarters and mark them with the chalk.” He hands Credo a piece of chalk and a compass.

 

“How big d’you need the circle?”  Credo’s made the first mark.

 

“8 feet,“ says Peter, looking at the design of the circle. There’s three on it and the spell separates them out. “Then at 6 foot and 4 foot, same thing.”

 

The sun is dropping in the sky, but it’s not set yet. The iron work in the roof is creating delicate tracework shadows over the floor. It’s almost glyph-like.

 

Peter lights a bundle of dry twigs. “Stand still.”

 

Credo’s about to make a joke, but it dies on his lips as he sees Peter’s face. The other man is deadly serious, intense concentration on his face.

 

Credo’s transfixed and there’s a prickling over his spine and scalp.

 

The energy in the church changes. It’s thick and alive and time itself feels like it’s slowed, almost like they’re outside of time.

 

Peter walks around Credo, waving the smoking twigs around him, first all over the height of Credo and then back around, weaving a pattern as he does so. He recites a formula that’s written under the first illustration of the circles. He stumbles a little over the pronouncing of the words, they’re old and in an unfamiliar language.

 

He walks round Credo three times.

 

Peter steps back, counting three steps exactly.

 

The air in the church billows and boils like blood in water.

 

Peter speaks and his voice is strange, distorted.

 

“Take the black candles and walk the innermost circle, say this chant as you do so. Repeat it to me first.” Peter hands Credo the candles and has him recite the chant until his rhythm and tone are as accurate as the words themselves. “Don’t light them till the second pass.”

 

“Many times do I walk?”

 

“Three.” Peter passes a pouring decanter with the stopper still in it to Credo. “Pour this thinly on the third pass. Walk around the outside.”

 

Credo walks carefully, chanting until the it’s just a noise ricocheting in his head. He feels curiously peaceful as he walks. He’s conscientious to follow Peter’s instructions to the letter, even when the third candle won’t light at first.

 

As Credo joins the end of the first poured circle, there’s a sound like a bell ringing somewhere in the church.

 

There are no bells in the church.  Credo looks at Peter in alarm and the other man looks nervous. They look towards the centre of the circle and the air’s taken on a thick, twisting shimmer. It’s like a tornado is writhing within it.

 

“Peter, should we really be doing this?” says Credo, in a low voice.

 

“We’ve come too far, Credo,” he replies in his strange, distorted voice. “Once we start, we have to finish.”

 

Peter hands Credo the second batch of candles. These ones are red. “Same thing as before, but recite this.”

 

Again, Peter makes him recite a phrase until he’s perfect with it. Credo goes through the same motions as before, with an almost meditative slowness.

 

As the circle closes between the lit candles, the tornado of energy in the central ring begins to move excitedly. Its beginning to take on different colours now, discordant sounds like glass breaking sounding among the ringing bells.

 

Peter jumps as a breath sounds near his ear.

 

There’s a wave of energy that swirls along the second ring. It blows Credo’s hair from its ponytail.

 

Peter can feel hands sliding along his back and around his chest.

 

Credo can see the shape the hands leave on Peter’s shirt, see the fabric moving and twisting. There’s a light laugh from around them, a tinkling giggle.

 

From the shadows, there’s a low growl.

 

Peter jumps.

 

Credo doesn’t feel real.

 

“Tell him,” the growl can barely form words, like it’s not used to manifesting on this plane. “Tell him to continue.”

 

The shadows detach from the corners of the church and coalesce into a creeping shape. The light disappears around it and it skulks around Credo, slithering over him.

 

Credo closes his eyes. Even through his trance, this phantasm feels wrong.

 

“You would have been a tasty morsel,” it says. “You would have been a meal. Could you not wait for your marriage bed?”

 

A light voice that sounds like a champagne glass comes from Peter’s direction.

 

“Ah, but that ritual powers up this one. Did you have fun when the whore took your virginity? The energy from that one would have ripped open the veil between the worlds or summoned gods.” She tweaks Peter’s ear. “He used it for this spell instead. Where did you learn to trap energy, Peter?”

 

Peter’s sweating and his face is white.

 

“Bid him continue,” the shadow phantom says in a ground-glass voice.

 

Credo realises that Peter is terrified.

 

“Keep going,” says Credo. It’s like he can see all the secrets of the Universe, all the planes, all the dimensions, when he looks into the rings they’re setting up. He almost makes a step towards it, it so beautiful and he so badly wants to partake of its mysteries.

 

The only thing stopping him is the black beast that’s holding him in a steel web.

 

There’s other shadows and mists flying around in a wind that ruffles his hair, but nary a flicker from the candles.

 

Credo senses that the spirits that hold them are losing patience.

 

“Peter.”

 

Peter looks at him, his hands gripping the book so hard, his knuckles are white.

 

“You need to carry on. Now.”

 

Peter nods and holds out the last batch of white candles and he’s about to put Credo through the recitation of the chant, when the black creature recites it for him. Credo says it back and he’s perfect, down to the intonation.

 

He realises as he looks at the energies in the circle and the words he speaks intonate to his heart’s blood moving through his body.

 

Peter is reciting something in a language that sounds too guttural to be human and it’s got the rhythm and flow of a poem or a prayer. The female spirit’s still trailing her hands all over him, as if she’d rather he was the subject of the spell.

 

The creature recites it with him and as the circle closes, the colours and the lights and the energies take on the shape of a double helix swirling low in the final enclosure. The wave in the middle circle isn’t so much a wave as a single spring like strand.

 

As Peter recites the verses, the decanter is torn from Credo’s hand and a shadow and mist together pour into patterns in the air that sink down on the floor, forming lines that constantly shift, glimmering and rippling like moonlight on water.

 

“The bearer? What binding do you bring for the bearer of the spirit to become flesh, so we might know her when we see her?” The female asks as she licks up Peter’s face.

 

He passes her a small twist of paper. She opens it and the dark brown, almost black hair is knotted in the folds.

 

She leaves hold of Peter, laughing as she goes. “Oooh, she’s a feisty, powerful one. She’ll fight hard.”

 

The black creature lets go of Credo and takes a hair. “I hope he’s equal to the task or I’ll finish her before he does.”

 

They fly around each other, making a double helix spiral of black and white, before crashing down into the centre of the circle.

 

It shudders once, twice, thrice, almost as if it’s through water that’s rippling, before it’s gone.

 

Both men drop to their knees, panting. Peter falls over onto his back, as Credo vomits. There’s nothing in his stomach but bile. He feels weak and exhausted, like he’s ran a marathon.

 

“Godspit and shit, Peter, what the hell was that?” croaks Credo. His puke tastes rank on his tongue and his throat burns.

 

Peter rolls a bottle of water towards him. It’s all Credo can do to open it and rinse out his mouth.

 

Luckily, he puked down the vents in the floor, so there’s nothing on the surface, just the tracework patterns.

 

He thinks for a moment how pretty they are and then it hits him.

 

They are on the wrong side and the light in the church is a cold silver.

 

“Is that sunrise?” Peter says in astonishment. “Have we been here all night?”

 

“We must have been,” Credo replies.

 

There’s a low hum buzzing through the church, like a wasps’ nest. They can feel the power of the spell and it’s a base, dangerous thing.

 

“Sparda’s Balls, Credo, I didn’t know it was like that.” Peter sounds young and unsure. “What have we done?”

 

Credo gets up painfully.

 

Even the candles have gone.

 

“We’ve done our duty. We’re bringing the Heir to Lord Sparda into the world, to Fortuna,” says Credo, pulling Peter to his feet. “Pinny Falzon, Verity Micellef. Say it.”

 

“Pinny Falzon, Verity Micellef,” repeats Peter. “For Fortuna, we’ve done our duty to Fortuna. There’s no sin to creating life. Our actions today will bring peace to the world twenty, thirty years from now.”

 

“Can you hear that?” says Credo. He thinks he can hear the sound of an arguing couple approaching.

 

“Yes, I can,” replies Peter, picking up his things. “We can go through the forest and get to HQ.”

 

***

 

“How could you not have told me?” snarls Verity as she storms through the gate.

 

“It wasn’t important and then it was and I didn’t know how to tell you! Vee!” Vergil catches up with her and grabs her arm. “Vee!”

 

“ ‘My name is Vergil Sparda and my father is the demon you worship.’ Wasn’t exactly hard.” Verity is actually crying with rage, she’s so incensed. “You managed to give me your first name.”

 

“You’re lucky you got that! I wasn’t going to tell you anything  -“

 

“I’m not a damned hedge-whore! Is that what you think of me? I’m sorry you didn’t get your money’s worth then!” She fires back. “Sweet words and a nasty tongue! Was this all a game to you? To make a slut of me?”

 

She breaks free from his hold.

 

“After what you said about my father how was I supposed to tell you? The implications about my mother?” Vergil growls at her retreating back, rushing to keep up with her. “Don’t you walk away from me, Verity Agius. I’m trying to talk to you, you foolish little wench. Verity!”

 

“Stay away from me, Vergil! Treating me as nothing but a dalliance! I wouldn’t have minded if you’d been honest!”

 

“I never lied, not once. I meant every word, Verity. Every. Blasted. Word.”

 

He’s nearly able to grab her as she reaches the door.

 

“ ‘ I’d go through Hell for you,’ “ she mimics, avoiding his hand with a quick pirouette.

 

He feels it as she opens the door and time slows.

 

“Verity, no!”  

 

The anger in her face switching to terror as she steps into it.

 

“Stop! Vee!”

 

The spell triggers instantly.

 

“Vergil, I don’t feel very well,” Verity says before she collapses.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“I’d never have guessed there was actual roads here,” says Dante as Violet’s Land Rover bounces over a pot hole.

 

“Trish was here for months and you didn’t know we had roads? We’ve got farms and vineyards on the other side of the island!” Kyrie giggles as she turns round in her seat.

 

“I wasn’t here for a traffic report,” Trish laughs.

 

“What was the hardest thing, being here?” asks Kyrie.

 

“The language. I can’t believe you all speak, like, five different languages, but your own language is so different. I picked it up, but the writing it was worse. How did you find it, Violet, when you first came here?”

 

“I didn’t have much of a problem,” she replies, not really paying attention. “I find written languages easier than spoken, though.”

 

“I remember,” says Kyrie. She turns to the back seat. “I asked her what her name was -X’jismek?  - and Violet replied with the right gender - jiena jisimni Violet. Credo was so surprised. Most people don’t.”

 

“Kyrie, we’re speaking Italian, it’s gendered.” Violet is definitely elsewhere. She seems almost annoyed by Kyrie’s casual conversation.Anyway, you can’t remember that, you were three.”

 

“Italian is common. Fortunese isn’t.” Kyrie hasn’t noticed.

 

“I knew I was coming here. I studied it beforehand.” There’s frown lines between her eyebrows.

 

Both Violet and Kyrie’s phones chirp.

 

“Nero says Falzon is waiting for us,” says the younger woman. “And your phone is Tyuule asking if she should have Nero and Falzon removed.”

 

Violet huffs in annoyance. “No, let them stay. Today’s going to be enough fun as it is - woah shit!”

 

The car screeches to an emergency stop that has the belts digging into everyone.

 

There’s a huge purple fog sitting across the road.

 

“What the hell is that?” Kyrie asks no one in particular.

 

Dante catches Violet’s eye in the rear-view mirror. He raises his eyebrows…is it?

 

She nods. “That, Ħanini, is a big ball of timey-whimey shit that you don’t want to mess with.”

 

“What are we going to do about it?” asks Kyrie. “Are we going in it?”

 

“Sparda’s Balls, are you drunk? I’m going to drive around it and report it when we get to work.” Violet puts the Land Rover in gear and backs up.

 

Lady puts her hand on Violet’s shoulder. “We could chop down some trees in front and behind, so cars wouldn’t accidentally drive into it.”

 

“What with? I don’t have any chainsaws in the boot,” replies Violet.

 

“We have magic swords,” says Trish. “I’m betting they could cut down a couple of trees either side.”

 

Trish looks at Dante, who replies, “Sounds like a plan.”

 

“Let me drive the car round, so we’re on the other side then,” says Violet. She sees her passengers hiding giggles. Dante’s shoulders are shaking and then he can’t hide the mirth bubbling up. His rich laugh fills the car as it takes over everyone.

 

Violet shakes her head and grins ruefully. “I can’t believe I fell for that one.”

 

***

 

Ms Kye’s phone bleeps and she inclines her head to Falzon. She’s kept him in the meeting room that staff have taken to using, rather than Violet’s office. He’s not getting anywhere near that.

 

Her face doesn’t change, but he can see something in it.

 

“Does Madam Alighieri have a problem, Ms Kye?” he asks.

 

Tony perks up from where he’s sitting next to Nero.

 

“You might say so, Lord Falzon. There appears to be a giant Elsewhere on the coastal road. She’s asking if you would send Knights to deal with it.”

 

“An Elsewhere, you say? I will send a Patrol, but I’ll head them myself,” he says as he stretches. He looks almost pleased.

 

“What’s an Elsewhere?” asks Nero. He ignores Tony keeping pace with him.

 

“I’ll explain on the way,” replies Falzon.

 

***

 

The five of them are spread either side of the Elsewhere, keeping a watchful eye on the road and the fog. He’s mindful of what happened with the last one he came across.

 

He catches Violet’s eye

 

“Hey, at least I’m sober this time,” she says, eyes crinkling with her smile.

 

“The last few times I’ve seen these things,” he says. “I couldn’t see them, not like this. They were like this when I was going through the ruins, though. Is this how you see them?”

 

“No,” she admits, like she’s just realised something. “I only saw that one in the cemetery because I was drunk. And I only knew what I was looking for because Dorcas showed me.”

 

Dante cocks his head. “Oh, yeah?”

 

Kyrie’s caught the mention of her mother’s name.

 

“Dorcas was a quantum physicist on a par with Stephen Hawking. If she’d been in a Mainland University, she’d have been a household name.” Violet twists the wedding rings she can’t get used to wearing. “A lot of her work was on natural fields within the Earth, space-time and how they interrelate.”

 

“Sounds a bit New-Agey,” says Lady.

 

“Yeah, her books sold well, but because she was here messing round with Alchemy, rather than in an actual University, she was seen as that.” Violet looks up the road, towards HQ. “But it’s no different to astronomers proposing the same thing around black holes. She didn’t get the disconnect.”

 

They’re interrupted by a Patrol of Knights arriving, with Falzon’s car at the head.

 

Dante doesn’t sheathe Rebellion as he approaches, but balances her across his shoulder. He stands, watchful as Falzon ignores him and goes straight to Kyrie and Violet.

 

Trish and Lady come to stand beside him as they watch Nero wander round the swirling mass with Falzon. 

 

“Is it not beautiful, Nero?” says Falzon, gazing at it in childlike wonder. “I’ve never seen one so big.”

 

Nero shares a glance with Tony.

 

“I wouldn’t go in it, My Lord,” Nero says. “You don’t know where you could end up.”

 

“Quite, quite,” agrees Falzon. “We will remain here and co-ordinate the Patrol entering the Elsewhere.”

 

Violet looks like she’s about to say something, when a minotaur-like creature wanders out.

 

It’s huge.

 

Dante’s about to move to a fighting stance when he sees Kyrie bow her head and look away from it.

 

She looks like she’s concentrating hard and there’s beads of sweat on her brow.

 

Stay very still, he thinks he hears in his head, because she’s too far away for him to actually hear her say it, supersenses be damned.

 

He glances at Trish and Lady as they do the same.

 

Nero and Falzon are on the other side of the Elsewhere with the Patrol.

 

The minotaur ambles about with its snout sniffing the air, for all the world like it’s out for a Sunday stroll. There must be so many scents it can’t place, but it doesn’t seem worried by them. Its horns and teeth are terrifying and its humanoid torso is rippling with muscle under the thick, shaggy coat, but the beast itself seems calm, almost bovine as it wanders about the road.

 

Its hooves clop on the cobbled surface and it looks down at them like its never experienced anything like this before.

 

Violet has inched her way to Kyrie and she’s got a hand on the young woman’s shoulder.

 

It strikes Dante then just how close they are as a family – and he feels a pang. He’s going to have to tell them soon and he wonders how they’ll take it.

 

The clopping beast is testing out the cobbles and seems to be jumping around different ones, like it’s playing.

 

It goes back to a patch that made a better noise and starts skipping and hopping on the spot.

 

Tony walks ahead of Nero as they come around the other side of the Elsewhere and without thinking flings an arm out to stop him.

 

Kyrie frowns as the animal stops dancing and sniffs the air again. It tilts its head like a massive dog, sniffing all the while. It moves round towards Nero who stands stock still. His hand twitches as he fights the urge to move for Blue Rose or Red Queen, but Tony counsels him quietly that the animal isn’t actually aggressing.

 

The beast sniffs all Nero, paying particular attention to an area to the right of him. The shape it makes is almost humanoid and the same height as Nero.

 

Dante tightens his grip on Rebellion and Ebony, ready to react.

 

Kyrie is on her knees, sweat pouring down her face and soaking her hair. Her face is screwed up in concentration and she whispers something to Violet, who looks around.

 

The minotaur steps back, finally and stands up. It gives a last look around, and then ambles off into the forest.

 

Nobody moves for at least five minutes. Kyrie’s ragged breathing is the only sound heard above the birds in the forest.

 

She nods and calls out, “It’s clear.”

 

Nero runs over, dropping to his knees and checking her over. “Kyrie? Kyrie?”

 

“I’m fine,” she says as Nero helps her up. “That was a Waħx il-baqar. They’re a myth.”

 

“They weren’t a myth when we first came from Malta,” says Violet.

 

Everyone looks at her. “I’m a barranija shacked up with an Old Family Son. I had to study harder than everyone else to get half as far.”

 

Kyrie looks past Nero, directly at Tony. He freezes.

 

“You know the weirdest thing?” says Kyrie. “I can feel someone else here. There’s another…consciousness here. Like a ghost. That’s the only way I can describe it.”

 

She looks at Violet. “It almost feels like Credo, but it’s not him.”

 

“How interesting, Sister Micellef,” says Falzon, coming over. “Can you tell me anything else about this…ghost?”

 

Nero squeezes her hand. She doesn’t react. “I’m sorry, My Lord, I think I’ve hit the limits of my current abilities.”

 

“Your current abilities are considerable in their own right,” replies Falzon. He bows and clasps his hands. “I bid you remember dinner tonight and I wish you good hunting, Madam Alighieri. Good day.”

 

Nero gives her a final check and a quick kiss before walking after Falzon.

 

Tony follows after him, with a last, speculative look at Kyrie.

 

“Well, we heard the man, we have a job waiting for us,” says Dante. He looks at Violet. “Everything OK?”

 

She nods. “Let’s go.”

 

She lets them walk back to the car and hangs back with Kyrie, making a show of helping her back to the car. Kyrie’s tired, but not that much.

 

“The ‘ghost’? It’s attached to Nero. You were right.”

 

“Empty Night.”

 

***

 

Ms Kye is waiting for them with maps, cameras and Captain la Valletta.

 

Violet makes the introductions while Ms Kye cams everyone up.

 

Dante looks at her quizzically. “This for Youtube?”

 

“Training purposes,” she says as she tilts her head to Captain la Valletta. “It also lets us see what you see, for observation purposes.”

 

“I hear you did good for never having done this before,” says Dante. “Credit where it’s due.”

 

The Captain smiles. “Thank you. But let’s be honest, my team would have been completely tango uniform’d if it hadn’t been for your son and his colleagues.”

 

“I don’t have a son?”

 

“I thought the one called after that Emperor was your kid? He looks your spitting image,” says Captain la Valletta, confused.

 

Dante bites back the reply he wants to make, because Kyrie is here and he’s not ready yet. He’s not going to say anything until he knows for sure about Nero’s mother.

 

She’s definitely not in that fucking grave Agius makes a big deal of every day.

 

The doors to the restricted parts of HQ are opened and Dante can’t help himself.

 

“Ready, Babes? Let’s Rock!”

 

 ***

 

7 Months Previously, Devil May Cry office

 

 “The Order of the Sword, huh? Sounds phony to me.” Dante sips his Scotch.

 

He fingers the papers on the massive oak desk. The photo is propped against the photo of his mother. It strikes him as strange none of the Sons of Sparda ever look like their mothers.

 

“Is that everything your contact gave you, Lady?” asks Trish, leafing through the file.

 

“She was very comprehensive,” nods Lady. “Massive construct, studying a demon they’ve captured, who’s who, social structures, and they’ll likely take a Devil Arm that belonged to Sparda as an in. The construct has been designed so that it’ll only run on items directly related to Sparda.”

 

Lady knocks back her Scotch and pours more from the bottle. She’s just brought it over from the bar and they’re not even bothering with ice.

 

“Like an heir to Sparda. The blood runs inside him, too.” Dante quotes Lady’s client, as he looks at his probable nephew. Who’s he kidding? There’s no probable in it and he knows it.

 

“So it’s the standard ‘cooking up something awful?’ ” says Trish.

 

“Pretty much,” agrees Lady. “Creation and destruction. They’re trying to become Gods themselves. We’ve got to stop them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single payout this big from one job.”

 

“So which one of you is going with the spell?” asks Dante. “I don’t think I’ve got the legs for it.”

 

“I can’t run the risk of identifying the client,” says Lady. “And I’ve ran into this Nero a few times, so same thing.”

 

“I’ve never met her,” agrees Trish. “And Sparda’s mine, so it makes sense for me to go. Where’s that spell?”

 

Dante hands her the page with the glyph she’ll have to have tattooed and the incantation to use. “The spell work that goes with it is nasty, but it’s solid.”

 

Trish looks at it. it’s a mix of Wiccan, Demon and Arabic, but even on the paper, it’s been woven together so well there’s a subtle flare of power glowing along its lines and loops.

 

She looks apprehensive. “This is gonna hurt.”

 

Dante looks at her and he’s got that mix of grief and hope on his face.

 

There’s love mixed in there as well, as if he knows what he’s asking of her and there’s no way she can deny him.

 

“I’ll do it,” she says, like there was ever any doubt.

 

***

 

It’s agonising.

 

She’d known it would be bad when the tattooist had told Dante to tie her down good, so he wouldn’t smudge it when she struggled.

 

They glyph has power in its’ own right, but there’s an incantation to power it up? Seal the deal?

 

Trish doesn’t know, but she feels like she’s on the rack from the second they start it.

 

She tries to stay still, Dante and Lady trying to laugh and joke with her.

 

“You’ve already died at least once, Rocket Queen,” he tries to grin, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Can’t be that bad!”

 

“If I can get up a building with my quad wrecked, you can do this,” Lady says as she strokes Trish’s hair.

 

Trish tries to be stoic and laugh and joke with them, but she can’t. it’s too much and the tears flow freely.

 

He holds her and brushes away her tears, but he can’t take the pain for her.

 

Trish screams and cries and she tries to struggle to get away from the anguish, but they’ve got her lashed down tight to the tattooist’s frame.

 

She feels like she’s being flayed, that her bones are breaking and reforming and she can see her face changing forward and back as the spell’s woven.

 

“I thought this was meant to be an overclocked glamour?” Lady snaps at Dante. “She’s being tortured!”

 

Trish tries to say it’s ok, she’s choosing this, but she can only whine softly.

 

Dante glares at Lady, before going back to stroking Trish’s face.

 

Except it’s not Trish’s face.

 

Instead of the pale blonde, there’s a dark-skinned woman, with a sleek white bob and blue eyes.

 

The tattooist hands Dante a towel to wipe her off.

 

“You have a devil trigger, yes?” He asks.

 

Dante nods, as Trish is in no fit state to reply.

 

“Then she should be able to go between this body and her own. It will survive a deep scan if someone tries to read her mind and if they put her through a Witch Trial, she should make it through.” He spits into the trash can and makes a warding sign.

 

“A Witch Trial?” repeats Lady.

 

“Where she’s going, my wife came from. The stories she tells me would curdle the milk. I recognised the language,” he says as he begins to pack up his equipment. “Ridiculous that somewhere that backwards’ tolerated in the EU.”

 

“That bad?” asks Lady.

 

“Yes,” he says, shortly. “Stay on your stomach till tomorrow, when you can practice moving between forms. You’ll have a rough night. The spell will need redoing in a year. Only you will see it on your back.”

 

***

 

Trish’s first night with the sigil on her back is excruciating.

 

She’s feverish and shaking so hard she nearly falls off the sofa. She had been in bed, but Dante figures she’s better in the more open area of the shop. It’s cooler down here and she’s closer to the bathroom and kitchen anyway.

 

The sigil on her back continues to shift its lines overnight, flaring with various colours as it does so.

 

Dante holds his hand over it as he mops the sweat from around it and he’s shocked to feel heat enough to scar coming off it. She’s still writhing in distress from it and when he holds her hand, she nearly breaks his.

 

She looks almost holy in her suffering and it’s the most like Eva she’s ever looked.

 

He wipes the tears away from her face, following the lines of it almost reverently.

 

He tells her he loves her. She’s too far gone to hear him.

 

The fever breaks some time in the morning as the traffic noise gradually gets louder.

 

Dante wakes with a start, stiff and sore from sleeping sitting on the floor at Trish’s head. She’s sleeping sounder now, the sweat that’s soaked her hair hardened into salt sculptures. She’s still frowning in her sleep, but it’s clear the worst is over.

 

He moves painfully on to his knees and looks at her back.

 

The glyph is still there, but it’s raised slightly, like a brand. It’s colouring with energy running along the lines, getting faster and faster, before it explodes. There’s no sound from the small blast, no shockwave, only light.

 

Instinctively, Dante shields his eyes.

 

As he lowers his hand against a shockwave that never comes, he sees the glyph become skin coloured and sink into her back.

 

It’s gone.

 

He hesitantly reaches out, but he can’t feel anything.

 

Even as he lightly strokes her skin, it’s smooth, if sweat-slicked and salty. He presses a kiss to her back, where the centre of the design would be, as if he were blessing it.

 

Blessing Trish.

 

He covers her over and goes to make coffee.

 

***

 

It takes her several weeks to get comfortable in the new body and longer to hold it long term and under stress. Dante and Lady ride her ass hard and tempers flare more than they should, even between her and Dante.

 

It takes a lot for them to argue and that’s a clue more than anything how much this is getting to Dante.

 

Trish can’t take much more of it, so when she’s ready, she decides she’s just going to duck out. No goodbyes.

 

The kicker for her is the night before she goes.

 

Dante’s inside her after a particularly hard practice session. They’ve fought all day as she’s held the Gloria form and she’s exhausted, both from the intense training and effort of holding the form.

 

It feels like she’s trying to mesh two different bodies into one soul and it’s painful on a spiritual level she’s not sure Dante comprehends. It’s heavy, heavy spellwork and it makes her worry for what they’ll be dealing with. Short of a demonic invasion or the apocalypse she doesn’t think she’s ever dealt with anything this intense.

 

He doesn’t even let her shower, just hauls her to their bedroom, stripping off their clothes as they go. His kisses are desperate, like he’s dying and she’s oxygen and she’s kissing him just as madly.

 

The sheen of the sweat on their bodies slicks his movements against her and his skin is salty on her tongue as she swirls her it across his chest. Her legs are locked over his ass as he pounds into her and they’re breathing each other’s air, gasping like they’re drowning. There’s no thought, just need and sensation driving all reason before it.

 

Dante stops and he’s heavy lying atop her.

 

It takes Trish a minute to work out that he’s not moving and she rocks her hips to keep the feeling going.

 

It takes him several tries to find his voice before he says something that twists her heart in two as she understands exactly what this means to Dante.

 

“You do whatever you have to bring home Vergil’s boy. I’ll never ask any secrets if you tell me no lies.”

 

“Anything for you, Dante. You know that.”

 

“Anything?”

 

She understands in that moment exactly what he means and part of her breaks at what he’s asking of her.

 

And what it means when she assents.

 

“Yes.”

 

As he kisses her to seal the deal, rocking her to a climax that makes her sob with its intensity, they both know the answer was never going to be anything else.

 

Lady’s come over to make sure everything’s in order for the job and while they’re arguing and Dante’s letting Lady steal the pizza from his hand – there’s only a handful of people who can do that and they’re all female – Trish slips away.

 

She does it with style, she’s Trish after all, writing on the wall a cheeky note in her lipstick and of course she manages to get into a fight with demons she recognises from the client’s notes, but she goes.

 

Anything for love, right?

 

***

 

Fortuna Present day

 

It’s taken the best part of a day, but they’re outside the Records Room.

 

It’s been tough but largely uneventful. Nothing’s presented an especially difficult challenge. A few hairy moments, but nothing to write home about, even the multiple waves guarding the Records Room haven’t really presented a challenge the way they did before.

 

“What feels weirder?” asks Lady. “Being back here or wearing actual clothes back here?”

 

Dante snorts, then laughs straight out. He’s enjoying himself, no, he corrects himself, they’re enjoying themselves. It’s good to have a job that’s plain and simple and just works. He’s got his family along with him, even better.

 

“I’m a sexual being, Lady. It’s possible to embrace your femininity and kick ass,” replies Trish in her Gloria voice. “I thought you’d realised that with those short-shorts you were wearing.”

 

“They were practical.”

 

“Practical for showing your ass off?” Trish reaches round the back of Dante, ducking under the sword on his shoulder and skelps Lady’s ass.

 

Lady yelps and tugs Trish’s hair and the two have a mock slap fight as they giggle.

 

“See what I have to work with, Captain?” Dante shakes his head.

 

“It’s amazing you get anything done,” replies Captain la Valletta.

 

Despite the joking, they’re still watchful, but nothing more comes.

 

“That’s all?” says Trish, warily. “Last time I was here, this place was guarded up the ass. Angelos, Cutlass, the sword things. It was loaded. There was a tsunami of demons.”

