Chapter 1: Sometimes you gotta give a girl a hand
Trish agreed because it sure beat waiting around for jobs and verbal sniping. Jobs had been thin on the ground because of certain bums that would remain unnamed. Or just those of Sparda’s bloodline.
Dante was so annoyingly super-powered that whenever he devil-triggered and left the inevitable wave of destruction in his wake, all minor demons that were not thralls booked out of the immediate area--or the immediate blast radius. Some would stay away for decades because they obviously would not stand a chance against the hunter.
And Vergil, not content to be second runner-up, was also bad news on the demonic grapevine. No-one wanted to tangle with the Disaster Twins--or Nero, who was doing a great job of mopping up any leftover minions that were too dumb to follow their leaders back to the demon world.
Which left them at loose ends, stuck twiddling their thumbs because they were letting the kid establish his reputation on the mainland.
They were getting much too domestic. Why just yesterday, they had even idly raised the idea of cleaning the office. Thankfully, that idea never took and they put bets on how much a cleaning company would charge if Dante ever called one in.
(Fumigation might have been in order, but Trish generally zapped any rodents in the vicinity.)
Their cavalier attitudes, from an outsider’s perspective, might have seemed a little cold, but Trish and Lady were canny gamblers. They also knew Dante and, to a lesser extent, Vergil. If they had to bet on the Disaster Twins versus the hordes of the Underworld, they would back the twits any day. Not that they would ever admit it.
They had not even bothered to correct Nero’s assumption that there was no way back out at first. Lady had to nudge the kid into that particular mind-set that one had to use when dealing with the Disaster Twins a bit later. After all, Nero had the basics down--one had to beat the stupid out of them just to get a word in about how stupid they were being.
No doubt Dante wanted to have a long talk with his brother about the whole opening the gates to the demon dimension business. Or beat the tar out of him because they had communication issues and a nice violence-laden stroll through the Underworld might give them time to sort stuff out.
Whatever it was, they still had the Yamato with them. Despite the twisty and unpredictable nature of dimensional travel, they would get out eventually. The walls between the worlds were unbelievably thin in some places too.
Which was why Morrison (similarly unconcerned about Dante’s second jaunt into another dimension despite holding the deed to his shop) had offered them another job. Demonic infestation, threatening to spill out of some ancient monastery in a rural backwater hallway up a mountain. Rain check on shopping.
It got them out of the shop and out in the open air.
Trish had been looking forward to a day of shopping and sangria with tapas for dinner. If there was shooting involved, it would only be the icing on the cake. These days, people were a lot less likely to try something--like attempting to grope women that were just shopping for shoes. Word of her and Lady got around. That, and all the broken insteps.
But zapping shambling hordes of reanimated corpses relieved the tedium just as neatly.
It had been religious scholars in the monastery library with a pentagram. Again. That was the problem with some humans--they took the existence of demons as a challenge and would try summoning them again despite the events two months ago that had threatened to end the world.
Morrison usually called them to handle more complicated jobs like this. Lady would drag the unconscious idiots away from the carnage while Trish deactivated the summoning circle or whatever that the humans used to seal the breach. With Dante and Vergil out of the picture, only Trish had enough knowledge of nine types of demonic runes and most of the dialects of Hell to shut down a summons without ripping yet another hole in the world. Outside of finding one of the witches of yore to decipher some crumbling scroll, the best bet was usually some scholar of old dead languages.
But the problem with the scholars of old dead stuff was that human curiosity always reared its head, resulting in the disembodied spectres summoned from another realm. Being disembodied, they needed to get bodied fast. And the monastery had a well-populated crypt.
The remains were crumbling to pieces though, which made it easier to blast them into bits. Lacking physical anchors, the haunts fled back to more welcoming climes. Within a quarter of an hour, Trish was shaking bone dust from her hair irritably as she emerged from the remains of the old library to confront the humans responsible.
Lady was already taking care of that. After beating off the walking skeletons that made it past Trish, she had turned her attentions onto the now awake knuckleheads that were just lightly bruised and a little scratched up. They were the sort of well-fed academic types that would hike up to some rustic village to find an old monastery with an antique library on a weekend. And bring the necessary supplies to create a summoning circle.
“--you got away with far less than what you deserved!” Lady lectured the trio with one hand on her hip and the other on her rocket-launcher. Humans that summoned demons carelessly were her pet peeve. For obvious reasons. “Wallets and identification, now!”
So cowed by the experience were the humans that they produced their billfolds without question.
Lady make a show of taking down their names and removed the largest denominations from the wallets before chucking them back. “That’s the fee for saving your asses. No extra charges for wear and tear on our weapons, so you’re getting off easy.”
“B-but Richard might have been bitten . . . is he gonna become a zombie?” the bravest of the trio asked. Richard, the most scratched up member of the wannabe demon summoners, looked pathetic and whined.