 

“That should all still be there, according to the computer,” agrees Violet. She frowns as she checks her tablet and her computer. It shows the three Devil Hunters on the plan of the building.

 

“There wasn’t anything inside the Records Room last time, just Admin staff,” says Trish. “My Gloria credentials – are they still active?”

 

Trish can hear a keyboard over the earpiece.

 

“Yes, try them. If not, I can override them from here,” says Violet. She checks the UO lanyard she’s brought from home and taps in the details from it.

 

“Can you see what files Gloria accessed?” asks Ms Kye quietly.

 

Violet shakes her head. “Agnus and Sanctus did everything on paper. Even the logging system was paper-based. They based it on the Caged Library in the Archive. I’d have to see the actual logs to see what’s been accessed.”

 

And even then, she’s betting that Trish found a way of getting the files she really wanted without anyone being any the wiser.

 

Trish shifts into Gloria, though she’s in Trish’s clothes and runs through the ID process.

 

The door opens and they walk in.

 

Nothing happens.

 

“Are you seeing this, Violet?” Says Dante. “I don’t think we’re in the Records Room.”

 

“I’m seeing it and no, I don’t think that’s the Records Room, either.” Violet and Ms Kye are both looking at the screen.

 

Ms Kye mutes their side of the feed. She speaks in a lesser known Demon tongue. “According to this map, they’re in the wall.”

 

“So it would seem,” replies Violet, in the same language. She unmutes the feed and tells the hunters, “Look around, but don’t touch anything.”

 

They’re walking around a control centre, banks of computers and screens. None of them of them are on at the moment.

 

It’s a fairly large room and they circle it several times, looking under the desks.

 

“Did you know this was here?” asks Lady.

 

“No and it’s not on the plans,” replies Violet. She turns to Ms Kye. “Get Kyrie.”

 

Ms Kye obeys immediately and returns several minutes later with her.

 

“Recognise any of that?” Violet points at the screen. It shows the feeds from the three cameras and Dante sitting spinning on an office chair.

 

“Mum’s lab! You found it!” Kyrie is entranced. “Where was it?”

 

“Not where you think,” replies Ms Kye.

 

“Were we looking in the wrong place?” asks Kyrie. “I was sure it was where the carved lion was.”

 

“In a manner of speaking,” replies the demon.

 

“What else do you remember about Dorcas’ labs, Kyrie?” asks Violet. “Guys, can you walk around the room slowly?”

 

They oblige, with Kyrie coming up with memories of her mother at work.

 

“It’s like it, but it’s not the same lab,” says Kyrie, finally. “It had that thing from the news, though. The Large Hardon Collider. I walked around it.”

 

There’s a burst of laughter from the feed. “If the balls touch, we all die.”

 

“Ignore him. He’s stupid,” says Trish. “Hadron Collider. It’s a physics thing.”

 

“Well, duh, my mum was a physicist.” Replies Kyrie. “Is it true that it’s going to send us all into other dimensions?”

 

“Probably not,” replies Lady. “I don’t think the world could take two Dantes.”

 

“Hey, Violet,” grins Kyrie. “Twins.”

 

Violet snorts, then looks at another feed showing the outside of HQ. Falzon’s car is pulling up on the camera. “OK, guys, leave a camera in there, come out of there and go back through the door. Humour me.”

 

Confused, the hunters do so, as Violet hits some keys.

 

They go back through the door and they’re in an Archive.

 

“The Records Room?” asks Dante.

 

“Yes,” replies Trish. “What just happened?”

 

“Hell if I know,” says Violet. She turns to Kyrie. “The last ten minutes never happened.”

 

“I can’t tell Nero?” I don’t want to keep secrets from him.” Kyrie isn’t happy at not being able to speak to Nero about it.

 

Violet sighs. “Tell him tonight, after we’ve been to dinner with Falzon.”

 

“OK,” Kyrie nods and she seems happier. She looks at the Records Room feed. “You going down there?”

 

“I’m going to have to, they won’t know what they’re looking for. You stay here with the Captain.” She looks over to Ms Kye. “Got your stuff?”

 

Ms Kye taps her sais. “Ready, Madam.”

 

They port in and it doesn’t take long for them to find Agnus’ private notes.

 

“Can you read that?” asks Dante, turning the pages on an angle and squinting. It looks like hieroglyphics.

 

“Agnus was terrified of people stealing his work, so he wrote in code,” says Violet as she gets together the items she needs to take control of the demons. “Then he taught most of us to read it so we could work with him. We all stopped trying to work out his logic.”

 

“I thought it would be this big spell,” Dante says as he hands her the notes. “Specially after the mess of Trish’s back.”

 

“Nah, setting it up was the biggest ritual. This is just handing over the keys.”

 

It doesn’t take her long to work the spell and there’s a flare of energy that flashes out, billowing out their hair and clothes. Violet nods to herself and is about to step out of the makeshift circle when there’s a much stronger flare that blows loose papers around the room in a maelstrom. Their coats are whipped around as the energy twists about the room before blasting out through the walls. The lights dim briefly and then come back on.

 

Violet drops to her knees as the spell dissipates.

 

“What the fuck just happened?” says Lady as Dante helps Violet up.

 

“I-I don’t know and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to happen,” she replies, uneasily.

 

“Let’s hope the spell was just more powerful than you thought,” he says.

 

Kyrie comes over the feed. “All the computers in the other room just came on.”

 

“Godspit and fucking shit,” mutters Violet as she facepalms.

 

***

 

6 Months Previously, Devil May Cry Office

 

It’s the first file Trish looks for.

 

She doesn’t find it in the Records Room. They wouldn’t have hidden something that sensitive in such plain sight.

 

She finds it in Peter Falzon’s house, in a secret room.

 

Operation Resurrection.

 

She’s seen and done many terrible things in her life, on both sides of the Demon Realm.

 

This is the worst.

 

Dante goes on a three-day bender when Lady gives him the file.

 

When she finds him, he’s sitting at his desk, with the file, the photo and glove that Vergil had slashed.

 

He doesn’t look like Dante.

 

The look on his face and the ice in his eyes makes him look like Vergil.

 

“Have you read it?” His voice is clipped and quiet, just like his brother.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m going to kill them all.”

Chapter Text

It’s as cold as any winter night as they trudge up Lamina Peak. The slender warmth of early spring is a distant memory. The Castle looms across from them and in the light of the full moon, it’s even more imposing. It’s coldly beautiful as the moon reflects a million different diamonds. There’s mist floating over the water in the base of the culdera, spectral tendrils climbing up the side of the Castle.

 

They pause for a moment while Vergil works out how they’re going to get down to the bridge and across to the castle. The fresh snow obscures the edges of the road. They’re not obvious the way they were in daylight and it’s a long way down.

 

It gives Verity time to appreciate the scene.

 

She’s not unfit, she dances too much for that, but the cold wind’s hurting her lungs and Vergil’s setting a quick pace, he’s so intent on getting the Castle to give up its secrets. He’s not exactly short with her, but he’s far more focussed than he was the previous night. Verity’s sure she can sense an impatience with her slowness, but he’s working with it.

 

There’s none of the playfulness and flirting of the last time they were here.

 

But that goes for Verity, too.

 

“Trousers are far more practical for running about in the snow,” he says to her, suddenly.

 

“Far better than 500 petticoats,” she responds.

 

Vergil gives a brief smile. “How far is the beach from here?”

 

Verity looks out to where the beach meets the forest. “About half an hour.”

 

“It’s the shallow side, there isn’t it?” He looks out. “I wonder why it’s quiet there?”

 

“It’s a little too far for the Tourists to get to on foot at this time of night, but I shan’t be surprised if there’s bars and hotels down there in 20 years.”

 

“What’s that building?” he asks, pointing out to the opposite side of the island. There’s two buildings that look almost monastic, set apart from the Island by an ornate bridge. They gleam a ghostly white in the moonlight.

 

“That’s HQ. The Order have barracks, offices and labs there. They share them with Umbrella. There’s residences there as well for the-“ she uses the word alchemists instead of scientists “-who choose not to live in the town or the villages. Credo’s mother works there. They have libraries there too and –“

 

“Like a university?”

 

She nods. “It’s deep there and the currents are wicked. Fall off that side and you’ll wash up in Italy. There’s some secluded beaches there and over the mountains there’s good beaches, farms and vineyards.”

 

“It is a beautiful Island,” says Vergil. He glances at Verity.

 

“It is,” she agrees. She blows her breath out, like she’s a dragon. She catches Vergil looking at her, an expression between amused and exasperated on his face. With the ease that the lines form on his eyes and brow, she thinks that he wears that expression a lot.  She wonders about his partner with the unpredictable moveset.

 

“You look thoughtful, Vee,” he says, almost gently and not a little curious, like whatever she’s thinking must be the most fascinating thing in the Universe.

 

“I was just wondering why you’ve defaulted to ‘Vee,’ rather than Miss Agius or Verity.” She pulls his coat around her to control the shivering. She was warm while they were walking and now the cold is getting to her. “I don’t mind people I’m close to calling me it, but you’ve started using it all the time. You seem like the type who’d say only incomplete people have incomplete names.”

 

Vergil barks a surprised laugh as he looks at the sea before looking back at Verity. “My brother says I have a stick up my ass. You remind me of him, somewhat. You have the same …irreverence and unpredictability.”

 

Vergil looks away out to sea quickly, lest Verity see the pain on his face. She catches it anyway.

 

“What caused the distance betwixt you?”

 

Vergil looks at Verity in surprise. “I forget how sharp you are, Verity.”

 

“Is that to be my answer?” She speaks lightly, but he can see there’s nothing in it.

 

He keeps his gaze out to sea as he considers his answer. “Ideological differences.”

 

“I couldn’t imagine falling out with Pinny,” she replies, sensing she shouldn’t press him.

 

“I hope you never do, Vee,” says Vergil softly, cupping her face in his hand as he kisses her gently. Her teeth are starting to chatter and Vergil pulls her up as he stands. “Let’s continue our adventure, Miss Agius.”

 

“A capital idea, Mr Redgrave,” she replies, walking off ahead of him past the bell tower. “I hope you didn’t do everything with your brother as you’ve done with me.”

 

Vergil just shakes his head as he follows.

 

But he’s smiling.

 

“I’m sure we didn’t come this way before,” says Verity as they stand overlooking the staircase leading down to the bridge that crosses the culdera lake.

 

“I think you’re right,” agrees Vergil. He turns and looks at the cliff rising above them. “I think we’ll have to go up and around.”

 

“There must be an easier way,” says Verity. She walks towards the edge of the stairs and peers over the edge. “There’s so much snow I can’t tell what’s step and what’s space.”

 

“I don’t think this is it,” Vergil replies, looking down dubiously. The stairs have been built on top of an earlier structure. “What happened to the road here?”

 

“It’ll be earthquakes. It’s always earthquakes.”

 

He looks at her. ”You’re filling me with confidence, Verity.”

 

There’s a rumble and they grab each other’s arm as the bell tower collapses. They don’t have time to move as the stairs give way under their feet.

 

He tries to pull her closer and break her fall, even as he sees the blue glyph spinning under their feet.

 

They still land with a thump, Vergil on his feet and Verity on her ass, but the only thing hurt is her dignity. He dusts her down, not even bothering to hide his small smile as she frowns at the pain in her backside.

 

“Experience is an excellent teacher,” he says to Verity’s indignant look.

 

A shadow falls across them.

 

“What in all the Nine Hells is that?” Vergil hears her mutter as he automatically positions himself in front of her.

 

The frosts regard the interlopers for a few moments, as if they’re mentally working out which one’s the easier prey.

 

They materialise behind Verity and slash at her and Vergil only just fends them off from her, ice claws clanging against Yamato. Verity flips backwards and one frost leaps over Vergil in pursuit of her.

 

Vergil’s foe fires an ice bolt at him, before going after Verity again. They release their attacks on her, but not aiming for her, boxing her in with rains of ice spears. They try to jump into their makeshift cage, but she’s put a lid on their box.

 

 Vergil wills a swirl of dark energy and slashes it at the demons, knocking one away. Verity bursts out the back of her ice cage, only to get knocked aside by a wave of ice. She barely just shields herself with a massive blue glyph as shards of ice fly from the frost’s hands.

 

He gets to it too slow as it goes into an ice cocoon and he swears as Yamato rings uselessly off the side. He focuses his attention on the active one, summoning Beowulf and going hand to hand with it. it works, keeping it busy, but it’s not long before the first one breaks out of its cocoon and knocks Vergil flying as it materialises next to him, slashing at him with a vicious uppercut.

 

They both turn back to Verity, forcing her to dodge and shield ice attacks, arranging them so she can’t catch her breath. Vergil can’t get in properly without risking her, despite his best efforts. At best, he’s barely drawing their heat as they work to wear them down.

 

They’re not leaving him any option and he prays he catches her at the right moment. He can’t get into a line of sight with her.

 

Verity’s working hard, but she’s starting to tire.

 

She’s down again and his heart’s stopping, but she’s got a shield up and he goes for it.

 

He tries to recall the mantras that his Sword Masters taught him and the only thing that springs to mind is “Down you go!”

 

To hell with it, that’s the one he’s going with. She can give him a good chivvy later when it’s worked.

 

Clearing his mind and calling everything he’s got into it, he unsheathes Yamato and leaps into the air, flash stepping into the midst of the frosts, slashing with her so quickly and with so much mental force, the very air is cleaved asunder.

 

“Down you go!”

 

The edges laser through the frosts, and he’s never sure if it’s the void or the blade that cuts.

 

The frosts disintegrate over the top of her as she drops her shield.

 

Verity sits up, hands sliding in the snow. Vergil shakes off Yamato and resheathes her, before pulling Verity to her feet. She’s panting and trembling, though with cold or adrenaline he can’t tell. He guides her over to a fallen pillar, bidding her sit so she can catch her breath and digging through his pocket for a vital star.

 

Verity shakes her head. “I’m just winded. We need to save them in case we have ill-luck.”

 

Vergil puts it away. “Can you go on?”

 

He doesn’t touch her, but the way he looks at her when their eyes meet is sweeter than any caress.

 

She nods and stands up shakily. “I hope it’s warm in there, for there’s a damned chill settling on my bones.”

 

“After you, Vee,” Vergil says, sweeping the arm holding Yamato in a this way gesture.

 

“Down you go, Empty Night,” he hears her mutter as she passes him, but the corner of her mouth is crooked up in her smile.

 

The massive door is locked and Vergil rattles it uselessly. He looks at Verity, “This one suits your talents more than mine.”

 

She crouches down to look at the lock. “A pity that I don’t have a Dead Man’s Hand amongst my bag of tricks.”

 

“I thought you were cold, Vee,” says Vergil, trying to keep the irritation out his voice.

 

“Not so cold I won’t chance to vex you,” she snorts. She sets her hand on the lock, closes her eyes and concentrates. Vergil watches as the keyhole glows blue, Verity biting her lip as some bits get a little more pressure than others. The clicks are small and quiet as the mechanisms turn and the door jumps ajar.

 

“I don’t sense anything on the other side,” she says quietly.

 

Even so, Vergil goes first, Yamato flicked up slightly.

 

There’s nothing, so he pulls her in as she shivers.  It’s still chilly in the hall, but it’s better than out there.

 

The tables have gone and now it’s just rows of seats on the bottom floor. He looks at Verity.

 

“It’s a glorified waiting room most of the time.”

 

“What’s that coffin?” He asks. “I never noticed it first time round.”

 

“Sanctus Primum, the first leader of Fortuna,” she replies. She bows to it.

 

“Which door?” Vergil indicates the doors on either side of the Hall.

 

Verity picks the one on their left.

 

They’re no sooner out the door when a dog-like demon lunges at them. Vergil sends it flying with an upper slash that sends it airborne. Another one’s about to run and take its place when there’s blue spinning under his feet and a hand grabs his arm in the noise and colour and they’re further up the corridor, outside a door.

 

They can hear the dogs coming as they stumble through the door. Verity hauling him almost bodily through it. Vergil slams it shut, leaning against it, but it holds. The dogs jump and scratch at it for a minute, but soon give up when they can’t get in.

 

Vergil peers through the keyhole, but the dogs seem to have moved off up the corridor.

 

He turns to Verity, who’s already moving out past a fully laid, long dining table. Vergil wanders around the room, taking in the usual decorations such old castles tend to have, suits of armour and antique furniture.

 

He pays particular attention to the armour, because he’s been down that road before.

 

They sleep and he’s not picking up anything that suggests otherwise.

 

He joins Verity, who can’t go any further because the hall has fireballs hurtling down it. She’s looking out and down as a fireball shoots down one end to the other. He resists the urge to pull her back, instead asking, “Possible?”

 

“Even porting we wouldn’t be quick enough,” she replies. She forms a barrier glyph further down the hall, but the fireball just tears through it. “I can’t form it quick enough.”   

       

Verity points down the bottom. “It’s not hitting the wall though, there’s something down there.”

 

Vergil waits for the next ball to pass, before chancing his head round the corner. He’s got better eyesight than Verity and he can make out some kind of statue down the bottom.

 

“We’ll have to go back out into the main corridor,” says Verity.

 

The dogs see them and come running down, one of them shooting its head at the couple. It hits Verity’s glyph and bounces back up the corridor.

 

It gives the couple time to reach the next closest doorway.

 

“I hate this room,” says Verity, looking up at vicious spikes on the underside of the metal walkway. “The water always makes me want to pee.”

 

Vergil bursts out laughing, shaking his head. His smile fades as the doors are sealed.

 

“Godspit and shit!” Verity sounds more annoyed than alarmed. He’s gratified to see her already forming blue swords – just a couple, she’s used to defaulting to glyphs for spells and magic –  and hurling them at the demons already porting in.

 

It’s not as bad as the storehouse, there’s more room to move here, but there’s nowhere for her to hide to prepare a spell large enough to take them all out and he can’t do Judgement Cut for the same reason.

 

“Let’s have some fun!” he yells, casting an eye over to Verity. Her brow is knotted with concentration, but she’s smiling. “Good test for her skills, as well as her recovery,” he thinks.  

 

There’s a group of scarecrows and some flying demon the like of which he’s never seen before, not that it matters. They’re all just fodder for Yamato, Vergil lets loose. He needs to get used to fighting alongside Verity and she with him.

 

He begins to treat it as practice, streaking through them, slashing as he goes. He has to somersault up and over as he nearly crashes into Verity, but he’s aware enough of her that he reacts in time. It gives him a chance to take out some of the flying ones, which are scarily adept at keeping up with the couples’ changing position.

 

He’s got his Summoned Swords firing off at them in the air, damaging them enough that Verity can take them out with a single shot of her own.

 

For her part, she’s forming her own blue swords, not holding them in a pattern yet like Vergil can, but she’s shooting them off at a fair rate. She’s more athletic than he thought she was, backflipping and somersaulting away and around their targets, rather than relying on her powers.

 

Not that she isn’t using her glyphs. As well as shielding them both and giving Vergil a platform to launch from to hit the higher ones, she’s blowing both sets of demons into the brutal spikes on the ceiling. Sometimes she alternates and rams them against the walls and ceiling instead.

 

Like Vergil, she starts to experiment a little and they begin to fight more in tune with each other, one shielding, while the other attacks. Verity tends to shield more than Vergil does, but that’s only because her glyphs lend themselves to defense better than Vergil’s sword play.

 

“Didn’t you mention something about putting holes in walls, Vee?” Vergil asks, flash stepping up to her and slicing a demon in half as it launches itself at her.

 

“You keep telling me to pace myself, qalbi,” she replies, bouncing a flying demon off a glyph and into several scarecrows. “I have a better one. Stay on that glyph.”

 

She forms a glyph beneath his feet, then touches the floor, sending energy into the spell her flips and pirouettes have been tracing all this time. It’s similar to the spell in the storeroom, but both more powerful and more focused. There’s a bright flash of light and both all the demons and the seals on the doors are gone.

 

Verity sits shakily down on the steps and digs in her pockets for a Vital Star. “It’s safe to come off it now.”

 

She grimaces and chokes at the fluid, washing her mouth out with the water that’s flowing through the chamber.

 

“Are you trying to poison yourself?” he asks, coming to stand in front of her. “God alone knows where that water’s been.”

 

“I like to keep my immune system on its toes,” she says, lightly. She holds out her hand to him.

 

He takes it and pulls her up. He keeps hold of her hand, ice-blue eyes searching her face. “You ok?”

 

Verity kisses him quickly. “I’m fine. Up those stairs next, I think.”

 

Vergil’s about to lead her out, when Verity shakes her head. “I can port us.”

 

Vergil embraces her as the portal spins and glows under their feet and they’re suddenly up in a small hallway. They walk through the door and they’re in the balcony level of the Grand Hall. 

 

“See that blue?” Vergil points out the faint luminescence running along the top of the guardrail. He taps it with Yamato’s hilt and a shimmering pattern appears briefly above it. “Forcefield?”

 

“I suppose,” replies Verity. “I’ve never been in the Castle at night before, under these circumstances.”

 

“Rather robust security system for a tourist spot, Vee, when all’s considered.” He’s trying to see where the barrier extends to.

 

“It’s not just a historical landmark,” she reminds him. “It’s the HQ of the Holy Knights. All their offices are here, Faith Committee, Supreme General, Law and Order Committee, Tourist Committee, Foreign Business Committee are the important ones. The Generals and Captains all have their offices here, it’s the admin centre for the Knights.”

 

“I see why you would protect the Castle in that case. What’s that HQ on the other side of the Island for then?” He thinks they can get out the door by the tapestry that’s on the same side as them and begins walking towards it.

 

“Order proper and barracks for the Knights, but mostly there isn’t much crossover administratively,” she replies, following him without thinking.

 

“Have you ever known any admin section protected by demons, Vee?” Vergil asks as they reach the door. “In my experience, demons beget demons or someone has some very sensitive information they’re protecting. What’s on the other side of this door?”

 

“Top level of the courtyard.” Verity is quiet again the way she was when she found out about the Wedding Spell.

 

Vergil cups her face, turning it up to him so their eyes meet.

 

“I can take you home now, Verity and we forget all of this,” says Vergil.

 

“All of it?” she asks. Her hands come to rest on his arms, just below his wrists. She could tear his hands from her face if she wanted.

 

“No,” he shakes his head. “Nothing’s changed between us.”

 

He kisses her, slow and deep, showing her the truth of his words.

 

Verity pulls back, frowning and Vergil’s eyes roam her face. “What?”

 

“If I can’t follow you, then I can’t be in your world,” she replies as Vergil shakes his head in denial. “If I asked you to stop this, for me and stay with me, would you?”

 

He struggles for a moment, trying to speak and dropping his forehead to hers. He takes a deep breath and pulls back slightly to look at her.

 

“No.”

 

He can’t read the expression on her face, but she’s not pulling away. He waits for the question he can’t believe she hasn’t asked yet and he doesn’t know how he’ll answer.

 

She kisses him, soft and deep, in front of the massive tapestry of his Father.

 

“Come then, Mr Redgrave,” she says, stepping away and opening the door. ”Let’s continue with our adventure and solve our mystery.”

 

Vergil glances up at his Father and he’d swear that there’s approval on Sparda’s face.

 

They walk carefully up the stairs, sheltered here from the wind, but not the bitter cold. The moon’s full and bright when they come out onto the walkway and this high up they don’t seem to be facing any snowdrifts.

 

Vergil looks down into the courtyard. There’s snow piled up in the corners and a layer along the flagstones, but it’s not deep. There’s a sense of wrongness radiating out from it and there’s a large, black monolith, almost like an altar. The magic emanating from it is palpable.

 

“Vee, what do you make of that?” Vergil tries to get her attention to look at the monolith.

 

“That doesn’t concern me at this time,” she replies, looking up the walkway to where frosts have just spawned in.

 

“Damn and blast! I don’t sense any seals, do you?”

 

Verity looks beyond the advancing frosts and shakes her head. “Are we fighting them?”

 

“Not if we don’t have to,” he replies. “Can you port us?”

 

Verity doesn’t answer as she forms the roughest and readiest glyph she’s ever done and prays she makes it to the door before the frosts do.

 

They land right in front of the door, just as the frosts port to their previous position. Vergil can’t help it. He runs his fingers through his hair and shouts at the frosts, “You’re wasting my time!”

 

Verity hauls him through the door just as the first frost ports behind them.

 

“You’re stronger than you look,” says Vergil.

 

“I’m going to assume that your ideological differences with your brother are that you’re a moron and he isn’t,” she scowls.

 

“Oh, he’s far worse than I am,” he assures her. “You make me reckless, Vee. I only live, but to impress you.”

 

He makes a low dancer’s bow.

 

“Sparda’s Balls! I dread to think what he’s like.” She walks down the steps, past a frozen fountain and towards a sculpture. “Papa told me once that there’s secret tunnels all over the island. And I do believe we’ve just found one of them.”

 

She points past the sculpture to the massive waterfall. The end of the walkway is an open bridge to nowhere.

 

“Why would there be sluice gates on a waterfall?” Vergil agrees, walking to the end of the walkway and looking down.  “How do you call the bridge?”

 

“There’ll be a mechanism, but I can’t see it,” she says, looking around.

 

He turns to the sculpture. “There’s something up there.”

 

He jumps up on to it, jumping up a little further to come back down with a vital star. “You’d best take this, seeing as you’re so insistent on damaging yourself.”

 

“It’s not me taunting demons when we should be getting out of their way,” she retorts as she puts it in her pocket.

 

“I don’t drink dirty water,” he returns.

 

“Water’s only dirty when there’s blood in it.” Verity looks up at the door on the other side. “Do refrain from molesting demons we don’t need to engage, Vergil.”

 

“We could just port past them, right into the Hall,” suggests Vergil.

 

Verity concentrates for a moment, the glyph tentatively forming, then disintegrating. It happens several times and sweat’s forming on her brow when she shakes her head. “Something’s blocking me.”

 

“We’ll just have to fight them off or make a run for it,” says Vergil.

 

“You could just intimidate them with the power of macassar oil,” Verity says, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m sure they find you more fearsome than Sparda himself.”

 

Vergil looks like he’s about to say something, but instead grabs Verity’s hand, bidding her open the door. Then he runs, forcing Verity to keep up with him, as they dodge the frosts, jumping and spinning as they leap aside and over the creatures’ attacks. Little breezes tell them when they’ve just missed a swipe of claws as the demons port, trying to get ahead of the couple.

 

One nearly gets them at the top of the stairs, porting and swiping before it’s even fully formed. Verity ducks, feeling a prickle of power and a smell of ozone as it materialises, pulling Vergil with her. There’s barely a pause before he moves with her, wrapping himself around her as he moves them into a forward roll.

 

Too late, he realises they’re at the top of the stairs, but he’s enclosed her enough he takes the worst hits from the steps, until there’s blue under them and the bangs are cushioned. The wind’s still knocked out of them as they drag themselves to their feet, Vergil shoving her half-standing through the door as the frost ports right by it.

 

They lie in a crumpled heap on the floor on the other side of his Father’s tapestry. This time Sparda’s face looks amused and there’s not a small amount of sympathy mixed in. Yes, Son, I’m sorry you like the same type I do. Wouldn’t want you being bored, now.

 

“Thanks, Dad,” he mutters.

 

“What?” asks Verity, panting. “Owwww.”

 

“What did I tell you?” he says, helping her to her feet, but she’s mostly standing under her own steam. “Experience is an excellent teacher.”

 

“I’m getting plenty of that,” she scowls. She points up to one of the Minstrels’ Boxes on their side. “There’s something up there.”

 

Vergil jumps up and comes back down with holy water. “How fortunate that people here are so paranoid they leave random items everywhere, just in case.”

 

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, Mr Redgrave,” she replies. “Where next, qalbi?”

 

“I think I saw a blue pedestal round the corner and in my experience, they tend to be switches,” he says, tapping on the forcefield. It lights up blue under the pressure. “Which of us is doing the honours?”

 

“You can do this one,” she says. “I want to watch you be all masterful with your blade.”

 

Vergil cocks an eyebrow at her tone. “Have I disappointed you so far, Vee?”

 

She giggles. “I’m sure my run goods will be well purchased when the time comes, Vergil.”

 

“I’ll endeavour to be worth my price,” he smirks, drawing Yamato and repeatedly striking the pedestal. Flames begin to glow on it as it spins, before a wave of light flares outwards.

 

There’s a ringing sound as the barrier flashes blue and falls. The door nearest the pedestal is unshielded. He offers her his arm and squires her through the door.

 

They walk cautiously through it and into the small entry hall of the Gallery.  

 

Nothing happens.

 

“Maybe we’ll get through a room without incident,” says Verity, hopefully.

 

They’re barely into the room proper when red seals appear and portals begin to form.

 

“You’re a damned jinx, Vee,” says Vergil.

 

Verity just smiles as she begins to form a glyph around Vergil’s feet. “Do the slashy one, but hold it until I say. I want to try something.”

 

“Judgement Cut?” He asks as a scarecrow tries to hit them, but there’s a forcefield that blows it backwards. He’s taking a wild guess, because with a sword, all attacks are slashy.

 

“If that fits…”

 

She crouches behind him, but not in the line of his arms. Verity has a hand on his back and one on the floor, powering up the glyph as Vergil powers up his attack.

 

“3,2,1, release.”

 

It’s devastating. The whole room is filled with the clashing sword cleaving the air and everything within it apart. Thunder deafens the couple as the air smacks back into place and there’s not a thing left standing in the room.

 

They stand up slowly as Vergil swipes off Yamato and he can feel Verity leaning heavily on him. “Do you think it worked?”

 

“Yes,” replies Verity, more than a little shocked. “It worked better than I thought it would.”

 

He walks over to the strange statue in the room, which is the only thing that wasn’t destroyed. “What is this?”

 

Verity touches it cautiously. “There’s power there, but it’s inert. I don’t know what will activate it.”

 

“Library next if I recall from our tour,” he says. He takes her hand. “Don’t jinx us, sabiħa.”

 

 They walk in cautiously and there’s nothing but books.

 

“A tad small for a Castle library, don’t you think, Vee?”

 

“You’ve more experience than I in that regard, qalbi,” she replies. “Perhaps they only keep the more sensitive material up here.” She points to the locked door that’s right inside the library, behind a bookcase. “And the even more sensitive material in there.”

 

The library door slams shut behind them and locks with the same symbol as the interior door.

 

Vergil just looks at her.

 

“I didn’t do anything!”

 

Vergil looks at some of the books in the shelves, just to see if they really are restricted, while Verity goes to look at the two locked doors. It’s sheer chance that has him look up when he does.

 

A suit of armour, the like of which he hasn’t seen before is advancing on Verity, lance out. She’s intent on the lock and really, they’re going to have to work on that. He makes it just in time to block the lance with a clang.

 

She doesn’t even notice, she’s so absorbed. She doesn’t even hear the clang or notice the rush of air.

 

“Any joy, Vee?” he grunts as he parries the next thrust of the lance. He’s limited in his movement, as he can’t leave her open. He’s able to make a hard strike that sends the Angelo reeling back and he presses his advantage, trying to land a hit, but it guards too well with its shield and a well-timed hit has Vergil knocked into the bookshelf.

 

It’s a sturdy bookshelf and holds. He dodges the Angelo’s next rush, backflipping on to the mezzanine and it’s the first time he’s seen one of his own moves used against him.

 

“So, you’re a demon, then,” he says to the Angelo. He glances down to Verity, who’s still trying spells and brute magical force against the barrier. “Come on!”

 

“I’m trying my best!” she snaps. “It’s just not responding to anything I’m doing. I wish I had something magical, Dead Man’s Hand or something.”

 

“Vee, I wasn’t talking to you, sabiħa.” He grunts as it flies up and tries to strike at him on the mezzanine. Vergil holds his summoned swords in the pattern his brother christened Blistering, because of course his idiot brother has a dramatic streak so wide you could race a Ferrari on it. Vergil goads the demon into landing on the mezzanine and fires wave after wave of swords at it, till it’s stunned against the wall.

 

He streaks in and runs it through, twisting Yamato in it several times. It shakes with the motion, before dissolving in something that looks like escaping souls. He looks down to Verity, who is currently kicking the plate across the door, though more in frustration than actually believing she’ll break through it.

 

“It’s no use, Vergil,” she calls up, irritation plain in her tone. “It will just not budge.”

 

She pauses and Vergil wonders how she hasn’t heard the other Angelo dropping out of its portal. It’s loud enough.

 

 “What is it, Vee?” he asks as he somersaults down on top of the latest one. It stuns it and he presses home his advantage by unleashing a volley of quick, precise slashes upon the shield. It’s not so stunned that it doesn’t defend itself.

 

“There’s something beyond this door. I can see it in a pillar like that grim grip demon thing. And there’s so many books! I think it’s all the grimoires and spellbooks we were talking about with Arkham!”

 

There’s a pause and Vergil glances away from the recovered Angelo, who’s just tried to fly over the top of him. Vergil vaults over its head and slashes quickly at its back. It drops to its knees and falls off the mezzanine with a clang.

 

“Mr Redgrave, I’m trying to concentrate. How noisy are these books you’re looking at?”

 

“Godspit and shit, Verity – what the hell kind of reading makes this much noise?”

 

Number two Angelo’s head falls off and then it disintegrates.

 

He pants with the exertion as he waits on the next ones to come in. “Two seems rather on the low side,” he mutters.

 

Verity’s staring intently at the item in the pillar and looking at the statue. There’s sweat on her brow and she’s biting her lip as she frowns with the effort she’s putting in the spell. There’s gossamer fine blue strings between the statue and the pillar and more forming every second. She’s got her hand on the door and a glyph under it, which seems to be the conduit for the strings. She’s clutching her head.

 

Vergil knows better than to go to her.

 

He looks at the statue and there’s a blue flame burning atop it, getting stronger each second. It’s beginning to rock to and fro.

 

He hears portals open and he’s aware of the two Angelos that materialise into the room near her.

 

Vergil summons his Gauntlets and Greaves, spin-kicking the nearest armour as he leaps from the mezzanine.

 

He knocks it into Verity, sending her flying, but she doesn’t let go the glyph on the door. Her arm’s twisted at an odd angle and she’s contorting her body to relieve pressure on it.

 

 The Angelos close in on her and Vergil’s never going to move quick enough, when there’s a shriek of metal scraping the floor as the statue begins to move towards the armours.

 

It’s also heading straight for her. She’s got no energy left to control it or shield herself.

 

He fires off summoned swords and it begins to float as it moves. He flash steps in front of her and strikes at it with Yamato to deflect it.

 

Verity moves her free hand, gesturing as if to call the gyroblade to her and it comes spinning towards her, smacking off every wall and pillar in the room, books flying in a cloud of pages from massacred tomes. It’s got some wicked looking blades that have suddenly projected from it.

 

It confuses the Angelos no end, and they begin fighting with each other.

 

Vergil stays before her to knock whatever threatens her away. “Just don’t hit me, Vee.”

 

“I’ll try,” she breathes and makes a second gesture with her hand.

 

It swirls into the Angelos. The effect is instant and the Angelos fall apart in a shower of freed souls and fluttering pages.

 

It pulls itself back for a run at the door. She glances at him. “You’ll need to hit it here. I need to concentrate on keeping the energy running.”

 

“Will I hit your arm?”

 

“Not if you aim at the door. If you bounce it, I can’t shield it.” There’s a slight note of panic, under the calm instructions, but she doesn’t waver.

 

“Keep it floating, then.” He walks around it, working out his angle of attack. “3-2-1, Slash.”

 

There’s a clang of metal and it hurtles towards Verity, who turns her head away from her spinning doom.

 

There’s a crash and a shriek and he runs towards her with a cry.

 

“Verity!”

 

She’s crouched down, hand outstretched to where the glyph used to be, other arm over her face.

 

The gyroblade turns itself off and sits itself down in front of the door. All the power that animated it snaps back into the room with a thunderclap.

 

Vergil drops to one knee, smiling despite himself. “Vee. Vee.”

 

He taps her hand and she squeals. “Did I die?”

 

“No, you’re still in one piece. Door’s not.” He indicates the smashed doorframe.

 

“Oh.” She still hasn’t dropped her hand. “It was loud.”

 

Vergil tuts and grabbing her by the wrist, pulls her towards him. She overbalances and falls onto her knees and against his chest, as one arm wraps around her back, the other cupping the back of her head. She allows him to draw her in, closing her eyes as their lips meet.

 

Their lips move against each other, gently, reassuring her she’s still here. It’s a brief moment before his tongue slips into her mouth, delicately touching tip to tip. There’s a sweet slide as she responds to him, twisting and turning her tongue along his as they dance along each other, tracing patterns on the roof of their mouths.

 

They continue for a minute, before Verity breaks off, gently touching her lips to his.

 

“So, Vee, still think you’re dead?” he asks, rubbing noses with her, ice-blue eyes drinking in her wine-darks.

 

“I think, qalbi, you’ve restored me to life,” Verity says, stroking Vergil’s face, with her long, delicate fingers. She looks back into the room, under the gyroblade. “I’m going to see what in all the Nine Hells I was channelling.”

 

She breaks away and still on her hands and knees, crawls under the gyroblade to reach the pillar with its floating artefact. As she realises what it is, Verity’s by turns awed and excited. “I’ve heard about this. It’s an Amina Mercury, an artificial soul, created by alchemy. I’ve studied how it’s done.”

 

Vergil takes it from her, this blue flame in glass. “Will you do that in due course?”

 

“Possibly. I wonder if that’s what was animating those Angelos – that’s the Knights’ armour. Those were Biancos. Captains and up wear Alto colours, gold armour.” She looks around. “We didn’t come here for this and I think we’ve found our Forbidden Books Repository that Mr Arkham referred to.”

 

They check through the books and she’s right – it’s all high-order spell and ritual work that could tear open dimensions and call gods. Some of the rituals or collection of the ingredients are trials in their own right.

 

“So, what’s the area of interest, then, Mr Redgrave?” she asks, nodding at the pile of books she’s holding. She’s picked up titles on rituals, binding and Temen-Ni-Gru. “Because we can’t carry all of this out of here.”

 

He bristles at the surname, even though it’s taken on a pet name for him that she’s not going to use for anyone else. “I think you should find another endearment for me.”

 

“What do you suggest? I can’t very well use your real surname, as you haven’t shared it with me yet,” she retorts. “Have you, qalbi?”

 

“Let’s stick to Temen-Ni-Gru,” says Vergil, turning away so she can’t see the look on his face. He looks at some books to hide his discomfort. Verity isn’t looking at him, she’s already looking at books that may fit their bill.

 

She pulls her Tarot Cards out again, separates out their Significators and shuffles. She looks like she’s meditating as her hands move the cards deftly and quickly.

 

Vergil stops what he’s doing and watches her. Her lips are moving as she shuffles.

 

She finishes and ignores him when she opens her eyes to lay out her cards.

 

“The next book you touch will be the one, so listen to your instincts,” she says, looking at her spread. “  ‘That which is hidden by the Devil will be revealed by the light.’ I wonder what that means.

 

“Rather vague,” he agrees. His hand’s burning as he runs it over the books, before walking over to the other side of the room and picking up one he hadn’t even considered. He can’t read the language, but it’s old and unfamiliar. He feels like he should have cotton gloves on to even touch it.

 

She’s picked up another book and it looks just as old. She turns it over reverently. “I wish we had time, just to go through these for their own sake,” she says, regretfully.

 

“I know,” he replies, crouching down to help her tidy away her cards. “There’s other libraries and museums, with books that are just as ancient and rare. We’ll visit them wh-“

 

There’s a noise from outside the room and beyond the gyroblade, the thud-thud of feet walking towards them as the white shoes of another Angelo come into view.

 

“That’s our cue to leave, Vee,” says Vergil. It doesn’t come into the room, as it’s being blocked by the gyroblade. They put the books back – there’s some sacrileges they won’t commit – and Vergil strikes the blade, sending it spinning into the Angelos that have just ported in. He hits it again and sends it into the outer door. It hits with such force that this door is smashed open as well.

 

They run out before they can be surprised by any more. Far too much time has been lost to this room.

 

They have to go back through the gallery and they’re no sooner through when the doors seal and an assortment of demons appear.

 

“Stay behind me,” he tells her, grabbing her arm and running over the inert gyroblade at the other end of the room. He waits till it doesn’t look like any more’s coming in and activates it.

 

It motors through the demons and he can’t resist shouting, “You’re finished!”

 

There’s a few outliers it didn’t hit and it doesn’t take him and Verity long to pick them off. Even though she’s laughing at him, she’s still a threat.

 

They’re just leaving when a massive electric demon appears and bounces about the room so fast, it’s all Verity can do to shield them both from it.

 

“What the hell is that?” shouts Verity.

 

“And you mock my mantras?” he replies, trying to brace her against its onslaught. He’s watching it as it goes. It’s wasting a lot of energy trying to attack a stationary target, as they crouch in the corner behind Verity’s shield. She looks exhausted trying to keep the glyph strong. She can’t attack when she’s defending so hard. “Show me your worth, sabiħa.”

 

“I prove myself to you?” Verity grits out. “Surely it should be the other way around?”

 

“Don’t get cocky, Madam Sparda.” Vergil’s predator smile is back as he times his somersault for the gyroblade with one of the ports of the blitz. He lands behind it as it unleashes a powerful beam on Verity’s shield, keeping her busy with a sworn “Sparda’s fucking Balls!”

 

He lines up the gyroblade and puts all his strength behind the blow. He ricochets it so hard off her shield that it ploughs through the blitz, spinning so hard, it’s ripped apart. He’s destroyed her shield as well, but she’s fine.

 

He walks over to her and pulls her up. “Do I pass muster, Madam?”

 

“Mistress. A married woman is called Mistress until she has children or she’s over thirty. Madam Agius is my Mama.” Verity wipes her face with her top. “It’s confusing for Mainlanders.”

 

She straightens herself up and walks off. Vergil shakes his head, waiting for her to catch what he really said. She doesn’t and he stares after her in astonishment.

 

They come back into the Great Hall and Vergil points out the Gyroblade to her.

 

“I can’t see what it’s meant to hit, unless there’s monsters who haven’t yet chanced upon us,” she replies, looking around the room.

 

“Jump down,” he says, doing just that.

 

She does so, as Vergil walks over to the gyroblade and hits it. It floats and sets out its blade. He knocks it down the steps and lines it up with the central aisle.

 

“Vergil? What are you about to do?” Verity asks in alarm.

 

“Following a hunch, sabiħa,” he says and hits the gyroblade hard, sending it flying into the coffin, Verity’s shriek echoing round the Hall.

 

“And it was right,” he says, gesturing to the seal that the coffin was covering.

 

“I don’t understand,” she says. “There’s no one buried there?”

 

“We solve one mystery and find another,” he replies. “He could very well be under that seal, but he’s not above it.  Put that to one side and tell me what you think, Vee.”

 

She still looks horrified and indignant as she concentrates on it. “It’s magic, needs activated, but we don’t have the thing that will activate it.”

 

Vergil looks up and notes the chained central chandelier. “Pretty substantial, don’t you think?”

 

“I suppose. Where now?”

 

He considers for a moment. “There were a few of these things in the corridor. Lets go and look at that.”

 

It doesn’t take them long to find it. There’s two already there in front of a seal across the door. “I think it leads to the courtyard,” says Verity.

 

“I wonder what’s in there that they’ve gated it off,” says Vergil. “I definitely want a look at that monolith.”

 

“Where did we see some?” she asks.

 

“There was one down behind that fireball machine and I’ll bet it’s not the only thing hidden down that hallway,” Vergil says as he looks at her. “Still having fun, Vee?”

 

She grins. “I’m having the best time.”

 

She sets off to the dining room and the fireballs.

 

Vergil looks after her for a moment then follows.

 

They quickly deal with the Angelos in the dining room and they edge carefully out into the corridor.

 

“You have a plan?” she asks, looking doubtfully down the hall. “I mean are you sure it’s a gyroblade down there?”

 

“I have better eyesight than most humans, you vex of a chit,” he responds.

 

“I should imagine so, xitan tedjanti.”

 

Vergil looks at her in surprise. “You knew?”

 

“You’ve transformed in front of me several times and made no comment, so I thought I would make no comment, either.”

 

Vergil runs his hand through his hair. “You keep finding ways to surprise me, Vee.”

 

“I think I can port us behind it, now I can see what I’m aiming for.” She holds out her hand and there’s a knowing look in her eye.

 

He takes her hand and kisses the back.

 

Verity closes her eyes and breathes out. There’s light and colour and then they’re behind the gyroblade as fire hurtles down the hall. The gryoblade is protecting them, to both of their surprise. It does take both of them a little while before they stop flinching at each firey hit.

 

Even so, they take turns hitting it and giggling until they smack it into the fireball machine. As they do so, a door unseals.

 

“Why would you even seal that? It wasn’t like anyone was getting up here with that flame thrower.” Verity’s looking at the door and the wreckage of the machine.

 

“How are we going to get this back?” asks Vergil.

 

“How’d you think?” She looks at him in amusement.

 

They open the door carefully and send the gyroblade through, but there’s nothing there as they go through the room. They’ve destroyed the railings that had gated it off from the large hall and they smack it back towards the other two gyroblades. They massacre a horde of scarecrows before they even have chance to get near the couple.

 

It settles down next to the other three and the door unseals.

 

“There was only two there before,” says Verity, smile vanishing.

 

“There’s a rhyme,” says Vergil, reading the slab that’s still blocking the door. “What puts out fire, but water? What dries up water but fire? Tell him to give her a kiss!”

 

He looks at Verity in confusion. “What the hell does that mean?”

 

She looks at him, equally confused. “That’s lines from Through the Fire, mine and Pinny’s favourite fairytale. It’s about a star-crossed couple and they send someone to ask the Man at the North Pole what they should do. That’s his answer and they can only ask him one question.”

 

“Why just one question?”

 

“Because he was evil and untrustworthy. But he would answer the first question true.” She puts a hand on the door and closes her eyes. The fine blue mist flows out from her and through the keyhole of the door. A few minutes pass and it flows back. “It’s safe. There’s nothing out there.”

 

There isn’t, but they’re still on alert as they go. Vergil takes the opportunity to look at the monolith.

 

“I have an idea what that is, Vee, but what do you think?” he asks her.

 

“I think it’s a Hellgate,” she replies. She looks around it. “It’s not powered up, though. Someone who was powerful enough and smart enough could bid it open.”

 

“Someone like you?”

 

She shakes her head. “I’m not a Summoner. I think you might be able to, with your heritage or someone like Arkham. That is his reputation.”

 

“I think we’re being observed,” Vergil says to her quietly. “I don’t know if that fairy tale was a warning or playing with us.”

 

“What do you want to do?”

 

“Carry on. Like you said, for each mystery we solve, another pops up,” he replies.

 

Verity walks over to a gate and concentrates for a moment, before the railings retract into the ground. They run through cautiously into the graveyard, but there’s nothing of import that happens as they make their way up the steps and into the Master’s Chamber.

 

Vergil makes Verity wait outside while he checks the room, mindful of the spell that had been laid there before. “There’s nothing I can feel. Stay away from the bed, just in case.”

 

“I haven’t stopped thinking about that spell. I don’t know why I’m surprised. If Rosanna Calleja can be tortured into accepting a Courting Suit, I don’t know why I’m surprised at a Fuck or Die spell.”

 

She shivers and it’s not the cold.

 

Vergil raises an eyebrow at the language, but not the sentiment. “It’s evil every way you look at it. How many women die on their wedding day?”

 

“At least two or three a year, sometimes, men as well. It explains how they knew when a woman’s not a virgin.” She shudders again. “Still, better that than dying. Even if this is just a dalliance, I fully expect you to help me with that particular issue.”

 

He enfolds her in his arms and kisses her hair. “I will, when you’re ready and if I can only assure you of one thing, this is no dalliance, not for me.”

 

She returns his hug and his kiss. “Let’s carry on. We’re not done yet.”

 

They step through the bedroom door and onto the balcony in the Torture Chamber.

 

“Another gyroblade,” she says. “It lines up with something down there.”

 

“You’ll need to lower the walkway, then,” says Vergil, nodding at the blue pedestal. He strikes the gyroblade. Verity sets the pedestal and the walkway falls.

 

“That was so much better than the first time,” says Vergil. “You’ve so much more control even in just this brief few weeks.”

 

“Down to you, putting me through my paces, qalbi.”  

 

Vergil smacks it hard and true. It streaks across the walkway and hits the sculpture that was standing there. The whole thing falls and smashes through the floor.

 

When the rumbling and crashing’s died away and no one’s come to investigate, they cautiously make their way across the walkway and down the stairs, coming to stand on the edge.

 

“That’s a big hole,” says Verity. She listens for a moment. “I can hear water. It must be where the torture chamber drains to.”

 

“indeed it is,” says Vergil. “I can see something glinting down there. The way it’s built, it must have been an actual water source for the castle at some point. Water makes it more defensible if there’s a siege. I’m going down.”

 

He leaps off the edge before Verity can say anything.

 

Verity sighs and jumps, glyph under her feet slowing her descent.

 

She lands across from Vergil in a spacious, deep well with several streams emptying out into it.

 

He’s looking at a large root that surrounds a red lit pillar. There’s some kind of emerald cut red crystal brick in there. He doesn’t turn around as she lands.

 

“Still landing on your arse? We are going to have to work on your descents, Vee.”

 

“My dignity has handed in it’s notice,” she replies, dusting herself off.

 

She looks around at the strange little platforms floating just over the water. She looks up and sees similar ones. They don’t move or react to her when she tries to fiddle with them. Vergil pays her no mind as he walks around the root. It’s sealed itself off.

 

“That’s strange,” he says, running his hand through his hair. “Usually, when that happens there’s something to unseal it. Demons guarding it, for instance.”

 

He looks around and sees Verity analysing the metal frames. “Vee, I need you to work out this.”

 

“Hit it with your sword. That usually works.”

 

“That’s such a constructive comment. I have no idea why I didn’t think of it.” She could ice a cake with the sarcasm dripping from his voice.

 

Verity turns round and there’s a lizard in a blanket floating in front of her and it seems as surprised as she is to see her. She throws up a shielding glyph that cuts between them as it begins to circle her.

 

That’s when she sees the other one and it’s very interested in Vergil.  The shield she conjures between them nearly breaks off the finger it’s shooting towards him. She waves her hand and crashes it against the wall.

 

It’s winded, but it melts into the wall.

 

Vergil spins round and Yamato is out as he flash steps over to the one by Verity. She’s dropped her shield against this one to concentrate on the other and she gets caught by its tail when it spins. She’s agile though and she’s able to flip herself over when she gets thrown by the blow.

 

She lands on her feet, pirouetting like a ballet dancer and contorting to avoid a strike of its finger rapidly extending into her back.  She knocks it back with a glyph, but it melts into the floor.

 

Vergil’s already taken his down – he caught it quick enough that it couldn’t reform its cloak and it was an easy matter for him to rapidly stab it to death.

 

He’s looking for hers to come out the wall.

 

Verity quickly calls to mind the symbols she needs for the glyphs that will do what she wants to do and begins forming them.

 

It drips out the wall and she quickly catches it in the glyphs and sets them running. They spin and flash, faster and faster, sucking away the cloak, before exploding and taking the lizard-bug thing with it.

 

Verity looks around her as Vergil goes to the seal. It’s not opening.

 

“So we’re awaiting another one?” she asks. She’s already forming a larger version of her previous trap. She hasn’t brought it into being yet and she’s making it so fast, she doesn’t even know if it will work properly.

 

“It would seem so,” he says.

 

It happens so quickly that Verity doesn’t really know what she did or how she did it.

 

All she knows is that a bigger version of the demon appears near Vergil and they’re both dodging some kind of flying, extendable lance and she fires everything she’s got into the glyphs and they’re big enough to take over the lower level of the well. They twist and glow and suddenly there’s an explosion that’s knocked Vergil off his feet and into the pillar through the seal.

 

He sits dazed amongst the wreckage, with the red brick thing sitting on his lap.

 

She runs to him, a little drunk, a little wobbly after unleashing that much power, and drops to her knees beside him. “Vergil, Vergil qalbi. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

 

“What did you do? I feel awful.” He draws his knees to his chest and looks like he’s going to vomit.

 

Verity digs through his pockets for a vital star and cracks it into his mouth.

 

“It was an anti-demon blood spell and I worked it so fast I overpowered it and didn’t put in an allowance for you.” Verity strokes his face. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“I’ll forgive you, sabiħa,” he smiles weakly as he begins to recover, vital star and his own demon blood kicking in. “We really need to work on your control. I thought we’d need the stars for you, not me.”

 

It takes another few minutes and another vital star for him to fully recover and it’s like her spell was never cast. Verity is still apologising and he kisses her hard to make her stop talking and understand it’s alright.

 

They’re still going to have to fine tune her casting, especially if she’s pulling spells together on the fly.

 

He pulls her over to the floating frames and they suddenly fill with red energy. He looks at the lowest one, following them up to the top.

 

“What are they?” asks Verity.

 

“Cuddle in, Vee,” says Vergil, picking her up. She wraps her legs around him. “And hold tight.”    

         

Even though Vergil’s strong, it’s still an effort, though one he can manage. It’s more that he’s not used to moving while carrying another person, at least not outside the bedroom, even if her hair’s soft under his hand and her legs tight around his waist.

 

“Don’t let go,” he tells her and jumps onto the first pad.

 

It’s got one hell of a spring on it and it takes him a few goes to get to the next one – he’s definitely unused to jumping holding another person and it’s screwing up his centre of balance.

 

Worth it, though, in the way she gasps and squeaks, holding on to him ever tighter, not once entreating him not to drop her. A look at her face tells Vergil she’s by turns terrified and exhilarated.

 

He imagines he looks the same.

 

They make it back to the Great Hall without incident, Vergil reluctantly patting her legs when they reach the top of the well and land back in the torture chamber. She slides down him and it’s torture for him in another way.

 

“Look, the seal over the coffin,” says Verity, suddenly and pointing at it.

 

It’s glowing red. Vergil looks up at the chandelier directly above it, notes the chain again.

 

‘That which is hidden by the Devil will be revealed by the light.’

 

“How long did your tapestry take you, Vee?” he asks.

 

“Exactly? 14 months, two weeks and four days,” she says proudly. Her smile drops when she looks at him and realises what he’s intending. “What? No! It’s just a wall! I was here when they hung it!”

 

“I’ll make it up to you, Vee, sabiħa, on my honour as a Son of Sparda,” he says quietly as he kisses her.

 

She’s so busy ranting at him about what he’s planning, that she misses what he’s told her. He picks her up again and she instinctively wraps herself around him and she fits like a glove. He jumps onto the seal and it propels them upwards onto the chandelier. He kisses her as they rise, as much to silence her raging as for the novelty.

 

They land on it and he breaks the kiss.

 

“Let me do it,” she says.

 

“You don’t have to, Vee. I’ll take the blame,” he replies, trying to dissuade her.

 

“I created it, you’re going to wreck it anyway for your ridiculous hunch, so let me do it.” She holds out her hand for Yamato. He hands her the sword and he’s strangely proud of her.

 

Verity sniffs and brushes away angry tears.

 

Vergil takes the hand that’s holding Yamato, meeting her aggrieved look. “a) you don’t have the strength to break the stem and b) I refuse to let you do this alone.”

 

“Stem’s already broken,” she replies.

 

“And yet it still supports our combined weight easily.” He draws back their arms. “Ready?”

 

She nods.

 

Together, they slash Yamato down hard on the broken stem. There’s a pause as the base realises it’s free and gravity takes over, swinging it into Verity’s tapestry with a resounding crash. Vergil jumps neatly down just before the impact, Verity still pressed tight against him, Yamato in her hand.

 

The chandelier bounces over them and as the dust clears, the massive hole in the solid stone wall reveals a staircase.

 

Verity drops her legs to stand under her own steam, gawping at the stairs.

 

She hands him back Yamato and walks over to the hole, slightly dazed. “Why is there a staircase behind a solid wall?”

 

“Emergency exit?”

 

“To where? It’s a solid wall!” She gestures. She looks thoughtful. “In the storeroom, there were steps to nowhere.”

 

“Probably rooms that have been bricked up, Vee,” he replies. “Not every coincidence has to mean something.”

 

“Says the man who wrecked a tapestry that took a year to do on a hunch,” she retorts. She looks so angry she could vomit a flaming car.

 

Vergil has no response, but to kiss her, slowly and deeply, taking his time with her lips, putting every ounce of his considerable expertise into the press and push of his mouth onto hers.

 

Verity can’t help, but lean into him and return the kiss, licking the inside of his lips, tongue dancing along the length of his, sighing as the tip of his tongue traces his name on the roof of her mouth. She can feel the caress long after he’s moved to trace the shape of her teeth, every little snag.

 

They reluctantly break apart and Vergil kisses her forehead.

 

“It vexes me how deftly you quiet me,” she says.

 

“Clearly we’re meant to be together, Vee,” he says as he takes her hand, leading her through the hole and down the stairs. “Shall we see what other mysteries Fortuna has in store for us?”

 

Chapter Text

Because Falzon is having his party that night, Violet doesn’t linger, instead sending everyone home after an eventful day.  They’re already in the car and waiting as Violet finishes up a few final tasks.

 

It delays her enough that she meets Falzon on the helipad and the way he rubs his mouth without realising brings that little quirk to her lips. “My Lord General. How did your business go to-day?”

 

“It was fascinating, Madam Alighieri. I have no time to tell you of it just now, as you’ll recall my party tonight,” he replies. He looks excited, but he’s trying to keep it in. “Was your mission - ?”

 

“It was,” she replies. “I’m now the focus of the staff protection spells. So we’ve a double reason to celebrate.”

 

“Will your team be leaving us soon, then?” asks Falzon. “I can’t imagine there will be much for the Son of Sparda to do now.”

 

Violet cocks an eyebrow in surprise.

 

“I know who he is. I just don’t know who he is to you, though clearly he’s related to Nero in some way,” says Falzon.

 

“I couldn’t possibly answer that, other than to point out that I’m possibly the only person on the island who isn’t descended from Sparda,” she replies. “But I do know they have no plans to leave at the moment.”

 

This does throw Falzon for an instant and his mouth thins as his eyes narrow. He nods, filing away this information and Violet doesn’t doubt he’ll work it into the still-active investigation.

 

“In that case, I extend my invitation to all within your household for tonight’s party,” says Falzon. He offers his hand and Violet tenses, but takes it anyway. There’s a buzzing sound past her ear and Falzon smacks her arm, with a shout of “Wasp!”

 

She rubs her arm suspiciously, but there is a dead wasp lying on the ground. “That’s the worst thing about autumn. They’re everywhere this year.”

 

“Their time is at an end and they’re waiting to die, starving and angry,” says Falzon. “One can feel almost sorry for them.”

 

“They’re a pain in the ass,” says Violet. Still rubbing her arm, she pulls her hand away. “We’ll see you tonight, Lord Falzon.

 

 ***

 

Violet decides on a bath, rather than a shower as she’s plenty time and she feels like relaxing. The puzzle of those mystery labs and the overly powerful spell can wait. Today was successful and that’s a cause for celebration.

 

As she’s taking her hair down, she feels a lump that’s scabbed over, just behind her ear.

 

“Fucking little rage bastard got me after all,” she mutters.

 

She peels the dressing off the gash in her shoulder and clucks in annoyance at it still being open and seeping. It stings as she lies down in the water and she winces a little.

 

***

 

Falzon sits at his desk in his study and unwraps the strands of long, dark brown hair. He treats them like they’re precious artefacts.

 

He carefully cuts one up and puts the rest away.

 

***

 

Violet’s not one for doing anything in a bath, she just likes to lie in it and not be in too much pain as the water takes the weight of her body.

 

She sighs contentedly as the hot water flows around her and blows the bubbles off her hands.

 

***

 

Falzon sets the hair in a candle and places the candle on the glyph.

 

He says a few words and the glyph begins to glow.

 

The candle lights itself.

 

Falzon vanishes.

 

***

 

Violet looks like she’s sleeping as she lies truly relaxed in the bath. She looks peaceful and her hair floats around her in the water.

 

Falzon leans against the wall, watching her.

 

Her guard’s completely down as Falzon ghosts across to her.

 

“Don’t worry, I won’t touch the face,” says Falzon as he grabs her throat.

 

Falzon’s strong, much stronger than she is and he’s squeezing.

 

Violet freezes with the shock, just for a second, but it’s enough to lose her any advantage and she’s at a bad angle to kick at Falzon, try and break his hold. She just slides in the bath, can’t get any leverage, can’t scream, can’t take the pressure off her throat.

 

Water splashes over the floor, soaking Falzon, but he doesn’t let go.

 

His other hand slips between her kicking legs, and he pushes his fingers in her cunt, hard and stabbing. He never takes his eyes from her face.

 

He punctuates his words with cruel hands at her throat and her sex.

 

“Do you think I’ve come this far to be stopped by the likes of you?” He hisses, thrusting hand hard inside as she winces and struggles for breath.

 

Her hands try to prize his from her throat.

 

“Let foreigners into Fortuna to suck us dry?”

 

 Her feet scrabble for purchase against the smooth sides of the bath.

 

“Don’t you think we have enough monsters of our own?”

 

He smacks her head off the bath.

 

“Always wondered what Credo saw in you. Too much like a boy for my taste.”

 

There’s an explosion in the bedroom as Violet’s always on bedside light explodes and a flash of blue just as Violet’s bracelet starts to sing.

 

Get your filthy hands off her, you bastard!

 

Tony’s picked up Credo’s beautiful granite shaving bowl and smacks Falzon across the back of the head twice. Falzon lurches forward, taking his hand from her throat in confusion and puts his hand to the back of his head.

 

The pressure’s off Violet and she contorts enough to knee him in the face, bursting his nose. Falzon roars like an angry bull and he’s about to resume when the door bursts open.

 

Falzon vanishes.

 

“Oh my God, Violet, what the hell?” Trish has Luce drawn.

 

The shaving bowl drops to the floor and Trish shoots it.

 

Violet’s feet catch the side of the bath and she hauls herself over the side, falling onto the floor, gasping and panting, chest heaving. Kyrie pushes past Trish to get to Violet, trying to help the taller woman up.

 

“You shot Credo’s shaving bowl,” says Violet, blankly.

 

“Yeah, it’s dead,” says Trish.

 

There’s bruising on Violet’s throat, but that’s not what Trish is looking at.

 

It’s the scratches at the top of her thighs.

 

“Come on, up you get,” says Kyrie, grunting with the effort. Violet can’t seem to get her legs to work and Trish gets her other arm. Together, the three manage to get through to the bedroom and they set Violet to sit on the bed.

 

“I’m ok,” murmurs Violet. “You’ve got blood on your dress, Kyrie.”

 

Kyrie pulls away and as she does so, she sees the red stain on her shoulder and sleeves. “Empty Night! I’ll need to change and my make-up doesn’t match the other dress I could wear.”

 

Trish looks at her quizzically.

 

“Falzon’s Faith Committee, so we tend to be more conservative at parties he hosts,” Kyrie explains. “This dress is already ruined, so I’ll clear the bathroom if you sort Violet out.”

 

She glances at Violet for consent. Violet nods and Kyrie goes to get cloths and a bucket.

 

“Don’t leave,” says Violet, quietly.

 

“I need to get a medical kit,” Trish protests. “You’re a hot mess.”

 

Violet actually giggles, but she can’t really hide the edge of hysteria creeping in. “There’s a full kit in the bathroom. I had to patch Credo up often enough.”

 

Trish retrieves it, careful not to step on the water and blood. She brings a towel for Violet’s hair and a glass of water.

 

Violet hasn’t moved from the bed and Trish is careful as she wraps the long, dark hair up in the towel, piling it into a turban on her head. “Long hair is an asshole to take care of.”

 

“Nine Hells, isn’t it just,” agrees Violet, sipping the water. “The conditioner I go through.”

 

“And the oil soaks for the ends,” says Trish. She’s looking at the animal bite and the glyph next to it as she patches up the gash from the lance. “That glyph looks like the one you gave me for Gloria.”

 

“It’s not quite the same,” replies Violet, calmer now. “It doesn’t change my appearance, but makes me unremarkable, so you don’t notice me. I had it done because I didn’t want whoever left me for dead in the first place to come back and finish the job. You’re not telling me it was a reporter who tried to get into my ward when I was first found.”

 

She turns to Trish and pats her hand with a small smile. “I’m ok now. You go and get ready for the party. And thanks.”

 

Trish returns the smile. “De nada.”

 

“What was that noise?” asks Dante, holding out his wrists so Trish can fasten his cufflinks.

 

“Violet’s light blew up and she slipped getting out the bath and that was the second noise,” Trish says. “Then I shot Credo’s shaving bowl.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because it was floating and covered in blood,” she replies. “I patched up her shoulder and saw the bite and the glyph.”

 

Dante freezes and looks at her. His mouth’s gone dry and his voice is thick. “And?”

 

“You’re right. That bite is a Demon’s Mark and it’s Vergil’s.”  Trish takes a deep breath. “We were poking around the house. Lady found it in her study. She’s got the study demon-warded. We’ve only had it a couple of days.”

 

She roots in her bedside table and hands Dante the diary.

 

“That’s a couple of days too many, Trish,” he says to her as he opens it. His hands shake ever so slightly.

 

“There’s no doubt,” says Trish.  “Violet Alighieri is Verity Agius. And I really don’t think she knows it.”

 

***

 

Kyrie’s back with cleaning stuff as Trish is leaving.

 

“How is she?” mouths the younger woman.

 

“She’s ok,” mouths the demon.

 

“You want a hand with your hair?” asks Kyrie as she comes in the bedroom.

 

Violet’s moving stiffly as she’s pulling on her underwear and her voice is hoarse. “Nah, I’ll manage. Might need you to zip me up though.”

 

Kyrie nods and goes through to the bathroom.

 

There’s blood on the floor and she’s about to mop it up. Without thinking, she grabs a towel that’s lifted itself off the counter when she realises.

 

You’d best save that blood 

 

“I can feel you,” she says. “Show yourself.”

 

A hand forms holding the other side of the towel and the rest of the body materialises to a handsome young man in blue who looks like Nero.

 

“Who are you?” asks Kyrie, calmly.

 

My name is Tony Redgrave.

 

“What do you want?”

 

Answers. And after that? Revenge.

 

“Who on? Why are you using Nero?” Kyrie demands as she wipes up the blood and picks up the shards of the bowl.

 

Kyrie ħanini, you remind me so much of my wife and my mother. Strange how that works. Tony looks at her almost fondly. Silk hiding steel. Go to the party. I have unique talents that will be useful to you.

 

He nods at the towel. That’s Falzon’s blood, by the way. Not Vee’s.

 

He vanishes.

 

Violet comes into the bathroom, holding up the top of her dress. “Need zipped. Who were you talking to?”

 

“No one,” replies Kyrie, zipping up the dress. “Your throat’s a mess. I’ve got a scarf that’ll match. I don’t want to have to redo my make up, so I was thinking the ivory organza.”

 

Violet nods. “It’s a bit wedding-y though.”

 

“How appropriate,” says Kyrie, drily.

 

***

 

Falzon ports back to his study, landing in a heap. His chest heaves as he tries to stand up and fails.

 

He rolls onto his back and winces as the back of his head touches the floor. His fingers are covered in blood as he pulls them away.

 

It’s the hand he had buried in Violet and he smiles. He sucks the blood off his fingers and under the copper, he can still taste her.

 

***

 

“Nice of Falzon to extend the invitation to us,” says Trish as they get out of the car at Falzon’s house.

 

“Isn’t it just?” agrees Lady. Neither are fooled. “Nice digs, though.”

 

“Very swish,” he concurs. “We’re in the wrong job.”

 

There’s not much time to say anything else as Falzon opens the door, wearing a suit that wouldn’t have been out of place in Regency times, though with trousers, rather than breeches.

 

“And suddenly, I feel underdressed,” says Dante, wearing a modern, double breasted suit in a claret crushed velvet. The slim fit and bespoke tailoring accentuates his build in all the right places. It shimmers across his body in the light from the door. “Shit, what happened to his face?”

 

Trish has chosen a green silk dress that looks like she’s been stitched into it and black strappy stilettoes. It’s rather more circumspect than Trish is used to wearing, but it clings in all the right places.

 

Lady’s picked a white dress with a flared skirt to her knees. There’s a wide black band running round the bottom of it. She’s having a little trouble walking in her heels. Nero is being a gentleman and letting her lean on his arm

 

Kyrie and Violet are wearing evening gowns of a Regency design that manages to accentuate their very different figures. Kyrie’s is a beautiful flowing organza with a beaded bust that runs round to the back. The Order of the Sword symbol sits in gold on the line of her cleavage. Violet’s is a form fitting silk that emphasises her height and her slimness. It has white violets stitched around the hem and the bust line. She has the Sword symbol on her sleeves and wears a scarf hiding her throat.

 

Nero is wearing the similar Regency style of suit to Falzon and he’s so similar to Sparda that it’s like looking in a mirror. He’s chosen purples, though without the ascot that Vergil had worn. Shorter hair and he’d be the spit of his father.

 

But there’s no more time for such considerations as Falzon steps aside and welcomes them into his house. His manner is far more cordial than they’re used to.

 

“Violet!” he says, kissing her on both cheeks. “It’s been a while since we’ve had the pleasure of your company.”

 

Dante, Trish and Lady accept drinks and appetisers from a maid standing with a tray and move off to the side to watch the proceedings. Trish keeps a continual, if quiet commentary as to who’s who and what Committee they’re on or Guild they’re a member of. It’s mostly the top brass of the Tourist Business Guild, Fortuna L-ewwel and the Faith and Tourism Committees and their spouses. There’s enough people that they blend in with little problem.

 

“I believe the last time was just after you had moved in with Madam Buhagiar,” replies Violet, handing a bottle to him. “Is she available?”

 

“She’s supervising dinner and seeing the children to bed. I’m sure she’ll be through in a moment to join us.” He hands the bottle off to the maid.

 

“And how does fatherhood suit you?”

 

“It suits me well,” says Falzon. “My only grief is that I could never have my own, but that’s a grief I know you understand.”

 

Violet smiles tightly and Kyrie pulls her away. “Madam Campbell! How are you!”

 

The Speaker of the Tourist Business Guild comes over to Kyrie and air kisses her. “Sophie, please. I’m delighted that you’ve allowed your wedding to be the highlight of Midwinter Night. It will really showcase Fortuna as a winter holiday destination.”

 

Kyrie looks over sharply at Nero, who’s standing with the husband of the Speaker and Falzon.

 

Nero smiles at her and looks uncertain when he sees her frown.

 

“Midwinter Night? That’s – “ Kyrie begins.

 

“No, we’re looking forward to it,” says Violet, squeezing Kyrie’s hand. “Who doesn’t love a wedding?”

 

“Sadly, we never had the pleasure of celebrating your own, Madam Alighieri, though I suppose it should be Lady Micellef now,” replies Falzon, coming over with Nero and Master Campbell. He bows slightly to Madam Buhagiar as she passes him a glass of Cassar de Fortuna. He sniffs it before drinking it. “One of Credo’s?”

 

“I’m saving the others for the Toast in the Master’s Bedroom, when all’s said and done,” nods Violet. “Hello, Edith.” She hugs the other woman, who hands her a glass.

 

Edith goes to stand at Falzon’s side and he puts his arm around her shoulder and kisses the top of her head. She flinches.

 

Kyrie is trying not to look about her as she sits down next to Nero.

 

Out the corner of his eye, he can see Tony sitting on Falzon’s desk. He watches Nero’s reaction when the Master’s Bedroom is mentioned, but Nero’s looking back and forth between Falzon and Kyrie.

 

Mostly he watches Kyrie.

 

“I’ll not lay claim to Credo’s title in death, when I never used it in life,” says Violet. “I owe him that at least.”

 

“Credo wouldn’t have minded,” protests Kyrie. “I don’t think you realise how much he truly loved you. I’d be honoured if you’d use his name.”

 

Tony watches Dante and the two women watching the exchange intently. He’s following this far more than Tony thinks he should.

 

“You’ll be changing your name soon enough, Kyrie,” says Falzon. “Mistress Balzan, then Madam once there’s little Neros and Kyries running round the house.”

 

“I might change my name,” says Nero. “Keep Micellef going. Balzan’s just a name someone in the orphanage gave me. I’d rather honour the people who gave me a home and a family.”

 

“Dorcas and Alexander were always good at taking in the waifs and strays,” says Madam Campbell, blithely. “Look at yourself, Violet, when you met Credo.”

 

Even Falzon looks in askance at her.

 

“Excuse me,” mutters Violet as Falzon bows and clasps his hands.

 

Violet takes her wineglass and grabs a full bottle and stalks off out of the room. She doesn’t see Kyrie shake her head and facepalm.

 

Dante’s about to follow her out, when Trish shakes her head. “I’ll go.”

 

On a whim, Tony follows her out to a terrace, fully expecting to be tugged back or disappear. He makes it about 30 feet from Nero, when he feels a tug and can’t go any further. He can’t go further than the door to the terrace. He glances back at Nero, who seems to have been kidnapped by Sophie Campbell. Josh Agius is standing behind him with his Grandfather. Kyrie’s Somali friend from the supermarket is standing next to Josh. She refuses wine and accepts an orange juice and clinks glasses with him. They’re holding hands and getting dirty looks from Faith Committee members.

 

As if to make the point, she moves closer to him and they share a quick kiss.

 

Tony can hear the sound of quiet sobbing from the corner of the terrace where Violet is sitting.

 

“You’ll wreck your make-up,” says Trish, gently. She hands Violet a napkin.

 

“It’s waterproof,” Violet replies, pulling a gold compact with amethyst violets inlaid in it. She dabs her eyes in the mirror, before attempting to repair the damage with the powder puff. Her hands are shaking too much and she can’t hold them steady enough.

 

“Let me,” says Trish as she takes the compact from her and gently pats the puff on her face, fixing the damage from Violet’s tears. “There. Fixed. All pretty again.”

 

“Yeah,” says Violet, with a sardonic little laugh. “I wish Credo was here. I felt safe when he was around. I don’t mean physically safe, I mean safe, like everything was going to be OK.”

 

Trish smiles and looks at Violet’s wineglass. “You’ve not even really touched that wine.”

 

Violet looks down at it and then at the bottle, pouring some into Trish’s glass. “Falzon has the good stuff as well. I’m trying to take it easy. I get drunk and run off at the mouth. Right now, that won’t help anyone.”

 

“You do?” says Trish. “I hadn’t noticed.”

 

They both giggle.

 

“Be on your guard, though, Trish,“ says Violet. “Even though the Saviour is still technically done, a lot of powerful people are really fucking pissed off at this family – and I include you three in that. They’re like a wasps nest in autumn. All that energy and no direction.”

 

“Dante’s the Son of their God. That’s got to count for something, right?” protests Trish.

 

“Only if they can control him and that’s as likely as slamming a revolving door,” points out Violet.

 

Trish concedes the point and decides to chance it. “So, Nero…”

 

Violet takes a deep breath. “Yeah, Nero. There’s no doubt they’re related and very closely. I’ve consistently argued that Sparda didn’t just have the kids with Thekla. He was around for thousands of years, so he must have had more than just four kids, 2 millennia apart.”

 

“Thekla?” Trish chokes on her wine.

 

“Priestess he closed Temen-ni-gru with, had twins with her. Anyway,” Violet pulls the conversation back round to the point. “There’ll be descendants from them and that’s just the ones we know about. You’re not telling me he was around here for two hundred years and didn’t produce offspring. I’ve been arguing that Nero simply tipped the balance of all the people sacrificed to the Saviour construct.”

 

Trish leans in closer. “You singled him out. You know he’s closer to Sparda than that.”

 

Violet nods. “I don’t think he’s Dante’s. There’s rumours that Dante’s brother, Vernon, Victor, something was cutting about here at that time and I think he left a little someone behind. Credo would talk about it really vaguely when he was completely mandra.”

 

Trish decides if she’s going for it, she’s going for it. “Do you think Vergil – that was the brother – is Nero’s father?”

 

Violet nods. “I think Nero’s worked out something like that, but not the full details and if he has, it’ll be Kyrie he’ll talk to about it.”

 

Oh, well, fuck it, thinks Trish. “Do you think Verity Agius is Nero’s mother? That Vergil was the tourist?”

 

Violet snorts with laughter. “Sparda’s Balls, no! I think it was some whore or doxy who got up the spout, probably didn’t even know who the father was, and knowing how much fun life is for those kids, dumped him on the steps of an orphanage. Maybe demons were after her and she had to run, so she left him and drew attention away.”

 

She makes to pick up her wine glass, then sets it down again. “No one gives a shit about the whores in this place, in case you hadn’t noticed. Peter Falzon’s a piece of shit, but he’s risen above that environment, but he’s still a product of it. Maybe she didn’t want that for Nero and did the next best thing for him. Blue eyes and white hair in a place like this? His ass would have been grass once he hit three.”

 

“I was born in the Demon Realm,” says Trish. “And I’ve never come across anything as bad there as I have here. I sometimes wonder if humans aren’t worse than Devils.”

 

“I think there’s good people and bad people wherever you go, species has nothing to do with it.” Violet looks back at the house. “No, I think Verity Agius just doesn’t want to talk to her father and I can’t say I blame her. Blood of battle is thicker than the water of the womb.”

 

Both women jump when a bottle of wine comes flying through the air and knocks theirs off the table.

 

Tony smirks as Falzon walks past him to come get them. He’s walking quietly, as if to catch them in their conversation, but the bottle put paid to that.

 

“Violet! Madam Sparda! You’ve been too long away from the party and I have taken Madam Campbell to task for her careless words,” he says, bowing as he reaches them. He offers both women his hands and escorts them back to the party.

Chapter Text

Fortuna two decades ago

 

They walk cautiously through the corridor. Verity’s looking at the equipment running through it with more than a hint of recognition.

 

There’s an opening up ahead, but she doesn’t register anything dangerous.

 

Still, Vergil goes first, walking around the edge of the - he thinks it’s a ventilation shaft as he can see a massive fan down the bottom. Anyway, it’s a brick-lined structure and it’s deep. He thinks he can see some of those frames from the well, but they’re not active. He looks back to Verity, who’s examining the pipes with a professional’s fascination, to the extent where she’s forgetting her safety. A couple of times he has to flash step to her lest she fall off the edge.

 

“At least tell me what these are before you kill yourself,” Vergil says. There’s a hint of both humour and warning in his tone.

 

She looks up, towards where the roof should be and then around the walls as she touches the pipes. They’re fairly roasting and she frowns. She looks around.

 

“It’s a factory cooling tower. Those holes on the sides-“ she points out levels and levels of regularly spaced channels around the structure, both above and below them  “-are drawing in the cold air from the Peak. This way they do it without ruining the scenery. I studied something similar with lead smelting in Northumbria last year.”

 

“What are we under, Vee?” asks Vergil.

 

Verity bites her lip as she works out what they’re under. “The Courtyard, I think. Those holes in the wall could actually open out miles away. That’s how the smelting flues worked at Allendale.”

 

She looks at him. “What on Earth is a factory doing under the Castle?”

 

“It’s a dormant volcano, yes? Perhaps it’s a geothermal plant,” suggests Vergil. “For the electricity.”

 

“No, we have hydroelectricity for the towns. I thought HQ used that,” she replies. “I swear, for every mystery we solve, another two jump up.”

 

“Well, the only way we’re solving this one, is by jumping down there.” Vergil pulls her close. “I’m capable of holding you up and jumping.”

 

“I swear you’re taking advantage of this situation, Mr Redgrave.” She cuddles into him, but doesn’t allow him to lift her up. She readies herself.

 

Vergil chuckles into her hair. “On 3-2-“

 

“-1, go-“

 

They jump down, Verity familiar now with the work needed to slow their descent. They land on the wire mesh that keeps the fan clear from falling debris and shockingly, Verity keeps her feet.

 

Vergil holds on to her tightly, just in case. They head through a door and into a huge corridor.

 

It’s clad in thick, heavy duty steel, coloured and styled in Art Deco. It’s beautiful. Even the access ports have an elegance about them.

 

A door opens up ahead and they dodge back behind the turn.

 

“What do you think of our facility so far, Mr Arkham?” says a heavily accented, theatrical man.

 

“Very impressive, Lord Arius,” Arkham replies. “But I fail to see how machines can ever replace true power.”

 

Verity watches them in a reflection.

 

“What say you, Mister Agnus? You seem all agog with what you’ve seen.” Lord Scerri treats Agnus with the same deference that he’s treating Arkham.

 

“The p-p-p-possibilities, the p-p-p-potential is boundless, the application of s-s-science to m-magic. My mind is d-d-dizzy with it all, My Lord,” replies Agnus, looking around with wonder, pen flying along the page as he takes notes.

 

“You embarrass me, you romantic fool,” says Arkham and Agnus wilts under the rebuke.

 

“I ap-p-p-pologise for m-my r-ramblings,” he says as he bows deeply. He keeps his eyes down, lip trembling like he’s been slapped.

 

“Nonsense,” Lord Scerri assures him. “Why would we show you our achievements, if not to scale the next peak? I find the opportunities intoxicating, don’t you think so, Lord Arius?”

 

“Indeed, indeed, Lord General. And now come see why science can go where magic can’t.” Arius opens a door and ushers his guests through.

 

Verity sees them first in the reflection, swimming through the metal like sharks. Vergil’s about to move them on, when he sees her staring at the metal. He can’t see what she’s looking at, but he realises it’s not good.

 

The air starts to smell of ozone and he realises that Verity’s working a very quick, very powerful spell as he can see a black distortion like a bow wave in front of a …sail?

 

It’s not a sail, he realises, it’s a fin.

 

Verity fires off her spell, a barrier, but the fin just drops into the metal and resurfaces in front of it.

 

She’s tired, but she’s still in her work-flow and she forms a barrier like a lining along the corridor. It thrums as it activates and there’s so much overspill of power that it makes Vergil dizzy and nauseous.

 

Verity’s physically shaking with the effort of holding the lining and she braces for the impact as the fins hit the glyph.

 

They move right through and circle the couple.

 

“Sparda’s Balls!”

 

Vergil draws Yamato and strikes at the nearest fin.

 

It moves right through.

 

One of the fins drops down into the metal.

 

Vergil’s so attuned to Verity that he already knows where she is as he rolls them both aside.

 

It’s leaping up even as they’re moving, crashing through where they stood, landing back into the metal with a splash. The other two creatures break off and swim around the corridor, up the walls and the ceiling.

 

Vergil and Verity are up on their feet and moving. The creatures have them on the defensive, constantly making them dodge and roll. It’s hardest on Verity, she doesn’t have Vergil’s moveset and she can’t flash step like he can and he can’t always get to her.

 

One of the creatures gets the drop on her, falling out the ceiling. It doesn’t catch her with its teeth, but it knocks her flying. She’s winded, but she’s scrambling to her feet even as Vergil’s hauling her upright.

 

It tries again and this time Yamato connects. The creature’s injured, but not stopped, as it falls back into the floor.

 

“What the hell are they?” mutters Vergil, flash stepping as it jumps back out again. “How are they going through the wall?”

 

“Interdimensional?” At least, that’s what he thinks Verity says as she backflips past him.

 

He flash steps to her and she quickly pulls up a barrier as one drops out the ceiling again. It hits it with a solid thump, but splashes into the floor. “Not when they’re hitting us.”

 

“Then the timing’s going to be tight, ix-xitan tiegħi,” she says, porting them slightly up the corridor as one tries to attack, jumping out the floor and almost hitting the ceiling.  The creatures are already following.

 

One submerges under the steel and the distortion appears under their feet.

 

They’re already jumping apart as the beast leaps up, trying to snap at Verity as it goes up. She’s already forming a shield over her as it’s coming down.

 

Vergil drops a rain of summoned swords upon her, the force sending her down as hard as the beast’s falling impaled and dying atop her shield. There’s no time for her to recover as another sees its advantage and leaps out.

 

Vergil fires more swords at it and puts his will into a swirl of dark energy that pulls it apart. It also pulls apart Verity’s shield.

 

They look around for the final one and see occasional distortions appearing in the metal, but no beast appears.

 

The pattern so far with nearly everything has been that they’ve aimed at Verity. Rightly or wrongly, they’ve marked her as the weaker prey and so, like all predators, they’ve concentrated on her first.

 

It’s still taunting with distortions without an appearance, but Vergil doesn’t see any reason why it would change its attack pattern.

 

He takes a deep breath and readies his will.

 

The distortions have stopped.

 

Their ragged breathing is the only sound in the corridor.

 

Verity glances at him anxiously, but he doesn’t return it.

 

He doesn’t need to, she’s following his lead and calling up her powers, ready for him.

 

The distortion forms under their feet and they only just edge aside as it bursts out.

 

Vergil works the fastest Judgement Cut he’s ever done and the void is opened.

 

“You’re finished!” they say in unison as the materialised creature falls between dimensions.

 

Verity strikes, her power lashing out in a blue aura that covers the creature and traps it there.

 

The void snaps shut and the creature’s screech is severed.

 

They wait for a moment, their breathing loud and hoarse, filling the corridor.

 

There’s nothing.

 

Vergil pulls her up and they’re both shaking, but for Verity, it’s exhaustion. She can barely stand.

 

“He’s cut off,” says Vergil, grinning, but his smile doesn’t reach his eyes. If he wasn’t holding her up, she’d collapse. She struggles to stop her head dropping on his shoulder. Shifting Yamato to his other hand, he roots in his pocket for a Vital Star.

 

“Take this,” he says, trying to force it in her mouth.

 

She turns her face into his shoulder, hiding her mouth, registering her annoyance with an irritated whine.

 

“You don’t even have the strength to push my hand away,” Vergil scolds. “Stop being ridiculous and just take this.”

 

“Don’t wanna.” She tries to stand, but fails to take her weight. “We need to save those, in case we need them.”

 

Vergil looks at her for a moment, then checks up the corridor to ensure they’re still alone. He places the Star carefully in his mouth, before tilting Verity’s face up to his and locking a hand around the back of her head.

 

He kisses her gently, making sure he’s got the right angle and the right hold, before he crushes the Star with his teeth and pushes it into her mouth.

 

Verity chokes and struggles against him almost immediately, trying to pull away or spit it out, but his hold on her is iron, even when she’s starting to recover as the foul liquid drips down her throat.

 

Vergil’s grunting with pain from some of her kicks, but he holds on, tongue pushing the clear container against her palate until it’s dissolved and there’s no fluid left. He almost thinks she’s going to bite his tongue, her jaw’s so tense.

 

He wants to carry on kissing her into loose limbed compliance, but as he drops his hold on her head, Verity breaks the kiss. He read her right, she’s furious. She’s still grimacing at the taste of the fluid and he’d lick it away if she’d let him, but he needs to get what’s at stake through to her.

 

“I said I was fine!” She snarls. “You had no right to override me!”

 

Vergil looks at her coldly. “Don’t you dare plead your age, Vee. It’s no crime to be inexperienced-“

 

She’s about to protest, but he silences her with a finger. “-but it is when you don’t recognise you’re an amateur and refuse to defer to those who know better.” He brushes a stray lock of hair from her face. “And I do know better. I’ll not permit either of us to die for your pride. I’ll not apologise for keeping us alive.”

 

Vergil’s voice is still hard as his eyes grow warmer and his ice-blue eyes meet her wine-darks. She’s brought her temper under control, if just barely and there’s restrained fury in her voice as she replies, “Rest assured, when I have more proficiency behind me, neither will I.”

 

“Good.” Vergil leans in to kiss her, but Verity turns her head.

 

Vergil drops his arms and steps away.

 

Verity draws herself up to her full height and sweeps past him to the door at the other end of the corridor.

 

Vergil rolls his eyes.

 

***

 

There’s nothing in the next few rooms, but there isn’t any way out of the last one.

 

It’s a large room, with a huge glass window and a raised vent in the middle of the room. It’s every bit as ornate as the corridor and the previous, if empty, room.

 

Vergil looks at the raised vent. “What do you make of this, sabiħa?”

 

Verity shoots him a venomous look. “You return to sweet so soon after sour, qalbi?”

 

“Of all the grudges to hold, is-sbuħija tiegħi, there are better ones,” he says and there’s both amusement and annoyance in his tone. “What do you make of this?”

 

Verity sighs, coming over to him and looking at the vent. “It’s an electrical generator. This entire room can conduct it and this is the origin point. The middle should be non-conductive. I think it’s made of glass or plastic.”

 

Vergil walks over to the window, but he’s not tall enough and there’s nothing he can get purchase on to climb up. “Stand on my shoulders, Vee and tell me what you see.”

 

He crouches down and Verity steps onto his shoulders. Vergil stays close to the wall so she can steady herself against it as he unsteadily rises up. He can hold her weight, but it’s still an effort and he’s not used to holding someone like this.

 

“Don’t stand on your jacket,” says Verity.

 

“Window.”

 

Verity huffs as she looks through. “It’s very thick glass. It’s a good thirty centimetres.”

 

“They definitely want to keep whatever comes in here, in here.”

 

She turns her attention to the room on the other side of the glass. “It’s a huge lab of some kind. It’s very high-level alchemy. It’s above what I’ve studied so far. It looks like jars for the Amina Mercury, but there’s so many of them!”

 

She ducks down as a door opens in the opposite wall. “Get down! It’s Arkham and Lord Scerri! Nine Fucking Hells!”

 

Vergil crouches back down, letting Verity drop. She rolls to break the noise of her fall and looks round in panic at an escape route. She and Vergil both see the ornate maintenance hatches at the same time and grin at each other. She starts trying to undo the hatch and he stops her. “We have no time!”

 

“I’m not porting into a strange place!” she hisses back.

 

They can hear the voices of the men as Arkham asks about a piece of equipment.

 

Verity huffs and cuddles in to Vergil, porting them into the maintenance space.

 

It’s big enough to crawl in, but both of the couple are tall, so it’s a little cramped in there. There’s coloured tape indicating various routes and they follow one that guides them toward the lab. There’s vents all along the passage.

 

They stop at a vent where they can see both the lab and the glass room.

 

“And this is one of our most prized labs. Here, we make the Amina Mercury. It’s also where we have the machinery required to distil the spiritual energy for Our Saviour,” Lord Scerri sweeps his arm around, displaying the room. He pays a particular gesture to a massive piece of apparatus in the centre of the room.

 

“Th-the collections of w-w-hich we saw from the p-p-p-previous room?” asks Agnus. He’s utterly fascinated.

 

“One of Umbrella-Ouroboros’ most prized Special Projects,” says Arius, like a proud father. “And as you will see, a project of such scale, such ambition, you will understand how science will always outperform mere magic, Mr Arkham.”

 

Lord Scerri notes Agnus’ rapt attention, his pen flying across the pages of his notepad so fast, it’s as if the writing is appearing by magic. “I think, perhaps, Mr Arkham, your apprentice will find a stay with our Alchemists most illuminating with regards to the enhancement of his skills.”

 

Agnus lights up, though he tries to hide it from his master. “I-I-I would, i-i-if it p-p-p-pleases you, Mr Arkham.”

 

Arkham looks between the two other men. “Perhaps it would do his education some improvement. I tire of his obsequious mewling.”

 

“I apologise most humbly, My Master, if I displease you.” Agnus bows deep and from the sudden glittering in his eyes, it’s clear he’s stung by Arkham’s words.

 

“I am sure that young Agnus will be an asset to our endeavours,” says Arius. He puts his arm around the young man. “I will take you under my own wing and we will learn so much together!”

 

Agnus looks between Arkham and Arius, but Arius is not truly asking and Arkham knows it. Still, he has no real reason to refuse the request and it doesn’t hinder his plans in the least.

 

“If it is your wish to remain here, I have no objections,” says Arkham, walking around the lab, looking at the Amina Mercuries slowly forming.

 

“Thank you, Master, th-thank you!” Agnus looks like he’s about to prostrate himself before Arkham.

 

Arkham turns away, contempt all over his face. He moves to look closer at the central apparatus.

 

“For all that you criticise ritual and magic, you still need the use of it for your Special Projects, gentlemen.” He meets Lord Scerri’s cool gaze.

 

“Alchemy on an industrial scale such as this, is repeatable and reliable. Magic and ritual, as you have found, sir, is oftimes not,” replies Lord Scerri. “Even the most carefully planned ritual can go awry.”

 

Arkham’s scar flares. “A mistake I shall not make again.”

 

Arkham looks past the apparatus, straight at the vent where Vergil and Verity are concealed.

 

Verity clamps her hand over her mouth and looks in panic at Vergil. He puts a finger over his mouth and shakes his head slightly.

 

“Even magic is subject to the dictates of modernity, Mr Arkham,” says Lord Scerri.

 

“I find that true power is ageless, Lord Scerri,” replies Arkham and it’s a challenge. “And a good spell, gone right the first time, is oftime, all one needs.”

 

“Indeed, sir, ‘tis all in the planning,” agrees Arius. “Far better to spend years laying a plan down and preparation for its implement, as we have found with our facility and the generosity of the Order. One might foresee the circumstances in which a plan may be derailed and design for them.”

 

“Wise words, Lord Arius. You’ll do well to listen to your superior, Lord Scerri,” says Arkham, pointedly. He looks beyond the men, back to the vent. “I found the Collection Room most remarkable. I should like to see it again, so that I might make fresh observations.”

 

This time, it’s Vergil who looks at Verity, mouthing, “Which way?”   

 

“The way they’re going, I suppose,” Verity mouths back. She looks at the coloured tape on the wall and points.

 

Vergil nods and follows her.

 

***

 

They reach the next room at the same time as Lord Scerri and his party.

 

Verity audibly gasps and Vergil has clapped his hand over her mouth before he can think.

 

“What the hell?” he gasps.

 

The room is filled with glass cylinders, connected with tubes to a mechanism that runs to a large glass globe, pulsing with an energy. Another set of tubes seem to be taking the energy out of the globe and out of the room. The wall it cuts through looks like it’s the party wall of this and the previous room.

 

There’s people in the cylinders.

 

Arius keeps talking to Arkham about his plan for the Fortuna facility. The magician nods politely in all the right places. Lord Scerri looks around the room, frowning.

 

Vergil keeps his hand over Verity’s mouth, holding his breath as Lord Scerri leaves the group to look more intently at places where someone could be hiding. He doesn’t come close to the vents.

 

Verity’s gripping onto Vergil’s arm like she’s about to fall off the edge.

 

Vergil’s got a thumb on Yamato’s crossguard, but the room to draw her is limited.

 

Arkham calls back Lord Scerri. “So, this is the raw energy for the Saviour construct?”

 

“It is sir. The distillate from the processing goes to form the Amina Mercuries, as we haven’t yet perfected the artificial process.” Lord Scerri indicates the globe.

 

“Can you meet the energy requirements?” asks Arkham.

 

“We have population management down to a fine art, Mr Arkham,” replies Lord Scerri. “Have no fear on that score.”

 

“Speaking of which, do you have the book I requested?”

 

“Indeed I do, it’s in my office.” Lord Scerri says smoothly. “I must thank you sir, for leading our young lovers to the Castle. A little adventure, I think, will manage to bring the latest member of our population into being.”

 

“It’s been mutually fruitful, Lord Scerri, as long as our aims don’t cross,” replies Arkham. “When can I expect my final piece of the puzzle?”

 

“When we have who we need for our future plans,” says Lord Scerri. “We will have no need of the Son of Sparda when we have confirmation of our goal.”

 

Vergil feels his heart stop. He’s almost afraid to look at Verity.

 

She hasn’t made any connections yet, transfixed as she is with the scene before her.

 

Arkham looks like he’s considering something. “It concerns me that you may not be able to deliver your end of the bargain, Scerri.”

 

“What gives you concern, Mr Arkham?” Asks Lord Scerri. He has all the sincerity of a cat toying with a mouse.

 

“The girl I was meant to be tutoring. The Son of Sparda has developed quite an attachment to her.” Arkham isn’t fooled.

 

“This matter should not trouble you, Mr Arkham. The Order will keep its pact with you.” Lord Scerri strokes his beard, but there’s a coldness in his voice. He’s not used to being questioned and he doesn’t like it. “And we both have alternates, though it may push both our plans back, somewhat.”

 

“Dante and Pinny, yes,” agrees Arkham. “I still wouldn’t underestimate the girl. She and Vergil are a formidable pair. Should my plans be too disturbed, I may come looking for their blood.”

 

Lord Scerri has a tight smile on his face. “That will not be necessary.”

 

“I should like to see him in action against a major threat,” says Arkham. “I’ve been impressed with him so far against smaller prey.”

 

“That can most certainly be arranged, Mr Arkham,” says Lord Scerri. “This is Fortuna. There are always demons in Fortuna.”

 

He gestures for Arkham to proceed him. “Now, let’s get that book.”

 

Vergil and Verity stay frozen for several minutes, until they’re sure that the other party won’t come back. He hasn’t taken his hand from her mouth nor she released her grip on his arm.

 

Vergil can’t speak. He doesn’t remove his hand until Verity tugs it away.

 

It takes her several tries to speak and when she does, her voice is shaky. She looks shocked and horrified, like she’s trying to process what she’s heard. “Do you think they’ve gone?”

 

“I think so.”

 

“I want to see those people. I want to see what they’re doing to them,” she says, panic creeping into her voice.

 

“Vee –“ he begins, but she’s ported them out onto the floor. She’s about to walk over to the rows of cylinders, but Vergil grabs her arms and turns her to face him. She can’t focus on him, but keeps looking at the cylinders and the globe. There’s a growing sense of horror rising up in her and he can see it in her eyes. Her wine-darks can’t hide anything. It’s a legacy from her Arabic heritage.

 

“Verity,” he says sharply, moving a hand from her bicep to her face, forcing her to look at him. He needs to stop it before it overwhelms her. “Vee, look at me.”

 

“It wasn’t meant to be like this,” she whispers. “We were –“

 

Vergil cuts her off. “It doesn’t matter. It is what it is.”

 

She startles at the harshness of his tone. “I-I-“

 

“You wanted to follow me into my world, Vee sabiħa, well here it is.”

 

It’s not his hand on her face that holds her fast, it’s his gaze to hers that pins her in place.

 

It’s almost like Vergil can feel something break inside her and he scarce dares to breathe.

 

Verity bites her lip so much it’s ragged, before letting out a stuttering breath and her voice is thick as she says, “Where you walk, I follow.”

 

He’s heard that line before and even without context, he understands its significance.

 

Vergil kisses her, a quick press and push of lips that she returns.

 

Verity breaks it off first. “I’m going to look more closely at this equipment,” she says, repressing a shudder.

 

She walks around the lab, taking mental notes at the equipment. She follows the tubing back from the globe to one of the cylinders. She examines several of them, trying not to look at the contents.

 

Vergil watches her as she works, quiet and methodical. He stays on alert, hand on Yamato because she’s lost in her own world and as usual, she’s left nothing for her awareness. There could be fifty Angelos closing in on her and she wouldn’t notice.

 

Verity gives a strangled cry and he’s by her side in a flash. Vergil follows her gaze and sees a middle-aged man floating in the cylinder. Her horror-struck face tells him all he needs to know.

 

“I-he’s o-one of my t-tutors,” she says in a small voice. “He was taken ill last week, we weren’t allowed to see him because he was indisposed and not receiving well-wishers.”

 

“You can’t help him. You need to keep to the job at hand.” Vergil’s blunt, perhaps blunter than he should be, but he has a hand on her shoulder to soften his words.

 

“I have what I need,” Verity says and her voice is hard. “I know what they’re doing, but I don’t know why.”

 

She looks Vergil dead in the face and he’s right. Something has broken inside her, leaving her dangerous and sharp several years too soon.

 

“The people in the cylinders are having their life-force drained.”

 

 ***

 

They don’t dally much longer, wanting to get out of the Castle as quickly as possible.

 

As they run through a door that leads them to the outside, the sky is starting to lighten in the east, streaks of cold blue and silver along the top of Lamina Peak, Foris Falls a liquid gunmetal ghost against the dark rock in the silence of the morning. The roar of the Falls is the only sound.

 

Verity looks up at the scene. “I can’t believe that even amongst the horror, there’s still beauty.”

 

Vergil puts his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close and kissing her hair. “A place is just a place. It’s the people in it who make it Heaven or Hell.”

 

She shivers.

 

“If that’s the waterfall, then we must be under your bridge to nowhere, Vee,” says Vergil, pointing up to where it’s jutting out above them.

 

There’s a blue pedestal by the edge of the cliff face and Vergil takes his sword to it. There’s something satisfying about just hitting the living daylights out of something.

 

Qalbi, look!” Verity’s pointing at the sluice at the top of the Falls. They slam down and dam the flow, leaving the cliffs bare. “Is that a cave?”

 

A mechanism begins to turn and a runner with a walkway slides out and connects with the stone.

 

“I’m not going back through all that Castle,” says Verity. “I’d kick Sparda in the balls first.”

 

Vergil laughs. “We don’t know how long the bridge will be out for anyway. Are you able to port us?”

 

“Soon find out,” she says as she begins to form a glyph and then they’re on the lip of the bridge.

 

Vergil takes her hand and they run through into the cave. They’re only a couple of metres in when the bridge retracts and the entrance in cut off by the Falls.

 

Verity stops abruptly and Vergil turns to see what’s wrong. He wonders if it’s about to hit her and he readies to pull her close.

 

“Arkham was talking about us. He called you the Son of Sparda.” Verity pulls her hand away. “I don’t even know your real surname.”

 

She looks at him and the expression on her face stabs Vergil through the heart.

 

“Who are you, really?”

Chapter Text

Fortuna 7 months previously

 

“Can’t we just cry off tonight? Plead your indisposition?” Credo says in annoyance as he searches for the back of the cuff link. It’s fell down the back of the counter after bouncing out the trinket bowl when he threw it there. “I’ve no desire to breathe the same air as that bastard, much less eat his food.”

 

“I daresay Edith shares your view, but she needs to know her friends are there, no matter how limited their capacity.” The water sloshes as Violet turns around to watch him.

 

He abandons the search for the errant jewellery and finishes undressing. “Move over. For one so slight, you’ve appropriated the entire bath.”

 

Violet moves over carefully, so the already full bath doesn’t overflow as Credo steps cautiously in and sits at the end. He visibly relaxes in the hot water and then holds out his arms for her. Violet slides back over to him and settles against him.

 

“L-anġlu sabiħ tiegħi,” she says as she rests against his massive chest.

 

She feels Credo smile against her hair as he takes out her butterfly clip and sets it on the side. Violet’s already brought the shower head over with her.

 

His finger tips ghost over her jaw. “How did it go? You were on the Mainland for longer than usual.”

 

“There was a slight problem with one of the wires. They were having problems aligning the top arch bar. We’re discussing next time using a new technique to encourage bone growth extra to the site of the graft.” Violet turns onto her knees. “And this side has shown no re-absorption.”

 

She smiles wide, showing the wires and posts on her teeth. “If it keeps up, I might be able to get the bands off and actually chew food.”

 

Credo can’t help but return her grin. “Can you remember ever being able to eat properly?”

 

“You know I can’t. It’ll be so strange.”

 

Credo taps her shoulder. “Shampoo bar.”

 

Violet huffs and reaches past him to pass him a white bar of soap. Credo gives it a quick smell. “Honey and almond?”

 

 “I know you like it and it was from that new traditional crafts shop, so we’re supporting local business.” She wriggles happily against him as he wets her hair and begins working up a lather, rubbing the bar against her hair as it rests in his hand. He lies the strands over his shoulder to keep them out the water. Credo massages her head and plays with Violet’s hair far longer than he needs to, but it’s worth it as she relaxes against him with a sigh.

 

“You do love playing with my hair.”

 

“You’ll forgive my indulgence, Madam, for I’ve been denied this pleasure this last fortnight,” replies Credo. He rinses it off, careful to monitor the level in the bath, then picks up another bar with the same smell. “Conditioner?”

 

Violet nods and Credo repeats the steps with it. He takes even longer this time as the conditioner can stay in her hair for the rest of the bath. “I think I can honestly say I’ve never met a man with such a fascination for my hair.”

 

“You have beautiful hair.” He kisses the top of her head and promptly regrets it with the taste of the slime on his lips. “it’s easily your best feature, besides your eyes.”

 

She turns round in indignation. “And so the rest of me is chopped liver? Should I shave it off so you can have a wig and I’ll take myself back to the Mainland?”

 

Credo carefully twists the hair back into a chignon and secures it with the butterfly clip. His hands rest on her shoulders. “The true beauty of the hair lies in the woman it’s attached to.”

 

Her eyes flick to the clock on the wall and then back to Credo. His breathing’s changed, it’s shallower. Violet picks up the cloth and washes the parts of his body above the water, slowly and carefully. She traces the lines of his face with the cloth. Credo’s hands have dropped to her back, to rest on the scars there. They’re raised and angry underneath his hands.

 

She washes and rinses his hair just as slowly and fluffs it up so it waves around his face. It softens his severe features.

 

Violet takes the cloth again and runs it over his chest and stomach. She goes slow, outlining the muscles as the rough cloth traces along them. Credo shifts under her touch, sitting up a little straighter and arms a little tighter around her back.

 

For his part, his fingers ghost gently along the lines and jagged corners of the scars on her back. The maze they form wanders across the sensitive areas of her back and Violet trembles a little. She bites her lip slightly, so Credo concentrates his touch there. He experiments with light fingertips tracing the labyrinth puzzle she’s been left with on her skin and heavy strokes to alternate broad sweeps across her back.

 

Her back arches under his touch and her already dark eyes are liquid with desire.

 

She doesn’t stop washing him with the cloth, his breathing stuttering as it rubs over his obliques, his abs. Credo’s tall and built like a Greek God with a body made for worship.

 

They tease each other for a while, knowing exactly what brings the other pleasure and still finding joy in it after all this time.

 

His hands keep tantalising her body while Violet kisses along his face, dragging the tip of her tongue over his cheekbones and leaving tiny nibbles along the line of his jaw, just little nips of pressure leading up to his ears and over his throat.

 

One of Credo’s strong hands reaches across her low back and takes hold of the opposite hip crest there, across the top of the latest scar. He anchors her down with a firm hold and drops the other hand into the crease of her thighs, so near, but not touching her clit or up inside her sex yet.

 

He knows she’s sensitive here and he’ll get a good reaction as he tickles between the thigh and lips and tormentingly over her asshole. He’s right, it sets her right off her stride and she cries out, breaking off her little teases and resting her forehead on his shoulder as she tries to compose herself. Credo smiles against Violet’s cheek at her reaction.

 

Her hand’s in his hair and she’s gripping hard. It does hurt, he won’t deny that, but it’s a good hurt.

 

She recovers herself and begins slowly rubbing Credo’s dick with the cloth. It’s a deliciously rough sensation from the usual firm pump of her hand and she can’t tickle and nibble at it the way she normally would. Credo’s teasing stutters to a stop and he grips her thigh.

 

It’s Violet who gives her little sideways smile as Credo’s been derailed. She puts her lips to use by kissing over his face again.

 

Credo surprises her by lifting her up with both hands spanning her waist and running his legs under hers, so Violet’s now sitting on his thighs, rather than in between them. She makes a sound somewhere between a sob and a moan as he lifts her over. He sets her back down, his muscular thighs forcing her legs open and leaving her sex unguarded.

 

He’s fully hard now and Violet’s always impressed by his size, even after all these years. He tries to stay her, slow her down a little, but Violet’s having none of it. Credo pulls back to watch her face as she mounts him. It’s hard for him to control his shivers and his moans as her tight cunny envelopes him, but he does to see her shake hard and bite her lip as there’s suddenly too much sensation in a such delicate area. She always takes a moment, panting through the pressure and adjusting to him so deep within her.

 

Violet’s head drops back to his shoulder and she whispers his name between broken moans that sends shivers down his spine. One arm rests on her shoulders to keep her there and that soft spoken mouth next to his ear. His other hand intertwines with hers and he brings it up to his lips and kisses it.

 

She’s slumped against him, thighs trembling with the pressure against her intimate nerves and panting hard with the effort.

 

“Alright, it-teżor tiegħi?” he whispers.

 

Violet nods.

 

And then she moves.

 

Credo grips her hand and her shoulders tight, so she’s not able to raise herself up along his shaft. She can roll and rock her hips, though and so she does, body trembling even harder. Credo’s not sure how she hasn’t shaken herself to pieces.

 

He’s not sure how he’s not combusted as his shaft is gripped within her hot, pliant core. The bath water’s warm and silken against his skin as the sensations flare out and over him. He’s so aware of her body against his as the eddies from her movement caress their skin, he feels almost like they’re dissolving into each other.

 

Credo can feel tremors and pulses start to run along his length as Violet’s body begins its build-up towards her climax and Credo knows it’ll set him off too.

 

Her hips rock him hard as she tries to build up more friction along his length and nudge her clit against his pubic bone. He knows by the way she’s moving that she isn’t thinking any more, isn’t planning how she’ll do this or try to spin it out.

 

She’s just a wanton ball of aching need as she grinds against him. The way she’s brokenly sighing into his shoulder tells him she’s desperate to come. She’s frantic and beautiful and his and it makes his heart clench that she’s here and he’s the reason she’s like that, that it’s his body that’s the vehicle for so much pleasure and he tells her this, all of it, his rough, low voice, rumbling through his body to hers.

 

She’s moaning wordlessly now and it’s a harsh, ragged, sound that’s tearing itself from her throat. The tremors are rippling along her cunt faster and harder now and the pulses more rhythmic. Credo doesn’t want for it to end, but he knows Violet’s very, very close.

 

There’s a strangled sob of “Credo!” and she nearly tears his hair out by the roots as everything in her body tightens. The tremors caressing his dick turn into full fledged spasms that grip him tightly and sweetly.

 

She’s still running on as Credo comes with an explosion of light and sensation behind his eyes.

 

They stay like that until the water’s cooled enough it’s starting to chill them both. Credo rinses the conditioner out Violet’s hair with shaky arms and she nuzzles into his touch. She still looks a fucked-out mess and he’s glad he’s walking into Falzon’s party with his woman’s face flushed and shining fresh from the bedroom.

 

Falzon will pick up on it and it’ll irk him no end that he’s not putting that look up on Edith’s face.

 

Violet pulls the plug and nearly falls out the bath, her legs are so wobbly and Credo doesn’t even bother to hide his smirk.

 

Not that his own legs are any better. Violet throws him a towel and he nearly falls back in the bath.

 

 “Has Kyrie come home yet?” he asks.

 

“Credo, it’s only 6pm. She’ll just be finishing her shift at the refugee centre and her, Nero, Josh and that Somali refugee Josh is keen on will probably go out for dinner.” Violet points out. “It’s not like there’s going to be anyone here.”

 

“What were they doing today?” Credo asks, his mouth thin with disapproval.

 

“Taking the kids from the refugee centre for a picnic at the Forgotten Church, so they’d have shelter if it rained. Teaches the kids their new history as well. Xaali - I think that’s her name - was the translator. Poor thing will be starving if Josh has made the picnic.” She wriggles into an over the bust corset. “Lace me up. They’re teenagers, Credo. This isn’t the easiest place to be young. Let them have some fun.”

 

“So many of our children got their start at those ruins and I’d prefer it if my niece or nephew wasn’t one of them.“ Credo expertly laces Violet into her corset. “What did Josh do?”

 

“Made her cheese and ham sandwiches because he didn’t know that Muslims don’t eat pork. You’re only delaying the inevitable. Kyrie set her cap for Nero when she was five and you should know by now that when a woman gets the bit between her teeth, you either get up on the carriage or out of the way.” Violet steps into her dress and turns for Credo to zip her up.

 

“And what of us? Can that be said for us?” Credo pulls on silk breeches and fastens them. “I haven’t had an answer yet.”

 

Violet rolls her eyes in exasperation. “I will not be entertainment for Peter Falzon. You know he’ll get the Faith Committee to decree that the whole night be witnessed for the sake of ‘legitimacy.’ ”

 

Credo’s found another set of cufflinks and he holds them out with his sleeves for her to do them up. “Remember when these were my Courting Gift from you? You thought the Master’s Chamber worth it then.”

 

“How dare you cast that up to me, Credo.” She glares at him. “If we’d been allowed to adopt Nero, I would have slept with the whole damn Faith Committee in that bedroom.”

 

Violet tugs Credo’s sleeves together more roughly than she should as she pins the cufflinks through. “You know more than anyone what I’ve suffered for this family. You, Kyrie, Nero are the only reasons I’m still here.”

 

Credo catches her hands and pulls her close, kissing her carefully. “I’m sorry, qalb ta’ qalbi. I shouldn’t have said that. Did you look at those brochures from those Mainland clinics?”

 

“Yes,” she replies. “I need to think about it.”

 

***

 

“Must we?” Credo looks at Falzon’s house and then back at Violet.

 

“Credo!” she snaps.

 

“I really don’t think I can sit and make polite conversation over dinner, all the while knowing what that monster has done.” Credo says softly.

 

“He’s done many things, Credo. This is no different. Objectionable, but no different.” Violet sorts his ascot and checks his waistcoat. There’s nothing to sort, but she just needs the motion.

 

“I’m culpable in so much of it,” he replies. “This is just the latest incident.”

 

“Credo, ħanini. He knows how to use the law. There was nothing you could have done,” says Violet.

 

The door opens and Falzon has his most unctuous smile, Edith Buhagiar on his arm. She looks like a robot, face carefully blank. Her eyes meet Violet’s and that’s the only place where there’s any life.

 

In a veiled face, only the eyes can speak.

 

Violet wonders what hers are saying.

 

“Credo, Violet, dear friends, do come in,” Falzon says, ever the genial host. He takes the wine Credo offers. “Ah, Credo, one of your own Cassars?”

 

“Only the best for you and your new situation, Peter,” says Credo, through gritted teeth. Violet elbows him.

 

Credo does his best to pretend to smile.

 

Falzon’s maid takes their jackets and they walk through to Peter’s living room. “Your Holiness,” says Credo as he and Violet bow to Sanctus.

 

“Credo, Violet. So good of you to come,” replies Sanctus. “You know everyone here, except for a new member of our Executive, Gloria LaSalle.”

 

He indicates a woman sitting on his left. Credo nearly chokes. She’s flamboyant and unashamedly sexual and Credo doesn’t know where to look.

 

The woman herself seems to home in on his discomfort and makes a bee-line for him. She’s wearing a white lace catsuit and skyscraper heels. It’s barely there with just lace and crystals in strategic areas. “My Lord Supreme General!” she says in a voice more oily than Falzon’s. “I’m delighted to meet you at last! I’ve heard so much about you!”

 

She takes his hand and almost wraps herself around him, all hips and tits as she sashays over to him. Still holding his hand she takes the back of hers up to his lips, forcing him to kiss the back of it. He tries to drop it and politely disentangle himself, but Gloria is determined to stay attached.

 

“You do live up to your advertising,” she says, still holding his hand and draped all over him. Credo is bright red and trying to carry on a polite conversation with her, while not looking at her and not looking away.

 

The other wives are looking at her like they want to burn the witch and try to steer their husbands away. A murmur of paguna fil-qasam tat-tiġieġ runs round the room.

 

Gloria for her part, clearly doesn’t care about the stir she’s causing and neither does Falzon. He merely looks quietly amused at this little tableau.

 

Gloria is running her hand on Credo’s chest, complimenting him on how he fills his suit, because it can be so hard for muscular men to buy suits. Credo is scarlet and tries to extricate himself politely, though clearly he’s dying to cast her off, but can’t do so courteously in company.

 

He looks to Violet for help, but she’s gone to talk to General Agius. She’s waylaid en route by another member of the executive.

 

“Praise be to the Saviour that Agnus chose not to come,” says Alchemist Calleja, looking at Gloria’s fawning over Credo and General Calleja. She’s currently demonstrating some of the finer principles of fighting with her weapon. “I have no idea how you can work with that man.”

 

“I manage to find enough to keep him busy, but something came into our possession in the last few days,” says Violet. “Sparda’s Balls, she’s flexible.”

 

“Is it juicy Violet? I’d put up with that…man for the opportunity to work with the Special Projects you have access to.” Lady Calleja looks at Gloria. “What did she just do?”

 

“It’s indeed juicy and you aren’t on the team dealing with it, so don’t ask any more. I can’t discuss it.” They tilt their heads at Gloria. “She must have been a gymnast. That’s quite an acrobatic move. Oh. I don’t think she intended that reaction.”

 

Lady Calleja’s face goes tight, whether at Violet’s refusal to engage or her husband’s wandering hands, Violet isn’t sure. “Well, we can’t all use our husband’s connections to advance. Oh, I’m sorry, you’re a glorified Ladybird, not a wife.”

 

Violet merely smiles her little smile. “I don’t need to use any connections to advance, My Lady. Not even yours could get you any further, could they?”

 

Credo’s watching them, while trying to ignore Gloria, who’s trying more for his attention than General Calleja’s.

 

He notices that for all her fawning, Gloria’s watching them too.

 

“Madam Buhagiar,” says Violet, loud enough to be heard by Edith. “In your previous marriage I don’t imagine you had to cater for such a large company. I have considerable experience in that regard. Would you consider me remiss if I offered you the benefit of it?”

 

Sanctus looks approvingly at Violet and then back to Credo. “If only you could persuade her to become Lady Micellef, she’d be perfect.”

 

“It’s not for the want of trying, Your Holiness,” replies Credo, trying to remove Gloria’s leg from atop his.

 

“I do love a true romantic,” laughs Gloria. She tugs Credo’s beard. “You’re making me so sad a delicious hunk of a man like you is off the market.”

 

Credo’s got a long suffering look on his face as he removes Gloria’s hand from his beard.

 

Falzon indicates to Violet that she should speak to Edith. “I’m sure she should find the benefit of your experience invaluable.”

 

Violet inclines her head to Falzon and goes through to the kitchen where Edith supervising the maids in there. “Of course, pasta is a better bet for such large company.”

 

Edith flies into Violet’s arms when she hears her voice. The women embrace and Edith tries not to let anyone see her face crumple. The staff turn down the meal and discretely leave the kitchen.

 

“Oh, Violet!” Edith sobs. “If it wasn’t for the children-“

 

“Hush,” says Violet, wiping Edith’s tears. “Did you get the speech? He can be a very good husband or a very bad one, the choice is yours?”

 

“Don’t tell me this is a blessing for me, I’ve risen far more than I’ve any right to,” says Edith, brokenly.

 

“Lady Calleja?”

 

“How’d you know?”

 

“It sounds like something she would say,” says Gloria sashaying into the kitchen. She holds out her hand, but she’s toned down the flirting a notch.

 

Edith and Violet break off their hug and shake it.

 

“She blames me for not getting promoted,” says Violet. “You want a hand to get dinner ready, Edith?”

 

“I think she’s more to blame than you,” says Gloria. “She’s extremely unpleasant and I’ve only known her these last few days.”

 

“No, she’s right. I tell people not to use her because she’s a bitch,” says Violet, picking up a pot to drain.

 

Despite herself, Edith laughs and Gloria joins in.

 

“Sit over there,” says Edith. “You wouldn’t want to get your pantaloons wet.”

 

“They’re not pantaloons,” says Violet. “It’s a catsuit. They’re popular on the Mainland.”

 

“You’d suit one, Lady Micellef,” says Gloria.

 

“Wouldn’t I suit one?” demands Edith, laughing.

 

“I think you’re a bit too voluptuous, Lady Falzon,” Gloria says tactfully.

 

“I think Madam LaSalle is saying that you’ve got a fat arse, Madam Buhagiar,” says Violet, lightly, but there’s a warning in her tone. She pulls down a colander to drain the potatoes.

 

Edith turns away to stir a pan, hiding her tears. “And you’re so skinny you’ll slip down the drainpipes, Madam Alighieri.”

 

“That’s her way of saying I look like a boy, Madam LaSalle,” says Violet, mock mournfully. “I’ve never had the kind of figure that turns heads.”

 

“Now, there’s a lie, it-teżor tiegħi,” says Credo, coming into the kitchen and wrapping his arms around Violet, licking up the side of her neck. She hasn’t heard him come in and jumps, dropping the pot. Luckily, it’s just into the sink and the colander catches everything.

 

“Credo! I damn near scalded the pair of us!” she snaps. “Are you fucking drunk? Grabbing me like that when I’m cooking?”

 

Credo lets her go instantly and tries to help Violet pick up the potatoes from the sink, but his Order Ring catches on the rim of the colander and tips everything out.

 

“Godspit and shit! Just put it down! What did you want anyway?”

 

“I-I only came in for another bottle of wine – I-“ he stutters.

 

Gloria delicately hands him a bottle of wine, amusement in her bright blue eyes.

 

Credo goes scarlet, bows and marches back through.

 

“We could just have talked about periods,” says Gloria. “He’s too sweet to shout at.”

 

“He is, but I’m annoyed at him. He’s flirting with me to send you a message,” says Violet, rescuing the potatoes. She casts a glance back through to the living room. “Falzon and Sanctus are looking through here and conferring, aren’t they?”

 

“Quite a few people are looking back in here and conferring. Lady Calleja is one of them.” Edith takes the pot from Violet. “Call the staff back in.”

 

“I’ll get them,” says Gloria, sashaying to the door, but there’s less wiggle than when she’s got male eyes on her.

 

“I’d hit it,” says Violet, staring after her. “Twosome, threesome, foursome, not fussy.”

 

Edith nearly chokes. “Credo’s no innocent in that regard.”

 

“Down girl, you’ve had your shot.”

 

They giggle and just for a second, Edith’s forgotten her situation.

 

The maids come back in and Violet takes charge of the kitchen.

 

Edith doesn’t look so alone, especially as Gloria stays in the kitchen and chats.

 

The first few courses pass without incident, as Violet walks Edith through the finer points of catering a High Order dinner.

 

Sanctus watches approvingly.

 

Falzon just watches.

 

“So, even a man’s title changes when he has children?” asks Gloria. “I’ve never heard of that before.”

 

“Children are that important within our culture, Gloria,” says General Agius. “Life is precarious on this island. We’ve resisted much mechanisation and the principal industries are extremely dangerous. That’s even without the demons that range here.”

 

Iż-żwieġ mingħajr tarbija ma fihx tgawdija," says Lady Calleja. “Don’t you agree, Edith?”

 

“My children are my treasures,” says Edith to her plate. Her voice and face are carefully blank.

 

Gloria looks to Violet, who translates for her - a childless marriage cannot be a happy one

 

Gloria and Falzon see everyone’s eyes flick to Credo. He looks down at his plate. “Mine and Violet’s struggle to become parents is not fodder for your gossip, Lady Calleja,” he says, quietly, clearly, coldly and no one at the table is in any doubt as to why Credo is Supreme General of the Holy Knights.

 

Lord Calleja hushes his wife, who gives the most insincere apology anyone’s ever heard.

 

Violet switches out her water for wine and a muscle in Credo’s jaw tightens. However, he doesn’t stop her.

 

“I would have known motherhood and marriage these 7 years hence, had I been permitted to adopt Nero Balzan,” says Violet, knocking back the glass and facing down everyone at the table. “And not been subjected to my third Witch Trial because Dorcas and Alexander Micellef’s Ascension went wrong. If it wasn’t for them, I’d never have had a hand in raising Kyrie and Nero at all. That’s the closest to motherhood I’ve ever got.”

 

She knocks back a second glass. “Half the people round this table are the reason I don’t have children. I’m still here because I love this man and because I believe in the dreams of His Holiness.”

 

Lady Calleja can’t help herself. “It’s witchcraft that’s got you that man in the first place and your job, so if I had a hand in your Trials, I’m glad!”

 

“Well, I was pregnant for the last one, so thanks for that.” Violet knocks back another couple of glasses. “And at least I now know who my accuser was.”

 

There’s a horrified silence around the table. Credo’s hand squeezes his glass so tight, he crushes it.

 

“Madam Alighieri,” says Sanctus. “I have never doubted your loyalty to Our Saviour and this Order. I am mortally wounded that High Order Members from Old Families abused our laws for petty revenges. Your service to Fortuna and your support of Lord Micellef has been the major reason our aims have advanced thus far. Chief Alchemist Agnus holds you in the highest esteem and has deemed you invaluable to his work.”

 

“No – I never meant – I didn’t know – Peter, help me!” Lady Calleja looks round desperately as all eyes fall on her. Even her husband is shying away from her. “I only did what you asked! Peter!”

 

“I merely enacted the laws based upon the evidence you presented me with, Lady Calleja,” replies Falzon, sipping his wine. “I never believed the charges levied against Violet and I resented that you used me to settle your petty jealousies, when you had the good fortune to accept a Courting Suit from General Calleja, once Credo had rejected yours.”

 

“Your actions shame us all,” says Sanctus. “I wonder if your Envy, Hatred and Pride have not possessed you and driven your actions. I wonder if a Trial of Possession might not be in order to purify you of these evils. What say you, Violet? You’ve been sinned against after all.”

 

Everyone at the table is transfixed.

 

Violet reaches for Credo’s hand and he kisses it. They look between each other.

 

General Calleja tenses. Credo is within his rights to challenge him to a duel and he knows he’ll lose it.

 

Credo leans over and kisses Violet on the lips. She nods as he pulls away.

 

“I will leave all judgements in your hands, Your Holiness, as the representative of the Saviour,” says Violet.

 

General Calleja releases his breath.

 

Sanctus looks at Falzon. He nods.

 

“Lord Calleja, bring Lady Calleja to the Office of the Committee for the Protection of the Faith on the morrow,” says Falzon. He looks across to Violet, who’s keeping her face decidedly solemn and demure. His eyes are calculating. He knows exactly what’s happened. “You are indeed most gracious, Madam Alighieri.”

 

Lady Calleja starts screaming and pleading, when there’s a knock on the door and a young Knight runs in a with a panicked look.

 

“Lord Micellef, Lord Agius,” he pants, he’s run all the way from the Infirmary. “There’s been a demon attack at the Ruined Church…the Knight Escort repelled them, but they took heavy casualties.”

 

Agius pales and dashes off without taking his leave.

 

“Nero, Kyrie,” Violet gasps in horror, grasping for Credo’s hand.

 

He’s on his feet as fast as she is. “I’ll report back as soon as possible, Your Holiness.”

 

“Go, go,” agrees Sanctus.

 

“Credo, move!” says Violet desperately.

 

The party empties out not far behind them, including Falzon and Sanctus.

 

Gloria and Edith are left sitting at the table.

 

“Dessert?” asks Edith.

 

“I’d love it,” replies Gloria. She pauses and Edith catches it.

 

“What do you want to know?” asks Edith. “This will be your only chance.”

 

“Where’s his secret room and how do I get in it?” asks Gloria.

 

Edith smiles darkly and stands up. “Come with me.”

Chapter Text

Fortuna, two decades ago

 

“How could you not have told me?” snarls Verity as she storms through the gate.

 

“It wasn’t important and then it was and I didn’t know how to tell you! Vee!” Vergil catches up with her and grabs her arm. “Vee!”

 

“ ‘My name is Vergil Sparda and my father is the demon you worship.’ Wasn’t exactly hard.” Verity is actually crying with rage, she’s so incensed. “You managed to give me your first name.”

 

“You’re lucky you got that! I wasn’t going to tell you anything -“

 

“I’m not a damned hedge-whore! Is that what you think of me? I’m sorry you didn’t get your money’s worth then!” She fires back. “Sweet words and a nasty tongue! Was this all a game to you? To make a slut of me?”

 

She breaks free from his hold.

 

“After what you said about my father how was I supposed to tell you? The implications about my mother?” Vergil growls at her retreating back, rushing to keep up with her. “Don’t you walk away from me, Verity Agius. I’m trying to talk to you, you foolish little wench. Verity!”

 

“Stay away from me, Vergil! Treating me as nothing but a dalliance! I wouldn’t have minded if you’d been honest! I’d have been fine with a dalliance if you’d never made out this was anything different!”

 

“I never lied, not once. I meant every word, Verity. Every. Blasted. Word.”

 

He’s nearly able to grab her as she reaches the door.

 

“ ‘ I’d go through Hell for you,’ “ she mimics, avoiding his hand with a quick pirouette.

 

He feels it as she opens the door and time slows.

 

“Verity, no!” 

 

The anger in her face switching to terror as she steps into it.

 

“Stop! Vee!”

 

The spell triggers instantly.

 

“Vergil, I don’t feel very well,” Verity says before she collapses.

 

He’s by her side before she hits the ground and she’s dead weight in his arms. Vergil lowers them both to the ground, leaning her against his knee.

 

“Vee, Vee,” he says uselessly, brushing the hair back from her face. Her lips are going blue. “No, no, no. What spell is it? How’d I break it?”

 

Verity swallows, then groans in pain. Her skin is cold and clammy, like she’s bleeding out and she’s breathing shallowly. She’s shivering so hard that she feels like she’s going to come apart in his arms and he unconsciously holds her tighter.

 

“No, no, stay with me, Vee, stay with me,” he says and he’s aware how young he sounds. He digs through his pockets and hauls out several vital stars, dumping them on the ground. He crashes the first one against her teeth and even as she gags, it rallies her temporarily and she’s able to speak.

 

“It hurts,” she sobs. “I’m being torn apart. Don’t go, please don’t go.”

 

Her fingers dig into his arm, but he doesn't notice.

 

“What spell is it?” he asks her desperately as she clutches her head with a scream that’s muffled by his chest. “Vee, sabiħa, I won’t leave you, I won’t go. Tell me the spell.”

 

“I don’t know, I don’t,” she pants, tears streaming. She makes a sharp cry that tears at his heart and convulses. “I feel cold, so cold. Please don’t go, Vergil, ħanini. I’m scared, I’m scared.” 

 

Verity’s breathing is raspy, laboured and he’s heard that before and it terrifies him.

 

And then it hits him.

 

Where he’s felt this malignant pulse and throb of power.

 

The realisation makes him sick, but maybe, just maybe, he can save her.

 

She’s losing it again, breath getting shallower and he crushes another star against her teeth.

 

“Just as well you had me pick them up, Mr Redgrave,” she says weakly.

 

“I know you so well already, Miss Agius,” he says, trying to make light of it, kissing her. “It’s the spell from the Castle.”

 

Verity looks Vergil dead in the eye and begins to shakily unbuckle her belt, but her hands can’t grip the ends properly. They’re trembling too hard and she doesn’t have any strength in her grip.

 

Vergil takes several deep breaths before closing his eyes and nodding.

 

He reaches for her belt and quickly undoes it, giving her a gentle, sad kiss on her lips, he can feel the tears begin to sting his eyes.

 

“Not like this,” he whispers, and the tears fall. “I didn’t want you like this.”

 

“I don’t care,” she whispers brokenly. “I don’t want to die. Just do it.”

 

He’s got her unbuckled now and she’s trying to help as much as she can to pull them down her legs, but she’s shivering with the cold and her body spasms with the pain. She’s starting to fade again and he cracks another of the vital stars against her teeth.

 

Verity can barely breathe with the pain she’s in and Vergil reaches down to at least get her wet, rubbing her clit the way she showed him the day before – Godspit and shit, it wasn’t even twenty-four hours ago – but Verity grasps his wrist and pulls his hand away.

 

“I don’t have time.”

 

She drops his hand and pulls at his zip, trying to get her fingers inside to pull his dick out, but she’s not used to it and can’t find the hole in the flap of his boxers.

 

Vergil catches her hand and pulls it away, kissing it quickly, before pulling his cock out. It’s limp and he pumps it to bring the blood to it.

 

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, not now,” he mutters over Verity’s, pained, ragged breathing. He tries to pretend she’s gasping with desire, but he can’t fool himself, not when she knows that she’s dying. He can see it in the pallor of her face and the blue of her lips, her unvarnished fingernails. The bruising on her face is livid against her pale, cold skin.

 

“What is it?” she stutters out, seeing his face. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I can’t, it won’t. God, Verity, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Vergil’s heart is breaking, not again. He’s losing the woman he loves. Not again, oh God, not again. He kisses her, hard and deep and slow and her lips are cold, so cold.

 

Verity pulls away.

 

“There’s no way in all the Nine Fucking Hells I’m dying here,” she grits out, but there’s steel under all the agony. “Do what you need to, just fuck me, but get it done quick. I don’t have time for…I don’t have time.”

 

Her voice trails off with the effort and she digs in her pocket for a vital star, but her hands are trembling too much and she drops it. It shatters on the stone floor and she’s somehow still got the breath to curse, “Sparda’s Balls!”

 

He can’t help it. He starts laughing and she giggles along with him, before spasming and crying out.

 

“Not the most appropriate curse under the circumstances, Miss Agius,” he tries to joke as he gropes around in her pocket for a vital star. “No wonder I’ve stage fright.”

 

“I’m thinking you don’t love me,” she gasps, trying to smile, but grimacing instead. “Wasn’t that what Lord Scerri said?”

 

 He finds the star and shatters it into her mouth. She chokes on it, but rallies, just a little.

 

“It’s not working the same,” she pants. “If you’ve got a trick up your sleeve, now’s a good time.”

 

Vergil positions himself between her legs and places his limp cock at her entrance, he’s breaking inside at what he’s going to do.

 

He looks at her, entreating permission. He wraps a hand around both her wrists, gripping hard.

 

She nods, even though she has no idea what he’s about to do to her.

 

“What’s Fortunese for I love you?”

 

Inħobbok,” she replies, looking even more frightened, but resolute.

 

“Inħobbok, il-Vee sabiħa tiegħi,” he tells her and he devil triggers.

 

He goes fully hard as he does so and thrusts.

 

Her cunt feels like it’s splitting in two as he pushes in hard and the agony in her virgin muscles overrides everything else. She screams and he’s not sure if it’s the monster atop her or the act itself. Her shriek echoes round the church, ringing in his ears long after it’s died down.

 

Vergil keeps going, setting up a brutal rhythm. He’s never fucked in devil trigger, never been close enough to any woman and now he is, but it’s like this and the knowledge makes him feel heartbroken.

 

Verity is sobbing as he thrusts into her, dark hair catching on the stone floor as her head moves with the force of his rhythm. Cruel as it is, she’s revived a little with the pain that’s ripping through her body. Her hands are balled into fists and she’s driven her nails into her palms so hard he’d smell the blood even if it wasn’t dripping onto the stone floor.

 

It seems to excite the spell, draw it back a little. It’s still dark and powerful, but it’s not drawing her life-force from her the way it was. He’s glad of that, in human form, Vergil’s got stamina and he hates to think how long it’ll take in demon form. He’s terrified the spell will outlast him and Verity dies. He’s not sure how many vital stars they have left, even with the extra he made her pick up in the Castle.

 

The fear makes him drive home ever harder into her sensitive core, trying to hurt Verity as much as he can. Bruises heal, he tells himself, dead people don’t.

 

He’s going to rend asunder whoever set this abomination. This should have been an act of love, their first time, her first time, not this, never this.

 

This is something unholy and profane. He’s committing blasphemy against her body and her soul and her heart. He has no idea how she’ll ever look at him again.

 

It doesn’t occur to him that he’s been sinned against as much as her. A malevolence has been perpetrated against him also.

 

He’s trying to enjoy the sensations from his dick, from the feel of her body being forced to yield under him, the dark, demonic, masculine desire to possess and conquer his woman as she writhes and gasps underneath him.

 

He can’t.

 

God in Heaven, he just wants to come so he can end this torture.

 

She’s flagging and he lets her wrists go to scrabble in their pockets for more stars, even though he’s worried she’ll try and push him off.

 

Verity doesn’t, instead wrapping her arms around him and pulling him tight against her, her hands running over his face and the double crest on his head. She only breaks her caress to smash a vital star against her teeth.

 

She’s not pushing him away. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it makes this hellish act more palatable.

 

She’s not pushing him away.

 

It reminds him though, she’s still hurting, still dying and he renews his efforts. She’s paler than ever and her lips are stone cold, like a corpse.

 

Their eyes meet and he can see she knows.

 

Knows she’s not going to make it.

 

Vergil moves faster, driving into her tight, tense core, pain wracking her body. He tries to build as much sensation as he can. He can feel the pressure in his back and in his balls start to build, finally

 

She reaches for another vital star, but her hand scrabbles uselessly, frantically, empty.

 

The vital stars are gone.

 

No, no. God no.

 

Vergil tries not to break his rhythm, tries to think – detrigger for his pockets or keep going?

 

“Must be the only time an early finish is a virtue,” he hears her stutter, weak half smile, before she’s wracked by a convulsion.

 

Vergil keeps going, pulling her hair, scratching her flesh, anything he can think of to hurt her, keep her awake.

 

It isn’t working and she’s fading. No, no, no.

 

PleasenoVerity.

 

“Those last words are awful,” he tries to be light, make a joke, but his voice catches in his throat.

 

The pressure’s building to tingles in his spine and connecting up to his balls, his dick. Oh thank god, finally. Just hurry, please god, just hurry. You owe me one, you bastard, you stole my mother, you can give me my Mate.

 

She runs her fingers over his face, a ghost light touch that burns into his skin as it passes, id-xitan sabiħ tiegħi he thinks he hears her breathe through lips that barely move.

 

The light goes from her eyes and they close. Her breathing’s so light, it’s barely there.

 

And then it isn’t.

 

“No, no, Vee, Vee. Stay with me, stay with me, I’ve got so much to show you, so many places to go. Don’t leave me, please, please. How can I take you away from this goddamned place if you’ve already gone? I can’t run after you, if you’re already gone, don’t leave me, please don’t leave me,” he babbles, desperate entreaties to uncaring Gods.

 

His hips piston a few more times before everything connects and time stops as his climax explodes round his body. His cock twitches as his essence passes from him to her.

 

Vergil collapses on top of her, panting.

 

His heart’s stopped, his breath’s stopped, everything’s stopped and underneath Verity’s head, he can see lines start to form and shift, almost unravelling as he watches. Vergil scrambles to his feet, dick retracting back into his body. He pulls the dead weight of Verity with him as he goes, trying to back out of the circles he can see, but there’s a crack like thunder and a flash of light as he hits the outer ring.

 

Light and sound, rainbow-hued light, is twirling and spinning around the circles and their designs, even as they shift and reform under and around him. The maelstrom whips Verity’s hair and coat around and it’s the only sign of life from the girl’s ruined body.

 

The scent of her sex and her blood are pungent on the air.

 

Vergil’s strong enough in both his forms to hold Verity to him with just one arm, her head resting on his shoulder and he draws Yamato with the other, ready to cut his way out.

 

The lines unravel still, but faster now, patterns appearing more and more frenziedly. He can’t keep track of them and they’re making him nauseous to look at them. He raises Yamato ready for a slash, when a double helix of black and white erupts from the middle of the circle and he realises it was where Verity first turned to him in terror.

 

The double helix spirals round itself in a column, rising to the top of the church, energy pulses ascending and descending along its length, pulling everything into it. Vergil can feel it trying to draw them in as well.

 

It’s all he can do to stay in place.

 

When the floor’s been picked clean and there’s not a line or light left, the double helix unpicks itself into a strand of dark and a strand of light.

 

They spin about the outer circle opposite each other.

 

“Come stand in the centre, Son of Sparda,” says a tinkling voice, like crystal breaking. The white line pulses.

 

Vergil doesn’t move. “Let us go. Give me Verity back.”

 

“We will,” says the ground-glass voice. It sounds like it’s unforming and speech is growing difficult. The black line throbs.

 

“Time grows short, Son of Sparda,” continues the white line.

 

Vergil takes the few steps into the centre and the lines travel in and reform a loose helix.

 

“We consider this an honour, Son of Sparda,” says the white line in something like reverence.

 

“She was quite a meal, quite an energy,” says the black line. “I’m well fed.”

 

“You killed her!” he snarls, choking with grief and rage.

 

“She is, as are you, between the Tick and the Tock,” says the black.

 

“As Life was taken, be it Returned Twice Over,” says the white and it sounds like an intonation.

 

Light shoots through Verity, stirring her limp arms as it passes.

 

“You are honoured, Son of Sparda, we do not often return the Virgin to her Husband if he fails in his love for her.” The white light hums.

 

“Know this, Son of Sparda,” growls the dark and it is barely recognisable as language. “The ones who called us, did so with Intention. They had as much skill as priests, but were not priests.”

 

“Do not waste the New Life granted unto you,” says the Light.

 

They link back together again, spinning around in that expanding and contracting column, the couple standing in the centre. All at once, there’s light and sound, too loud, too bright, and he can barely cope with the assault on his senses.

 

Then the column pours down into the ground beneath his feet, a portal he can’t follow.

 

It shuts and they’re gone.

 

Everything’s gone.

 

Everything’s still.

 

Vergil de-triggers as Verity takes a shuddering breath and her eyes flutter open.

 

She tries to speak, but he shushes her as he grasps her tight, kissing all over her face and laughing.

 

Verity’s arms come up around him slowly as she returns his kisses.

 

She’s alive.

 

Verity’s alive and in his arms.

 

To hell with everything else.

 

Chapter Text

Fortuna, present day

 

“You look thoughtful, Madam Sparda,” says Falzon. “Or do you prefer Madam LaSalle?”

 

“Madam Sparda is fine, Lord Falzon,” replies Trish. “Where’s the guest bathroom, My Lord?”

 

“Oh, I’m sure you know your way around my house,” he says and there’s a tone underlying. “It’s not the first time you’ve been here.”

 

“I wasn’t here that often, Lord Falzon,” points out Trish.

 

“Were you not? I understood you and Edith to be particular friends,” he says. “Perhaps I was a little harsh with her on the subject. It’s up a floor and 3rd left.”

 

Trish looks as if Violet’s going to come with her, but Falzon delays her with a hand light on her elbow. Trish pauses, but Violet waves her on.

 

Trish goes, but the way she looks back says she’s unhappy about it.

 

Falzon offers Violet his arm. “Let’s return to the party, Violet.”

 

She takes his arm, with some hesitation.

 

“I’m so looking forward to the next few months,” says Falzon. He pats her hand. “I feel like Fortuna’s…fortunes, so to speak, are looking up.”

 

“What did you find in that Elsewhere?” she asks, voice a ragged whisper.

 

“All in good time, my dear friend,” he replies, holding onto her hand. “Just know, I didn’t send Nero into it. I have a fondness for the lad, when all else is considered.”

 

They’re back at the main party and he turns, kisses her hand slowly, eyes on her face and bows, before moving off to mingle.

 

Kyrie passes her a glass of wine and Violet sets it down.

 

Kyrie looks at her strangely.

 

***

 

Trish is looking around for Falzon’s room, but she’s having no luck.

 

She feels all around the wall, even carefully moving the bookcase in the hall, but she can’t find it.

 

“What the hell have you done with the door?” she mutters. She pulls a jewel out her bag and runs it all over the hall. There’s nothing.

 

“He moved it,” says Edith from behind her. “I don’t know how he did it, because he comes up here and then vanishes.”

 

“Can you find out for me?” asks Trish.

 

Edith shakes her head. “You lied to us. To me, Gloria. I had to ask who you were and where you’d gone.”

 

“I would have stayed in touch, I’ve only been away a month.”

 

“A month to you is almost a year to me.” Edith stands aside. “You’ve no reason to be up here, Madam LaSalle.”

 

“Edith, please,” begins Trish.

 

Edith cuts her off, her voice polite and robotic. “I have nothing but my children, Madam LaSalle. He threw me out for a week and kept my children from me. Told me the next time I betrayed him, I wouldn’t get back. Please go downstairs.”

 

Trish sighs and walks back downstairs in front of Edith.

 

Tony appears in the space and looks around, paying particular attention to where Trish was first looking. He walks about the hall, listening to his footsteps.

 

“Vee was better at this,” he mutters.

 

He looks around the bookcase that Trish has moved and pulls it aside, before tossing it against the next wall, hard enough to break.

 

He waits.

 

***

 

Everyone hears the crash.

 

Conversation stops dead and Edith’s children run screaming from the floor above, straight to their mother and Falzon. He’s remarkably tender with them, almost as if he was their father.

 

“Ladies,” he says. “I bid you stay down here, though I imagine all we’ll find is a shelf has dropped from the wall. Pass out their swords to some of the gentlemen, Maris.”

 

The maid hands out swords to the Knights who’d brought them with them and Falzon leads the way up the stairs.

 

He walks past Tony, indicating to the other Knights what rooms and halls to check, before he examines the bookcase and hall for himself.

 

The Knights aren’t exactly quiet as they search the house, calling back and forth to each other.

 

Falzon looks over the smashed bookcase. It’s a huge, solid oak set of shelves, dark against the yellow stone of the walls and the floor. He moves some shelves aside with the tip of his sword and some of the books, but nothing happens.

 

Tony watches him from the side of the hall.

 

Falzon kneels down and rummages carefully through the wreckage of the books, before he pulls one out and opens it slightly.

 

There’s a small purple mist that wafts around the edges of the book. Falzon smiles and nods to himself before placing the book in another room, which appears to be a library.

 

“It was nothing to trouble yourselves with, ladies and gentlemen. There must have been a small earthquake that we didn’t feel with our preoccupation that’s caused one of my bookcases to fall.” He looks at the children, who’ve been sitting with Kyrie and Xaali while Nero and Josh look on. “You look remarkably at home, Sister Micellef and Miss Mataan. Getting in some practice for this time next year?”

 

“Daddy, Kyrie was telling us a story about a Fairy Prince who falls in a love with a lady and she has to hold on to him while his Mummy turns him into hot snakes,” says the middle one. She looks in confusion at Nero. “Daddy, who’s that blue man behind Nero?”

 

Edith flinches when she hears the word Daddy on the lips of her child. She meets Trish’s gaze, then away.

 

All eyes turn to a space behind Nero, but there’s no one there the party can see.

 

Tony disappears, but his voice remains as he speaks in Nero’s mind. Ask to see Falzon’s library. It’s very educational.

 

“Violet used to tell it to us when we were little,” says Kyrie. “I loved that story.”

 

“Mami used to tell me that one as well,” says Josh. “That and the one about the Fire Princess. She said they were her and Auntie Verity’s favourite stories as well.”

 

“I loved the Fire Princess – what puts out fire but water -“ says Kyrie.

 

“-what dries up water but fire – “ picks up Nero.

 

“Tell him to give her a kiss!” The three finish in unison.

 

“Did they live happily ever after?” asks Xaali.

 

U għammru u tgħammru, u spiċċat," says Falzon. “They lived together and they had children together and the tale is finished.”

 

Not if Peter Falzon’s involved, they don’t.

 

Falzon claps his hands and the children kiss Kyrie and Xaali good night and thank them for the story. Their mother takes them back to bed.

 

“Lord Falzon,” says Nero, making his way to his General. “If your library here is anything like the one in your office, I’d be honoured if you’d show me it.”

 

Falzon looks at Nero for a moment, then smiles, an actual, genuine smile.

 

“Of course, Nero. That was my intention tonight, but I’m delighted the suggestions was yours.”

 

He steps aside and extends his arm. “After you.”

 

***

 

Falzon leads Nero up the stairs and past the smashed book case. Tony follows after him.

 

Nero looks at the book case. The marks on the wall of where it usually stands and the chunks of brick where it landed are clear. He resists the urge to look at Tony.

 

It thought it stood a chance.

 

Nero can’t help the quick quirk that crosses his lips.

 

Falzon opens the door by the bookcase, as proud as an expectant father. There’s a quote on the door, All Knowledge is Worth Having.

 

The room is huge, with high ceilings and massive windows. There’s so much natural light streaming in, the lamps round the room would hardly be necessary. There’s a fireplace at the end of the room, with settees and armchairs scattered around, particularly down by the fire. There’s a large writing desk in the centre of the outer wall.

 

There are books everywhere.

 

They’re piled on the chairs and the low tables. The large, dark wooden book shelves that line the walls and stand free in the centre of the room are crammed with books. The room is as large as the library at the Castle.

 

“Wow,” gasps Nero, in awe. “I thought there were loads of books at home, but there’s at least three times that in here.”

 

“Nearly thirty years of collecting, Nero. It was the first thing Lord Scerri impressed upon me was to educate myself. “We stand on the shoulders of Giants,” he said. “We can access the wisdom of the Ancients, when we read.” “

 

For a private house, I’m impressed, says Tony, walking around. Murdering bastard aside, those children are fortunate to be growing up with this library.

 

He looks at some of the titles. Feed his ego.

 

“I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day, My Lord,” Nero begins, shyly. He fingers a book, noting that it’s about quantum physics and time travel.

 

“You’re welcome to read any of these books, Nero,” says Falzon, pulling the book out and putting it in his hand. Nero leafs through it. “But carry on.”

 

“How far you’ve come, with the whole weight of Fortuna against you. I know what they say about me, so it must have been worse for you,” he says as Tony indicates a book about scientific explanations for ley lines and timeslips. Nero wanders over and picks it up.

 

“It’s been difficult, I don’t deny that,” says Falzon. “But I bid you recall what I said to you – our situations were similar. You are slightly ahead of me, in that the Micellefs oversaw much of your upbringing and you’re marrying into an Old Family. People will always be suspicious of you, but you’ll find it easier to be accepted.”

 

It grieves me you never had that luxury.

 

“I’m sorry you never had that, General Falzon,” says Nero. “I don’t want people to say I’m relying on the Micellef name.”

 

“They’ll say that anyway. I realised a long time ago, that it was better to be feared than loved,” says Falzon. “I worked hard to become the head of the most feared and influential Committee on Fortuna. It meant essentially changing myself into someone I wasn’t.”

 

He looks directly at Nero. “Much like I’m working to change you. Teaching you the discipline to tamp down your natural tendencies to run off at the mouth and act without thinking, to begin with.”

 

“I hope I’m learning, Lord General,” says Nero, looking quickly behind Falzon as Tony taps the book with the Elsewhere in it. Remember this.

 

“Your firearm – did you follow a design for it or reverse engineer it?”

 

“A bit of both,” he replies.

 

Tony taps a book about the Large Hadron Collider. Kyrie’s spoke about that a lot.

 

“So, you have engineering skills? You’re fairly intuitive?”

 

“It would seem so My Lord,” replies Nero, picking up the indicated book. “I don’t think I can work people out the way you can.”

 

Falzon looks at him for a moment, then laughs. “Is that your polite way of saying I’m manipulative?”

 

Nine Hells, I never thought he’d actually acknowledge that.

 

“I guess so,” says Nero, carefully. “But you use it for good.”

 

Falzon laughs and claps him on the shoulder. “I don’t think you have my talents in that regard. But you’ve plenty talents of your own and those we can work with. Now let’s return to the others. I’m sure dinner is waiting for us.”

 

“My Lord –“ Nero pauses. He could be about to blow everything and Tony’s stiffened as he’s read what Nero is about to ask.

 

“Yes, Nero?” Falzon has paused mid turn.

 

“Why did you never marry into an Old Family? You’re powerful enough that I couldn’t see any of them refusing your Suit.”

 

Godspit and shit, Nero. When you get the sense you shouldn’t say something, it’s because you shouldn’t say it.

 

“I did, Nero. She died.” He looks squarely at Nero and there’s ice in his eyes. “Now, never, ever bring it up again.”

 

***

 

The soup is out as Edith comes to sit at Falzon’s side with a quick smile and a kiss for him.

 

“You waited on me?” she says.

 

“I can’t say the Prayer of Thanks without you, qalbi,” says Falzon, kissing her hand.

 

Everyone bows their head as Falzon intones the same traditional Prayer Nero had said at the first meal he’d shared with Falzon. “Nirringrazzjawkom għall-ikel li ġie pprovdut u l-idejn li ħejjew l-ikel. jista 'jsostni u jsaħħaħ il-korpi, l-imħuħ u l-erwieħ tagħna għall-provi li ġejjin.”

 

He unclasps his hands. “Let’s eat.”

 

 “So, Kyrie,” begins Madam Campbell. “You must have thought about your dress.”

 

“Not really,” she replies, frowning. “I’ve not had much chance with my brother’s death.”

 

“Why this Midwinter Night, Madam Campbell?” Violet hands the rolls to the left of her. Dante is trying very hard to eat with polite grace, but he’s not really managing. He takes a few rolls out the basket and uses them to mop up his soup.

 

Lady shakes her head as she butters her roll and eats it separately from the soup.

 

“We need to strike while the iron’s hot, Madam Alighieri. Nero and Josh have proven extremely popular on Twitter and Facebook. Everyone loves a wedding and there’s a huge market in being a wedding destination.” Madam Campbell salts her soup.

 

“My brother is only dead this last month. I-we’ve had no time to grieve his loss,” says Kyrie. She sips her wine to hide her tears. “We’re supposed to grieve for 13 turns of the moon, which is how long our Courtship is meant to last.”

 

Madam Campbell looks at Falzon. “13 lunar months, roughly a year and a day.”

 

She nods. “You’ll be familiar with the festival of Christmas on the Mainland? It’s very much like Midwinter Night, but a few days after.”

 

“Is that the thing with the trees?” asks Josh. “I’ve seen the trees up in the ex-pat Mainlanders houses.”

 

“It is, Mister Agius, and it’s a prime holiday time for Mainlanders.” She nods towards the Leader of Fortuna l-ewwel. “Particularly the families that we would aim to encourage.”

 

Dante’s aware that most of the table keep giving him and his two colleagues surreptitious glances. There is a low undercurrent around the table directed at them, he can’t quite put his finger on. His back itches for Rebellion.

 

Lady catches his eye. She’s noticed it too. She carries on eating her soup and paying attention to the table.

 

Kyrie looks at Violet and Nero, seeking reassurance. She rubs her head.

 

“There’s no one in this room who’s ever doubted that Nero and Kyrie were meant for each other, but I still feel like it’s rushed and disrespectful to Credo,” says Violet. One of the maids goes to fill her glass and she puts her hand over it. “Fresh orange, please.”

 

Dante watches Falzon notice. Falzon frowns slightly. “Are you alright, Violet? You normally appreciate a fine red.”

 

“I have to work tomorrow, Peter, but thank you for your concern,” she replies. “I reiterate my point. This wedding is rushed and I’m not happy with it being leveraged for money. Next year, not a problem, but not this year.”

 

“It’s not for money, Violet, it’s for what that money can bring to Fortuna and Nine Hells, do we need that money now,” says General Calleja. “We need - what do the Brits say? – bums on seats.”

 

Nero takes Kyrie’s hand and a loaded look passes between them. He leans across and whispers something to her. She shakes her head and fiddles with the blue agate bracelet.

 

“And it would seem that our first course is finished,” says Falzon. “Please be excused from our table and treat my home as yours until our second course is ready.”

 

He stands up and bows to the table, who return it.

 

The guests leave the table and head for outside to smoke, to enjoy the night air, to stand around in their own groups and talk.

 

Edith and Falzon circulate around the room.

 

“Weird custom, leaving the table between courses,” says Dante, standing with his family group.

 

More dinner guests drop their voices as Lady leads the way to the terrace where Violet’s sat down again. She catches their comments anyway.

 

 “We’re getting a lot of side-eye,” says Lady.

 

“Yeah, I expected that,” he replies.

 

“Those passes are good, right? They can’t touch us?”

 

“You’re technically UO employees,” says Violet, hearing as they’ve reached her. “They may try, but they can’t touch you.”

 

“You’re filling me with confidence here,” Lady replies.

 

You came back here, before I’d even hired you,” points out Violet. “Why, I don’t know, but were you seriously just going to hide in the house all day?”

 

“So, who’s all here? And how devout are they?” Dante asks.

 

“Faith Committee, Fortuna L-ewwel, Tourist Committee, Tourist Business Guild and spouses of,” Violet points out various shakers and movers in each. “As for how religious, well, it varies. But it’s more how the Faith is used that matters. You should know that one.”

 

“There’s a reason me and religion don’t mix,” says Dante.

 

“When they find out for sure who you are, you may not get a choice,” she says.

 

***

 

“You never mentioned that Falzon wants us married by the end of the fucking year? Godspit and shit, Nero!” Kyrie’s raging. They’ve gone right down the bottom of Falzon’s garden so that no one can hear them, but they’re still keeping it down. They went off giggling, so anyone paying attention will think they’ve sloped off to smooch.

 

Peeping Toms’re going to get a fright.

 

“I know it’s shorter than you wanted, but we were getting married anyway,” Nero hisses back. “What difference does a year make?”

 

“I want to marry you in my own time, in my own space. I don’t want our wedding to be a spectator sport!” she snarls back. “I didn’t want our wedding to be here at all!”

 

“We haven’t got a choice, Kyrie! We have to play nice doggie till we find a rock and I’m fresh out of fucking rocks right now!” Nero tries to reason with Kyrie’s back. He tests out the waters for holding her, but she shrugs him off.

 

“Kyrie, it’s you who keeps telling me we have to play their game till we can get out of here, but every turn it’s you who keeps trying to game the deck.” Nero’s becoming just as furious as she is. “Are you forgetting the power Falzon’s got over us, over this island? You lost half your house to your brother’s girlfriend. If she’d wanted to marry him, Violet had plenty time and she didn’t.”

 

“How dare you! Violet’s as much family as Credo, and you, while we’re on it!” The sound of a slap echoes sharp across the garden.

 

“I think working for Falzon’s rubbing off on you, Nero,” Kyrie says coldly.

 

“Good,” he replies. “He worked for what he got. He didn’t inherit it.”

 

“My parents and Credo worked hard for what they had and they worked hard for Fortuna! Micellefs have done nothing but serve Fortuna and most of them have died for it!” She turns as if to storm off, but he grabs her wrist. “Let go of me!”

 

Nero hauls her back and she stumbles into him. He grips her arms hard.

 

“Can you still feel them?” Nero whispers.

 

“We’re alone,” she replies.

 

Nero rubs his face, the handprint bright against his pale skin. Kyrie brushes her fingers across it, feeling the heat under their tips. It’s already starting to fade and she keeps her hand there while it goes.

 

"I'm still annoyed you never told me that they wanted us married that quick," she says.“You should have hit me.” 

 

“No one would believe I’d hit you. You’re known for domestic violence,” he replies. The mark might be gone, but the stinging is still there.

 

Kyrie holds her head as if she’s in pain. “It’s so quiet here.”

 

Nero takes her head in his hands and kisses her forehead. “We have twenty minutes before we have to go back.”

 

She groans. “It was so noisy. Like everyone was shouting.”

 

“Do you think you’re getting more sensitive?”

 

She looks slightly exasperated. “Empty Night, Nero, I have no clue. I just know it hurts inside my head. It started as soon as I got into the house.”

 

Nero doesn’t say anything, just massages her head, careful to avoid the pins in her hair. She’d kill him for real if he messed up her hair. She sags against him and groans. It’s the same groan she makes in bed and Nero’s touch turns seductive. His fingertips are still firm on her head, but he begins to kiss her cheeks and her chin, working his way around her jaw and her throat.

 

Kyrie drops her hands to Nero’s hips, as the pain in her head drops down to a drowsy pressure. She’s starting to look slightly spaced as the pain subsides. Nero’s rigid fingers move down to her neck, alternating between palming the muscles and digging his fingertips either side of the bones.

 

She’s so tense, Nero’s touch is more pain than pressure. Her head rolls back and she sighs as she moves her head slightly to catch Nero’s lips. Both of them unconsciously move their lips in concert with Nero’s fingers, tongues gliding sensuously around each other.

 

She balls her fingers slowly into his jacket and pulls him backwards against a statue of an angel or a demon or something with wings. She’s trapped between the warm, hard stone and Nero. They take their time exploring each other’s mouths, still in time to his pressing fingers.

 

Kyrie feels giddy as her tension eases, a creeping languorousness stealing along her spine and spreading through her legs. She feels almost…altered.

 

She can feel all of Nero pressed against her, big and looming over her as she can’t stop the sensations of melting slipping out along her skin. She feels drunk and she’s sure that she hadn’t had that much, she hasn’t had more than normal. She’s usually pretty good with wine, growing up in a wine-making family.

 

She wants to stretch this out, take the whole night exploring Nero’s body in this new awareness. She wants …she doesn’t know what she wants…she just wants.

 

She needs to be…she has no time…and all she has is time…why does she need time?

 

There’s something pricking at the back of her brain and she knows it’s important and there’s time and no time and all the time…

 

No time at all.

 

She breaks off the kiss from Nero and he’s as far gone as she is, as he struggles to remember what he’s meant to be doing when he could be rocking her to a lazy orgasm.

 

It’s the light that’s the first sign.

 

There’s far too much of it and it’s all the wrong colours.

 

It’s all the colours.

 

***

 

The gong calls out for the next course and the groups come back to Falzon’s table.

 

All but two.

 

“Should we hold off for them, Violet, do you think?” Asks Falzon.

 

“I think we should just start without them. They’ve probably just lost track of time. They are teenagers,” says Violet as she considers.

 

“Ah, to be young and in love,” says Madam Campbell. “I was hoping we could continue the wedding discussions, as we really do want to make them the centrepoint of our Midwinter Festival.

 

“I’m technically Kyrie’s next of kin and I guess since we consider Nero part of the family, I’m his too,” Violet says as she looks at her dinner. Edith’s arranged for her to get a slow-cooked curry that falls apart as you look at it. “I think I can speak on their behalf.”

 

Madam Campbell nods. “How old are they, by the way?”

 

“Kyrie is 19 next March and Nero is 20 on the 25th of December, I believe,” says Falzon. “Please, eat. Edith will have theirs kept warm for when they return with unkempt hair and apologies.”

 

“Pretty specific thing to know about someone,” says Dante.

 

All eyes are on him as Falzon merely has that amused, calculating look upon his face.

 

“I’ve had reason to be familiar with his file, lately. I like to be informed of the comings and goings on Fortuna, Mr Sparda,” he responds. “There is very little that escapes my notice.”

 

“I’ve gathered that. Awful lot of power to be concentrated within the hands of one person,” continues Dante. He cuts up his swordfish steak, careful to eat the way the rest of the table is, fork in the left hand.

 

“It’s a burden I bear for Fortuna. However, I and the rest of the Faith Committee would disagree that I hold any more power than any other High Order member.” Falzon indicates for the Ħobż tal-Malti bread to be passed down to him. “Sanctus and Supreme General are above Speaker of the Faith Committee, so when he’s elected within the next few days, General Agius will outrank myself.”

 

“When do you think you’ll elect another Sanctus?” asks Dante.

 

“I don’t believe we will elect another Santus, Mr Sparda,” Falzon says as he swallows his swordfish. “I believe The Saviour himself will call his successor to take his rightful place.”

 

“And now Madam Campbell, please, let’s see how much we can give our lovebirds to complain about for when they return.”

 

The conversation turns to weddings and customs from other countries.

 

Falzon is very careful to steer the conversation away from some of Fortuna’s more…colourful wedding traditions.

 

Well, the tourists wouldn’t understand.

Chapter Text

Fortuna present day

 

“Technically, I’m Italian, but I only really lived there for five years. Did my degree and obviously, it’s where I was found,” replies Violet to Madam Campbell’s question. “But I really like the tradition of the La Serenata. The groom sings to you outside your house. You’re Scots, Sophie. You must have some amazing stories.”

 

Violet carefully forks a small amount of the curry between the small gap she can open her teeth before the bands pull. She can just about give it a couple of very gentle chews before swallowing it. She’s sure she can hear the bones grinding. It’s excruciating.

 

“Are you alright, Violet?” asks Falzon. Bastard misses nothing.

 

“Fine, Peter. Just under orders to chew some of my food,” she smiles weakly. “No improvements for 20 years and suddenly a new technique gives me a bit of food for thought.”

 

Dante snorts.

 

Trish and Lady glare at him.

 

Madam Campbell puts down her cutlery as she thinks about it. “We have a scramble – the bride throws money away at her door or the church and all the local kids grab it.  Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. We don’t go down the aisle like the Americans, attendants paired off. We go down bride and her father first, then the bridesmaids. The ushers wait with the groom at the altar.”

 

“We don’t throw the bouquet,” says Edith. “We put it on the coffin of Sanctus Primus. Or we will, when it’s rebuilt. A lot of traditions will depend on if you’re Order, Knight, or Old Family. I like the tradition of washing your feet. A married friend washes the bride’s feet and leaves her ring in the water. The next girl to find the ring is next to marry.”

 

“The crossed swords,” says Madam Calleja. “Leap rogue, jump whore, now you’re wed for evermore. Marriage is doomed if you fall or touch the swords.”

 

“My Abigail’s heel hit the sword hilt,” says General Agius. “We were together for 25 years. So, Xaali, when you join the family, take the shoes off.”

 

Xaali colours and Josh snaps a quick admonition at his grandfather. But the look that passes between them hints that it won’t be long before Josh is seeking out his grandmother’s rings for his Courting Gift.

 

“I want to have some of our traditions,” says Xaali. “A Dirac, buranbur, henna. The groom pays bride-price and then comes for me at my house to take me to his. I also expect music, uninvited guests, being there until 5am, and people fighting.”

 

“My kind of wedding,“ laughs Dante. “I bet the parties do get rowdy here. I mean you’ve got traditions like older, single siblings have to dance in pig troughs and Penny Weddings. Bet the traditions you’ve got here would leave you spellbound.”

 

Dante meets Falzon’s eyes. “I mean, the tradition of spending the night in the Castle is so romantic.”

 

Falzon cuts his swordfish just slightly rougher than he was. “The happy couple are the Lord and Lady of the Castle for the day. A Knight is Supreme General for the day.”

 

“I bet a lot of the older traditions are dying out,” Dante carries on, pointedly. “I bet everyone here’s got a tradition that’s got no place now.”

 

“A lot of traditions around fertility, virginity and children are dying out,” says Violet, understanding exactly what Dante’s getting at and sending him a warning look. “And that’s not a bad thing. Especially as we’re trying to keep Fortunese children here.”

 

“I hear that there are some cultures who scar their spouses as a mark of ownership,” says Falzon. He’s looking directly at Trish. “A most distasteful concept if you ask me.”

 

Trish returns his gaze, but she can’t help her hand rub where a Demon’s Mark would sit.

 

Their stand-off is broken by Violet coughing and choking violently. It’s a bad one, tears are streaming and she can’t catch her breath. Edith gets up and helps her from the room before anyone else can move, though Lady and Dante are getting up to help.

 

“No, no, it’s fine, I’ve got her, I know what to do if this happens,” Edith declines offers of help from round the table.

 

Violet’s still coughing as Edith helps her to the nearest toilet.

 

“He’s raiding your house.”    

 

Violet can barely feel Edith’s breath as she whispers in her ear.

 

“When?”

 

Edith shrugs. “Could be soon. Could be now.”

 

She passes Violet a glass of water. The coughing passes as the piece of bone’s dislodged and Violet nods that she’s fine now. Edith hugs her and returns to the party. She takes out her compact and sorts her make-up for the second time that night. She shuts it and the snap is loud in the bathroom as she turns it over and looks at the engraved writing on the bottom.

 

CAMVA, il cuore conosce la verità and a date 15 years earlier. It must be the way it catches the light, because Violet sees small marks under the writing, especially under the date and the VA. Being Italian, Violet doesn’t have a middle name, so the VA is in a different, wider font to match the length of Credo’s initials.

 

She turns it to catch the light, dimly catching an E under the fore and back slashes of the V and A. She can’t make out much of the writing under the date, but it could be numbers. Could be scratches.

 

Violet puts it away and returns to the party.

 

The men at the table stand and bow as she takes her seat and there’s a large glass of fresh water beside her plate.

 

“Are you recovered, Violet?” asks Falzon.

 

It takes her several attempts to speak and a coughing fit before she finds her voice and even then it’s a whisper with no strength behind it. “Not really, Peter. I think I might just return home. I’m sure Nero and Kyrie can find their way back with my guests, whom I’ll trust you’ll continue to welcome.”

 

Falzon’s eyes flash with alarm, but only quickly. “I’m sure we can offer you a bedroom to rest in, with the hope that you’ll see fit to rejoin us soon. And should sleep overcome you, then I’m sure Edith would appreciate your company at breakfast. I know I would.”

 

Violet sips her water, making it look as if she’s considering. She nods and gets up shakily. “Trish, would you…”

 

“Of course,” Trish says as she gets up and comes down to Violet.

 

Falzon can’t really cut across them, but tries to within the bounds of propriety. “Edith, my dear, show Violet to a guest room. Madam Sparda, please don’t trouble yourself.”

 

“I’ll need a hand to undo this dress, Lord Falzon and Edith has your party to tend to. Trish and I will get along just fine,” Violet whispers and there’s really nothing Falzon can say.

 

“As you wish. But, please, dearest Violet, we aren’t working right now. My name is Peter and I don’t hear it often enough. Rest well and I do hope you join us later.”

 

Edith shows them to a small guest bedroom and waits outside while Trish undoes Violet’s dress and hair. “Are you ok?”

 

“Do you have anything you don’t want someone else seeing at home?” asks Violet, very quietly.

 

“A few things, but they aren’t there.” Trish’s mind jumps to the file and the diary.

 

“Maybe tomorrow, leave them at the office,” says Violet. “But they’re not at home?”

 

“No.”

 

“Good.” Violet’s hair is unpinned and tumbling over her shoulder as she stands in the soft light. Standing in her chemise, she looks very young, so much like the girl in the photos that Trish can’t believe no one else has made the connection.

 

Then she moves and the illusion is gone.

 

“Come get me in an hour, Trish, OK?”

 

“You want me to tuck you in?”

 

“Fuck off, you muppet.”

 

Trish laughs as she shuts the door.

 

***

 

Falzon nods at Trish when she returns to the table.

 

“I’m to check on her in an hour, Lord Falzon,” she says, taking her seat.

 

“It’s really no trouble if Violet was to sleep the night,” says Falzon. “I extend that courtesy to her guests, also.”

 

Dante and Lady exchange surprised looks with each other, before looking back at Trish. Trish merely inclines her head to Falzon. “I thank My Lord and Madam Buhagiar for the offer and should it become necessary, we accept.”

 

Dante tries to catch Trish’s eye, but he’s on the wrong side of her.

 

Lord Agius is speaking to Josh, who’s surreptitiously trying to make a phone call and shaking his head. There’s an agitated whispered exchange going between them and Xaali.

 

“Is something wrong, Edward?” Asks Falzon. “I’d hate to see more upset at my table.”

 

“The only upset, Peter, is that Nero and Kyrie are not here for my grandson’s announcement. I’m sure that it would cause them great amusement to see the reactions of some round this table,” replies Lord Agius. There’s a twinkle in his eye.

 

“You look exceeding pleased, Edward,” says General Calleja. “What’s the secret? Finally got yourself a Ladybird?”

 

Lady Calleja continues eating, steadfastly keeping her eyes on the plate.

 

Falzon still has that amused, calculating look on his face that Dante would dearly love to smash off, but there’s something underneath it.

 

Falzon is nervous.

 

Dante recalls the altercation between the two men in the Castle and now, he’s curious as well. He doesn’t know if the others can see it, but Falzon looks like a man who’s finding things beginning to spin out of his control.

 

“No good, Grandad, I can’t raise them,” says Josh, disappointed. “I’ll just get them when they come back. He knows, pretty much, anyway.”

 

“Well, we’re all intrigued now, Edward,” says Falzon. He can’t take his eyes off Josh, who’s nearly bouncing with excitement.

 

“As Head of the Old Agius Family, our roots stretching back unbroken to our flight from Malta and the Demons therein, when Lord Sparda took us under his protection, in Our Saviours Name do I offer and extend that same Protection to Xaali Kadiye Mataan.” Lord Agius begins the ritual announcement. He makes a signal and a maid brings forth a tray with a candle, a carafe of water and a loaf of bread, setting it down before Josh.

 

Dante keeps his eyes on Falzon. He can see both him and Agius from where he’s sitting.

 

The women present gasp as they know the significance of the statement Agius is making.

 

The more traditional ones either look straight-out disapproving or are forcing their smiles.

 

“Agius – are you sure?” asks someone from Fortuna l-ewwel.

 

“Never surer.” General Agius doesn’t even look at him. “Josh asked me what he should get Xaali for a Courting Gift and I told him that he should give her something that represents her new life in Fortuna. Together they decided that some heirloom jewellery from within our family was the right gift.”

 

Agius lights the candle and halves the bread, pouring water from the carafe into a crystal goblet. “I offer you fire, water and bread,” he says looking between Josh and Xaali.

 

Xaali looks at Josh, who whispers loud enough for everyone to hear, he’s so nervous, “Drink the water, bless the candle and eat the bread.”

 

“Just a sip and a bite, Xaali, dear, you don’t need to eat the whole thing,” says Lord Calleja and some of the company laugh. “Get to the Gift, Agius, the ladies are champing at the bit to coo and swap stories.”

 

“More damned foreigners polluting Old Blood,” mutters Lady Calleja. Only a few people hear her and Josh isn’t one of them.

 

“I thought there was a rope?” says Xaali, trying to force down some of the bread and spilling some of her water.

 

“That’s for the wedding altar, when you are actually joined in marriage,” someone at the end of the table says.

 

Lord Agius pulls a small, ornate wooden box from his pocket and lays it down on the tray in front of Josh. The young man’s hands shake slightly and it takes him a minute to get the lid off. It doesn’t help that the shake in his hands is getting worse.

 

He swears and it brings an awwww from the company. Quite apart from his grandfather, Josh is popular in his own right. He’s kind, friendly and funny. The errant lid finally parts from the bottom and a gold chain lies threaded through a wedding ring that looks like a stylised snake nestling on a bed of black silk.

 

Trish grips Dante’s hand and it’s all he can do to stay seated.

 

“It’s not the time,” she whispers and her hand on his looks like a caress between lovers. They can feel his bones grinding under her fingers.

 

Agius looks down as Josh picks up the chain and fumbles with the clasp, the ring catching the light as it swings. The blood drains from his face as he sees it. He looks like he’s trying to say something, but nothing comes out.

 

He just about hides his reaction as he reaches for his wine and sips.

 

Nobody notices who wasn’t already looking.

 

Josh has fastened the chain around Xaali’s neck and kisses her, looking pleased and relieved. Xaali fingers the ring and smiles at him, a soft blush darkening her cheeks.

 

Falzon’s maids have refilled everyone’s glasses in the meantime.

 

“The forms have been obeyed. In 13 Turns of the Moon shall they be joined in the Arms of Our Saviour and the Eyes of This Community.” Falzon stands and raises his glass. The exquisite Cassar sparkles golden in the soft light. His eyes flick just ever-so-quickly between Dante and Agius. “To Josh and Xaali.”

 

The toast is echoed round the table.

 

The course finishes and they leave the table, everyone coming over to congratulate the happy couple.

 

***

 

Violet isn’t sleeping. She’s got the covers pulled up so she’s resting, messing about with her phone.

 

Violet: You busy?

 

Ms Kye: No, Madam.

 

Violet: I need you to go to my house and tell me what’s happening at it. Make sure no one sees you.

 

Ms Kye: Yes, Madam. I’ll report back when we’ve looked at it.

 

Violet: We?

 

Ms Kye: Captain la Valletta is with me.

 

Violet: You saucy little devil!

 

Ms Kye: I am a demon and there is chocolate sauce, Madam.

 

Violet: I’m not having this conversation. Text back when you’re done.

 

Ms Kye: Yes, Madam.

 

***

 

Ms Kye has a quick shower to wash the chocolate sauce off her.

 

“Lucky there wasn’t any in your hair,” says Captain la Valletta, passing her a bag and looking in amused confusion at the items she’s putting in it. He picks up a shrivelled hand. “What do you use this for? Scratching your nuts?”

 

“Opening doors, Gianni. Put it in the bag,” Ms Kye looks at some herbs in jars and puts them in little bags. “Though I have a key, so I probably won’t need it.”

 

La Valletta shakes his head. “My life used to be so simple.”

 

“It still is. You just have a bigger range of creatures to shoot at.” Ms Kye braids her hair quickly and picks up a sheepskin bomber jacket. La Valletta takes the bag.

 

They drive to Top of the Town, La Valletta unimpressed by the conservative grandeur of the buildings. He’s spent half his career guarding the other half. He can’t enjoy anything anymore, he’s too used to risk-assessing everything. Even now, he’s not enjoying this jolly, no sorry, intelligence gathering trip.

 

He glances at Ms Kye. Well, some of it’s fun.

 

“Stop here,” he tells Ms Kye when they’re several streets away. He’s taking point on this mission. Ms Kye has many skills, but she’s no experience in this area.

 

She pulls up and looks at him expectantly.

 

“Let’s go for a walk,” he says, shouldering the bag and offering her his arm. Ms Kye slides her hand into the crook of his elbow and snuggles in. “I might actually enjoy this operation.”

 

They walk along the street down to where Violet’s house sits in its own patch of ground. There’s nothing to set it apart from the other houses on the street. It’s a typical Mediterranean villa behind a high wall and everything focused towards the back of the house.

 

Okay. Hides them if they go in.

 

Hides anyone else already in there.

 

“Did she say anything about cameras, alarms, anything?” He whispers into her hair.

 

“I have never seen anything,” replies Ms Kye. “I’ve been in the house several times.”

 

“Are we looking for anything in particular?” He’s kissing down her neck and gently playing with her earring as he nibbles the lobe.

 

“No. She was vague.” Ms Kye catches his mouth and kisses him gently. They look to the world like a couple of tourists having a wander round. It’s not so late and there’s no curfew. There’s no Knights here to comment on their lack of Robes.

 

They stay like that for a few minutes, for all the world like they’re lost in each other.

 

Nobody is around to pay them any mind and nobody comes to move them on. They walk hand in hand round the back of the block, until they reach the back garden of Violet’s house. La Valletta checks again, but there’s still no cameras or other security measures he can see.

 

“Is there any spooky demon army protecting the house, Tyuule?” he asks. He’s dreading a repeat of his first incursion and maybe the reason there’s no physical security is because of the psychic precautions.

 

“I have a key to everything Madam Alighieri has installed, but so might someone else, as it’s DNA based,” replies Ms Kye. She throws the bag over the wall and La Valletta hoists her to the top. He jumps up and takes her hand as she pulls him up the wall. He jumps down first and catches her as she lands.

 

“Fancy a new job?” he grins.

 

“No,” she says flatly. “None of this appeals to me.”

 

La Valletta snorts and turns to look at the house. He pulls her back against the wall. “There’s people moving about in there.”

 

“Then we wait. We’ll have a look after them.” She pulls binoculars from the bag and he takes them from her.

 

“White uniforms and swords.” He says. “But I don’t recognise the insignia on their uniforms. They’ve got the stylised sword, but they’ve got another one.”

 

Confused, she takes the binoculars from him. “That’s the Faith Committee.”

 

“That the guy who was back-up when my team were ambushed by the EXBEs?”

 

“He is the head of that Committee.” She quickly texts Violet, who replies just as swiftly. “We’re not to go until they’re gone, if we want to go in. Apparently, we’ve answered her question.”

 

La Valletta gives her a withering look. “I’ve not come out my bed to sit in a garden for five minutes. We’re going in.”

 

***

 

They sit in the front garden for nearly an hour, until La Valletta hasn’t noticed any movement in at least 15 minutes.

 

“I haven’t heard anyone leave,” he says. “And if they went out the back, then they’ve got to go through another villa like this.”

 

“They must have got in somehow,” responds Ms Kye. “I think we are as safe as we’re going to be. I assume you’ve done this before?”

 

La Valletta stands up and offers his hand to Ms Kye. “A few times.”

 

Ms Kye uses her housekey to get in. Her nose wrinkles at the smell.

 

“What’s that sm-?”

 

“Ozone. Someone’s performed some magic here,” she replies. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they used a portal to come and go.”

 

She’s about to move off, but La Valletta stops her.

 

“I’ve done this before,” he reminds her. “I know you can handle yourself, but I don’t think you’re immune to bullets.”

 

Ms Kye rolls her eyes, but allows him to proceed her.

 

La Valletta’s been in much bigger houses, but there’s something about the Micellef house that’s different. It’s a home. It’s a very nice home, it’s clear there is old money in the house, but it’s warm and friendly. There’s nothing here that’s for show. La Valletta believes in reading atmospheres.

 

“Has anything been taken?” he asks her, as they move from room to room. He can’t tell, he doesn’t know what’s missing, he’s never been here before.

 

Ms Kye looks around. “Well, they tidied up after themselves.”

 

La Valletta looks at her.

 

“Nero and Mr Sparda are not the tidiest of people, according to Kyrie. These rooms are spotless.”

 

“That aside, does anything look out of place?” La Valletta looks at the floor, trying to see if anything’s been moved. Almost everything, by the looks of it. Until he knows what they were looking for, it’s useless information.

 

“There was no work-related information kept here, so confidentiality will be kept,” says Ms Kye.

 

“I’m not worried about that,” returns La Valletta. He sits down on Violet’s bed. “She got a library or an office?”

 

Ms Kye types a message and gets a swift reply. “Two, one for Credo, one for her.”

 

“Show me.”

 

All the while, Ms Kye has been sending photos to Violet, who can’t see anything amiss, other than the tidiness. “She says they can raid her house again next week.”

 

La Valletta laughs as they cautiously enter Credo’s study. It’s very austere, without fripperies, with many dark wood bookshelves against the walls. There’s some family photos on the desk, just a few. There’s a computer to the side of the desk, everything neatly placed. It’s comfortable and masculine. La Valletta approves of him.  

 

Ms Kye takes some photos and gets the reply that nothing’s been taken from there.

 

“Nothing? She’s sure? They went to all this trouble and took nothing?” La Valletta pulls out one of Credo’s books.

 

“Well, if they came for work projects, they wouldn’t know that,” she replies. She taps on her phone and waits. “She says you’ll need to go into her office, it won’t let me in.”

 

La Valletta looks at Ms Kye strangely, but obliges. Ms Kye looks slightly pained as she approaches the door and refuses to go closer. La Valletta looks around and takes some photos that he sends to Violet.

 

It’s smaller than Credo’s, plainly, but more sumptuously furnished. It’s got a few keepsakes, as well as photos of the family.

 

***

 

 Violet opens the photos as wide as they’ll go and carefully sweeps over each shelf.

 

She goes back over it three times, but she’s sure.

 

Some of Dorcas’ books are missing.

 

***

 

La Valletta and Ms Kye head back to the kitchen, dominated as it is by the huge, dark Welsh dresser. Ms Kye pays the main of the kitchen no mind as she helps herself to a drink of water. La Valletta accepts a glass from her as he admires the dresser.

 

“Thanks. My Nonna has one like this.” A thought strikes him and he looks around it. “They’ve not even tried to move it. Not surprised. These things are massive. Is it full?”

 

He opens a few of the drawers and the doors.  One of the drawers catches. “Yep. Stuffed.”

 

He closes it and they leave as carefully as they came in. They don’t see anyone observing them as they leave.

 

***

 

Violet tries Kyrie and Nero again.

 

Still nothing.

 

Trish knocks on the door and pokes her head around. “Coming back to join us? Nero’s friend is marrying the Muslim and half the Faith Committee are vomiting flaming cars, they’re so mad.”

 

Violet throws back the covers as Trish comes in to help her dress. The bruises from Falzon’s assault upon her are getting darker.

 

“Why didn’t you come for me earlier? I can’t believe I missed it!”

 

***

 

The main course finished half an hour ago and Falzon has invited people to dance or mingle. Some are gambling.

 

Edith is playing a lively tune on a piano in the corner and some people are dancing.

 

“When do we get dessert?” asks Dante, looking longingly at the card game going on. It looks like some kind of Blackjack.

 

“No way.” Trish shakes her head and draws him off to dance. More than a few people watch them, as if they’re expecting them to be awful. “You’re a shitty player.”

 

Dante’s peacocking comes to the fore, as well as his ability to read others’ movements and he’s making a far better stab at the fast-paced Allemonde than the company thought possible, even as it slips to a version that involves multiple couples dancing together.

 

Lady’s dancing with Master Campbell and by the looks of it they’ll both have broken ankles in the morning. Violet’s dancing with Lord Agius, who’s giving as good as he’s getting for a man in his sixties. There were a few entries about balls in Verity’s diary and from what he can see, Verity’s inherited her father’s athleticism. She really is a damn good dancer.

 

Falzon’s partnered with a woman who owns a local hotel, according to Trish.

 

They change partners as part of the dance and Violet’s partnered with Falzon. Dante can’t help but watch them, as he dances with Lady.

 

“Just as well I’m shit,” she says as he trips over her two left feet. “Stop staring.”

 

“It’s research,” jokes Dante. “I’m watching how he moves. Maybe Trish’ll challenge Falzon to a duel.”

 

“You don’t want to be gay here, they think it’s demonic possession,” she replies as she turns back, to back with Dante and trying to grab his arm. She misses and ends up punching him in the back. Dante grunts, to the amusement of those nearby.

 

Falzon hides a smile. He’s well aware of Dante watching him. He’s a few inches shorter than his partner and Violet makes polite laughter at their differences. It doesn’t affect their dancing, it never has. Falzon dances as well as he fights, quick, light and precise.

 

“I am sorely missing Credo,” he says, relishing the flash of pain that shoots across Violet’s face. “I imagine you are too.”

 

Violet chokes down her reaction. She’s had plenty practice. “More than I can say.”

 

“You seem well-recovered from earlier,” he says as he twirls her.

 

“Well enough,” she replies, voice pleasant enough, though it’s still hoarse. “How’s the head?”

 

“A trifle paining me, but I’ve had much worse injuries, as you well know, my dear.” He twirls her under his arm.

 

“And one might pray, you will again, Peter,” Violet pirouettes around him.

 

“Not even hiding your contempt for me, Violet?” Falzon smiles. “I warn you once more only, I’m a good friend to have in the Times to Come.”

 

“That why you turned up in my bathroom?” Violet replies, agreeably. “Even though I’m too much like a boy for your taste?”

 

It’s time to change partners, so Falzon doesn’t get a chance to respond.

 

Violet swaps to Dante and it’s the strangest thing in his strange life to be holding his brother’s amnesiac wife. He holds her gaze a little longer than he should as they spin, even as Kyrie’s warning echoes in his brain. They’ve both lost Vergil and by sharing their memories they can bring him back a little. It’s not like he’s around to make new ones. He misses Vergil, despite everything and Trish didn’t know him well enough to talk about him, though she tries.

 

There’s a cough as Trish gives Dante a pointed look and he spends the rest of the dance looking at his feet so he doesn’t stand on Violet’s. He doesn’t trust himself not to speak, tell her the truth and this is most definitely not the time. It takes him a minute to realise that Violet is speaking to him.

 

“Sorry? I was just thinking I’d ended up in a Jane Austen novel.” He chances a glance up and she’s smiling. He sees the wires that hold her teeth in place and looks back down. It’s not the time.

 

“More Clarissa Harlowe than Eliza Bennett. It was even worse when I first came here, even the way everyone spoke was right out the 18th century.” She goes back to back with Dante and catches his hand. “The older ones are still formal, but not as much.”

 

“What do you think will happen?”

 

“With Fortuna? Ten years from now we’ll be in the EU,” she says. “Be lucky if people still speak Fortunese. It’ll be English and Italian all the way, German tourists fighting with the English over sunloungers and avoiding the Scots, because the Scots just don’t give a fuck.”

 

“I think Falzon disagrees with you,” he says, nodding in the direction of Trish’s dance partner.

 

“Can’t stop progress,” says Violet.

 

“I think he’ll try,” replies Dante.

 

Violet just smiles that crooked smile that he’s seen on the Kid and for some reason he’s glad Nero’s taken something from his mother. Sons of Sparda take after their fathers.

 

The dance ends and Violet goes off to talk to Xaali and look at the ring. Edith’s next tune is a slow dance and she sings a sad song in Fortunese that he doesn’t quite understand.

 

He doesn’t see any recognition as Violet admires the ring, commenting on its unusual design. Jesus fucking Christ. He’s no idea how he’s going to tell her.

 

Trish appears at his side and he pulls her in for a kiss, dancing slowly with her. “And?”

 

Dante leans in close to her ear, so no one else can overhear. “I’m not going to tell her. Maybe tell Nero the truth, but just about Vergil.”

 

“OK.”

 

Dante pulls back, catching the tone in Trish’s voice. “You don’t agree?”

 

Trish shakes her head, but General Agius interrupts them before she can reply.

 

“Mr Sparda, Madam Sparda, come and meet my grandson,” he says, drawing them over to some photos on a sideboard. Josh is standing there and bows as Lord Agius makes the introductions. Trish and Dante congratulate him and Josh colours.

 

“Any advice for me?” he asks. “I mean, you’ve been together years.”

 

“11, nearly 12,” agrees Trish. “Honesty, trust, a sense of humour and not sweating the small stuff.”

 

Josh looks at Dante, who nods. “It’s all small stuff. Just make sure you have the last word on everything.”

 

“And what would that be, dear heart?”

 

“ ‘Yes, Dear,’ “ Dante says, grinning and giving Trish a quick peck on the lips. “Seriously, Josh, just let her do what she wants, it’s going to happen anyway and at least this way you’re not falling out when she does.”

 

Josh laughs. “I’m there already, right Grandad?”

 

“True enough, ħanini,” says Agius. He sighs. “I’m just sorry that your Mami and Grandma won’t see you. I despair of locating Verity in time – “ he pauses at the couple’s quizzical looks “- like Nero, he’s to be married at Midwinter Night, despite what Falzon just said. Most likely be the day before, to leave the Master’s Chamber free for the next wedding. It’s Nero and Kyrie who’ll be the star of the show.”

 

Josh picks up one of Falzon’s photographs. They’re mostly photographs of Falzon’s career, though there does seem to be more social occasions in there as well. At quick glance there’s some of the Micellefs, particularly Credo and a family Dante presumes to be the Agius’. There’s several of Lord Scerri before and after becoming Sanctus.

 

“That’s Mami,” he says, pointing out a tall, delicate looking young woman, dark hair and dark eyes. It’s a family portrait, taken at a ball or wedding, given that they’re in their finery. A young Falzon in his dress uniform accompanies her. Her smile looks forced and doesn’t meet her eyes. There’s a gold pendant in the shape of a locked heart around her neck and a similar pendant on a thicker chain around Falzon’s. Lord Agius stands next to them with Lady Agius.

 

“She was beautiful,” says Trish. “You’re her double.”

 

“He has Pinny’s sweet nature, as well as her looks,” says Agius. “Comfort of my old age, aren’t you, son?”

 

Trish looks back at the photo. “I take it this is Verity?”

 

Agius smiles and doesn’t try to hide the man she’s standing next to.

 

Vergil.

 

There’s a family photograph of his brother and his brother’s wife in plain view in Peter Falzon’s house.

 

Plain. Fucking. View.

 

It’s all Dante can do to keep himself in check and he grips Trish’s hand tight, as if the world’s going to dissolve from under him any second. Trish traces a heart with her finger and he feels a little better, reminds himself he’s not alone.

 

“Had a mind like a steel trap, did my Verity. She’ll have done well, wherever she is,” Agius says, placing the photo back down. “That was taken at Midsummer Night. It was the last time my family was together. My lovely Abigail was taken ill the next day, and when she died, Verity and the young man in the photo ran off together when I refused his Courting Suit.”

 

Lord Agius runs a finger along the top of the frame. “I shall regret that to my dying day, but I have tried to atone for my mistakes.”

 

Trish reaches out her other hand for Lord Agius’. “In the time I spent here previously, no one can say you didn’t use your grief as a force for good. How many families have you fed or refugees sheltered? And now, your own grandchild will marry one.”

 

Agius smiles, ruefully. “I think, Madam Sparda, you will find some of these pictures interesting, now your identity is no longer hidden.”

 

He bows and pulls Josh away with him, but not before the young man has seen the man Verity’s cuddled into. He looks back at Dante, as if he’s realising something for the first time.

 

Trish looks back at where Falzon is dancing still with Lady. Her two left feet are keeping him well occupied, though neither of them expect they’ve escaped that much of his notice.

 

The only other photos that really catch his interest is one of Falzon with a very young Kyrie and Dorcas Micellef – he recognises her from photos in Violet’s house – in front of a group of Order technicians, standing in a tunnel in front of a large pipe.

 

There’s another one of the Agius and Micellef families standing either side of a stone-faced Verity and an anxious-looking Credo, flanked again by Pinny and Falzon. Verity’s wearing her bracelet, but the ring on her finger is a plain band.

 

There’s a table before them with a lit candle, a carafe of water and a loaf of bread. Ilma u n-nar, u l-qsim tal-ħobż. There’s a white cord tying Credo and Verity’s hands together. Fejn timxi, nimxi.

 

Dante can’t speak and he must be crushing Trish’s hand. He can hear the vows in his head.

 

“It’s one thing to read it. It’s another to see it,” she murmurs. “Do you want to go home?”

 

He shakes his head. “Let’s dance.”

Chapter Text

 Fortuna, present day

 

They get back home a little after two am.

 

“Kyrie! Nero!” Violet calls on the vanished lovebirds as they come through the door.

 

Silence is the bold reply.

 

“Maybe they’re already home and in bed?” suggests Lady.

 

“I’ll check, even if I’m about to go blind,” says Violet, going upstairs.

 

She knocks on Kyrie’s door and waits.

 

Nothing.

 

Violet’s alarm is getting the better of her and she walks in.

 

The bed is empty and still made, so it’s not like they’ve got up for anything.

 

Dante comes up behind her.

 

Violet shakes her head. “This is not like them, at all.”

 

“Want some company while you look for them?” he asks.

 

“Yeah,” she nods, giving a little smile. “Please.”

 

“I’ll go get my weapons.”

 

While she’s waiting on Dante, Violet goes into her study and examines the bookcase. They’ve been careful to spread the books remaining to hide the gaps, but Violet knows where everything in this and Credo’s office is.

 

It’s only Dorcas’ books missing. None of hers.

 

There’s a space in her journal shelf and she moves the journals around in confusion as she tries to fathom out what one’s missing.

 

Then Dante calls and it’s a quick change and out to the car.

 

His eyes note the bruising on her throat. He can tell a handprint when he sees one, but he doesn’t mention it.

 

He opens her side for her, before walking round to his, laying Rebellion between the seats where he can get her more easily. “So where to?”

 

“Check the spots they usually go, I guess,” she replies. “Nero likes to sit in the harbour. Kyrie likes the North Beach or swimming out to the islands.”

 

She catches Dante’s doubtful look. “She’s a really strong swimmer.”

 

“I didn’t mean that,” he says. “You really think she’ll be there at this time of night?”

 

“I guess not. I’m just concerned. This really isn’t like them, but I’m just going to check everywhere anyway.” She breaks suddenly to let a cat across the road.

 

“Was anything missing?” asks Dante. “Trish told me.”

 

“Some of Dorcas’ books and a journal of mine, an old one, I think. God alone knows why, there’s nothing in them but to-do lists and nightmares.” Violet glances at him quickly. “Was your stuff ok?”

 

“We didn’t leave it here.” Dante notes she doesn’t ask what it is he’s hiding. “How do you think they got in?”

 

“Try their phones again. Blood or hair probably. Does it matter?” There’s a catch in her voice. “They got in. I’m going to have to change the wards.”

 

“Maybe they went to one of the bars on the Waterfront?” he suggests.

 

“Kyrie had a headache. A bar’s the last place they’d go.” Violet stops the car at the docks and peers out the window. “This is as close as we get.”

 

She gets out and the wind blows her hair about.

 

“Rain on that wind,” says Dante, resting Rebellion on his shoulder.

 

Violet pulls a heavy-duty torch from the boot of the car and begins to walk out to the quayside where Nero goes to think. “Wow. That’s a hell of a swell building up.”

 

She points the torch onto the water. It’s only a few feet below the walkway and the rolling waves near the mouth are several feet high. She shines the torch out to the open water and waves are several metres high and rolling over the unprotected walkway.

 

Dante puts a hand out to stop her, grabbing her arm.

 

She looks down at it and snorts. “Glub glub, Danteeee, Danteeee.”

 

“Just didn’t want to have to explain to my nephew why I let his sister in law go swimming,” he says, lightly, but he doesn’t drop his hand. He puts a small amount of pressure on it, enough to draw her away.

 

“It’s storm season now anyway and we’re due a big one. We had one last year that left fish four streets in. The waves were going over the lighthouse on Southworth Island, they were that big.” She allows him to draw her back towards the car. She looks at him. “One last place I want to try, if you haven’t raised them on their phones.”

 

Dante shakes his head. “Just going to voicemail.”

 

They get back into the car. “So, when you going to tell him? I’ve already spoke to Trish.”

 

“Next few days. From what you said to Trish, it won’t be a surprise.” He glances across to her. “Way I see it, both our families just got a little bigger.”

 

Violet just smiles as she puts the car in gear and moves off.

 

“I was going to do it when I’d found out about his mother,” begins Dante.

 

“You’ll have a long wait then,” she snorts.

 

“So Trish says. I’ve lost so many people in my life, I’m just glad I found him. I can see his father in him.” Dante’s trying to watch Violet without it being obvious.

 

“Well, if you were an identical twin, you would. He’s got your smart-ass mouth, that’s for sure.” She smiles Nero’s little quirk. “What was he like?”

 

“Vergil was clever, wicked cultured, quite reserved, but if he let you in, he’d move heaven and earth for you. He could be selfish and if he thought he knew better, he’d do whatever ‘for your own good.’”

 

“He sounds like a bit of an asshole,” says Violet. She stops to let a Waħx il-baqar past. It pays the car no mind. “I think that’s a different one from the other day.”

 

“He could be a lot of an asshole, but he was my asshole, y’know?” Dante looks out the window, but it’s too dark to see anything.

 

“What happened?”

 

“We fought as kids, but we were like Josh and Nero, we complimented each other, ying and yang. All that fighting meant that we made a great team. We were going to go into business together, saving people, hunting things.”

 

“I know about your mother and that Vergil was taken during the attack, but you got him back a little later.” Violet takes a turn up a road that looks familiar, even in the dark. “What, he was ten or something?”

 

“About the same age as Nero when Dorcas and Alexander died.”

 

Violet looks at him sharply.

 

“Hey, I investigated you as much as you investigated me.”

 

Violet makes a fair enough gesture. “You think Falzon and Sanctus left anything to chance?”

 

Dante chuckles. “I don’t think a fart in the wind got past that pair. They made Trish quick enough.”

 

“I’m still annoyed about that,” Violet replies. “That spell was fucking hard. And here we are.”

 

She comes to a stop outside a small path. “Ruined Church is a little way up there.”

 

“You really think they’ll be there?” he asks.

 

“I can’t think of anywhere else to look. It’s where all the cool kids have their dalliances and it’s not like they haven’t been caught up here before.” She pulls out the torch again and locks the car up.

 

Dante clips Rebellion on his back. “Lead on, MacDuff.”

 

“So why’d you and Vergil fall out in the end?” Violet pulls the conversation back to Vergil.

 

“Ideological differences. He wanted to look more into our demon heritage and become more powerful so that he would never be vulnerable again and I wanted to use my powers to stop other people being vulnerable.” Dante’s glad Violet’s concentrating on the path and can’t see his face.

 

“I guess you both wanted to honour Sparda, just in different ways. I mean as you both found, you can’t protect anything without power.” Violet’s still carefully picking her way through the bushes.

 

“OK, my turn,” says Dante. “Why’d you never marry Credo? He struck me as the traditional type, especially in his position.”

 

“I’m not down with public fucking and there’s no way around it, with his position,” she replies. She tenses and Dante realises where they are.

 

“I hate this place,” says Violet, looking at the church in front of them. “It’s got such an evil atmosphere. I have no fucking idea how all the kids get their jollies here.”

 

“You can stay out here. I’ll go in and look,” offers Dante.

 

“It’s just a place,“ she replies, clearly not convinced by what she’s saying. “I’m not afraid of demons, I’m more afraid of man.”

 

She squares her shoulders and goes into the church. “Kyrie! Nero!”

 

There’s no answer as they quickly look around the church. She eyes the area in front of the stairs as If it’s going to attack her and skirts around the edge. “I know, it’s stupid, but I just get the feeling that something terrible happened here and it stained the place.”

 

“It’s an old building, it probably did,” replies Dante. “Like that stone tape theory.”

 

“It’s not as weird as it sounds.” She looks around. “They’re not here. I have no idea where to go next and that wind’s getting up.”

 

She moves to go, but Dante stops her.  “Tell me why you never married Credo and don’t give me any bullshit about fucking in public, because you’ve done way, way worse things than that.”

 

Violet looks down at his hand on her arm and back at him. Wine-dark eyes meet sky-blue, but she doesn’t pull away. “I wanted Credo to marry someone who could have children, but he wanted me and no one else. He wanted us to adopt or try IVF with a surrogate.”

 

“So why didn’t you?”

 

“How is this finding Nero and Kyrie?”

 

“You said yourself, you don’t know where to look next. Five more minutes isn’t going to make any difference.” Dante can almost hear Trish’s voice in his head telling him to shut the fuck up before he ruins everything, but he can’t.

 

Verity’s diary, the photos at Falzon’s, Verity’s wedding ring to a Sparda round the wrong Agius throat, he’s done. He can’t take any more. Sitting in the church where it happened. He’s going to tell her. He probably shouldn’t, but fuck it.

 

He just wants a little piece of his brother back. And what’s more important than Vergil’s Marked wife? What’s so wrong about that?

 

“So why didn’t you?” Dante asks again.

 

Violet could easily break free, port away, but she doesn’t. She sits down on the steps, looking like she’s struggling to speak.

 

“I hate this place,” she says quietly. “Not just this church, but Fortuna. I fucking hate Fortuna and the only reason I stayed was for Credo and those kids. I could have upped and left at any time and believe me, there’s plenty that tried to make me.”

 

She’s not looking at him anymore, but looking at the floor in front of her. “I worked so hard to rebuild my life when I woke up, all the operations, bone grafts, physio and studying so hard that I got sponsored before I’ve even got out of hospital to go to uni and work for one of the major biochemical companies in the world. I’m so excited, and I have this great future in front of me and this black hole behind me and I’m terrified that they’ll crash into each other.”

 

She looks up at him. “I was left for dead, Dante. My face was so smashed, the police thought that it was to stop me getting ID’d and every bone in my body was broken. Some of it had even started to heal, which means that I’d been held for at least a week and tortured to death. I’m only alive because of sheer chance and medical science. The only clue to my identity is the weird mix of languages I’m fluent in and this bracelet they cannot get off me.”

 

She holds up her wrist. “Other than you, I’m the only person that can remove it.”

 

“May I?” Dante holds out his hand for it as he sits down next to her.

 

Violet undoes it and passes it to him. Dante looks at it in the torchlight, seeing the engraving and the initials. He turns it, seeing the small, glittering red gems forming the eyes of the snake and some spots along its dull metal scrollwork, contrasting against the shining gold base of the bracelet.

 

He pulls out his amulet and compares the two. “Very similar, don’t you think?”

 

Violet looks interested. “I’ve never been able to identify the stones. Neither could anyone at work.”

 

“My father gave this amulet and its other half to my mother and she split them and gave them to me and my brother.” The bracelet tries to pull towards the heavier amulet. “Put them together and they recombine. Like this is trying to.”

 

Violet takes it from him and snaps it back on.

 

“Cool trick, Dante. I’m around magic and science all day and there’ll be an explanation for it.” She stands up. “C’mon. We’re as well going home. The pair of them can take care of themselves.”

 

He doesn’t move and catches her hand. “Sit back down. You didn’t answer my question. Why didn’t you really marry Credo?”   

 

Violet tries to pull her hand free. “We should get back before the weather worsens.”

 

Dante tightens his hold. “Please sit down, Violet.”

 

She allows him to pull her back down to sit.

 

He doesn’t drop her hand. “When I first met Trish, she died defending me. I left my father’s sword and my mother’s amulet with her. Something that had belonged to them, been touched by them, the most precious things I had, because she had given me her most precious gift – her life for mine.”

 

“It clearly didn’t stick.”

 

“No, it didn’t, thank God,” he replies. “Has anything funny happened around Nero?”

 

“What like?” Violet says, suspiciously. She nearly mentions his passenger, but stops herself. “I’ve had electric shocks if I take something from his right hand with my left and the bracelet often glows and sings when he’s near me. I’m going to have scars from how hot it gets.”

 

“My brother’s sword was Yamato. Let me see your bracelet.“ He turns Violet’s hand around, the dull silver coloured metal catching the light. “This snake is the same design as my brother had on his jacket. It was a personal symbol to him. He had it engraved on nearly everything. Did you ever find out what this metal was?”

 

“Steel, I think. Magnets stick to it. Where is this going? I’m going home, you can walk.” She tries to stand up again, but Dante holds her firm.

 

He’s come too far to stop now. He gets more and more urgent as he speaks.

 

“It’s steel shavings from the tang of my brother’s sword. He gave the woman he loves the same things I did – something from both our parents, the things they touched, the most precious things we have. I gave mine to Trish and Vergil gave his to you.”

 

Violet stands up, twisting out of Dante’s grasp. She storms over to the furthest staircase. “Empty fucking Night! Not this again.”

 

She spins round to face him, tears of anger threatening. “Do you know how many times I’ve heard this? I’m not Verity Agius! I’m not!”

 

“Yes you are!”

 

He crosses the distance in a few short strides, grabbing her hands. “You married my brother Vergil when you were pregnant with Nero, You sent letters and pictures back to Pinny. You were wearing this bracelet in them.” He raises the arm with the bracelet, shaking it in her face. “You were found at the same time Nero was born. The dates all fit.”

 

“The DNA doesn’t!”

 

She screams at him and it floors Dante.

 

“No, you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” and he sounds like he’s pleading.

 

“Lord Agius thought I was Verity come home, he thought his prayers had been answered. Pinny had just come back.” Violet’s voice is flat, defeated. “Pinny thought I was as well and I had to pretend I was her sister to ease a dying woman’s mind. I-I wanted so badly to belong somewhere, have a family. I wanted it so much to belong to someone.”

 

She takes out her compact and shines the torch on it, turning it over. “Credo gave it to me after my first Witch Trial.”

 

Dante takes it from Violet and looks at the inscription, his sharper eyes seeing the scratches underneath form CAMVEA and a date of 20 years ago.

 

“Il cuore conosce la verità, the heart knows the truth,” translates Dante. “This was Credo’s Courting Gift to Verity – Credo worshipped you. He wouldn’t have given you his ex’s leavings. He was giving you this back.”

 

“Then he was wrong.” Violet breaks away and brushes angry tears off her cheeks. “Lord Agius agreed to DNA and he was so sure, but we didn’t match. I didn’t match him, I didn’t match Pinny. He was gutted and he repeated the tests four or five times till I said no more.”

 

She takes back her compact. “I’m sorry Dante, it’s just coincid-“ she pauses as an idea strikes her.

 

“I know how we can find Nero and Kyrie.” She walks past him. “I’ve got the stuff I need in my office.”