Trish sighed inwardly. Humans and their movies. The spectres that had risen in response to their haphazard summons had fled back to the Underworld, unable to find purchase in this one.
“Here,” she said, stepping forward with a glowing rune in one hand. She smacked Richard upside the head deftly before he could retreat. “That’ll hold it.”
“At no extra charge,” Lady chimed in. “So long as you don’t go near anything demonic, they won’t come back for you.”
Or so they hoped. Trish’s little “tag” was not a warding, just a low-level sensor charm that would ping if Richard decided to get creative again with his friends. Devils only target certain humans if they were most likely to bring them through to this world. Richard and company had very little innate occult ability, so they could be categorised as low risk.
“Scram--we haven’t swept the perimeter for strays yet.” A convenient half-lie that would give them a little more time to finish the job.
The trio legged it, leaving Trish and Lady alone in front of the old library. Now the real clean-up would take place. When Dante took jobs, the place tended to burn down or fall through a crack into the Underworld, taking care of any pesky scrolls or grimoires that contained information that humans were not supposed to meddle with. But there were small idyllic hamlets in the valley below that might not enjoy an avalanche coming down on their quaint roofs.
As they had settled the matter without the earth swallowing up the library, they had a just little more work to do.
These humans had three legit grimoires, a dozen hokey ones of dubious ancestry, one actual demonic relic as an anchor for the summons and the usual assortment of candles and bloodletting tools.
The real metal brazier came in handy when it was time to burn the relic--nasty things that served as bait for gullible humans and also explained how three mostly normal humans could perform a successful summoning. They would dump the unhygienic tools in the nearest river and nab the grimoires for future reference.
If they needed to sell the grimoires for funds, Trish normally edited the summons so that any future attempts would be fruitless. She discovered that changing a few rune or symbols in strategic places worked best. No devil in their right minds would respond to “Mundus, wanker extraordinaire” or “Argosax, wearer of ladies’ lingerie”--mostly out of fear.
Morrison met them back in the largest of the three quaint hamlets in the picturesque valley. They had taken a room at the guesthouse to be polite.
“Job done?” The broker looked dapper as ever despite it being ass o’clock.
“Done and dusted. Did those dummies pass through here?” Lady asked, stretching out the kinks while the silvery pre-dawn light crept over the wooden rooftops. It had been a long night.
“Didn’t stop running even when they got into their cars,” Morrison confirmed. “The mayor says thanks, by the way.”
“Hey, as long as the payment’s on time. Good on them for catching on before the night of the living dead actually happened.”
“Those guys might have talked a little too loudly--didn’t think that the folk hereabouts would understand what they were up to.” Morrison chuckled a little. “Not very smart for all their degrees.”
“If there was a degree for summoning demons, wouldn’t it only be given to survivors?” Trish asked rhetorically. She had her own feelings about humans trying to meddle where they were the least welcome.
Some demons didn’t actually want to be hauled into the human world. (A surprising fact for many.) And she knew that some of the legions were less than keen about being cannon fodder in yet another bloody campaign by their lords. But it wasn’t a democracy over there, so the average demon was basically a serf or thrall.
“A happy ending for all this time--no deaths and no collateral damage,” Morrison reminded them. “And I finally got your bonuses!”
“Wh--you had to keep that for last?” Lady demanded, temporarily forgetting her fatigue.
“Always save the best for last!”
“How did you manage that?” Trish was surprised because while they had technically saved the world, it was a long shot to expect to be paid for it. But Morrison had some contacts, people that knew people--he said that he would try to get them what they deserved for doing the work of the army and the police.
“It was a bit too big to hide this time,” the broker said, pulling out an expensive-smelling celebratory cigar--he would have taken his cut. “I just pointed out that things would have gone very differently if devil hunters did not exist.”
And he gave them a number. It had more zeroes in it than all their paycheques to date.
“Fuck,” Lady swore.
“Split between the four of you . . . assuming he’s coming back for it.” Morrison lit his cigar, puffing on it to get a healthy glow. “Would appreciate it if you could help me deliver Nero’s share on the way back. Banking in Fortuna is--”
“It’d take a month to get wired through.” Lady made a disparaging noise, clearly disgusted by outdated financial practices. “And that’s after they rebuilt most of the town.”
Fortuna had moved into the current century at least. Trish noticed the changes as they boarded the ferry the next day after accepting Morrison’s little job with an eye to extend their getaway. There were more vehicles on board this time. Their motorbikes were not so noticeable now that Fortuna was less insular than it had been. But the two women drew their fair share of looks from the locals.
Trish was used to it. On Fortuna though, people kept trying to sell her clothes the moment she got off the ferry. She did buy a linen shirt from an old lady that guaranteed that it was made of local fabric and handstitched. The woman’s smile faltered just a little when Trish put the shirt on and tied it at the waist, leaving it unbuttoned.
Being a created demon, Trish had no shame in her genetic make-up. She just found the humans’ reaction to her appearance amusing.
They left the main drag that was a lot more touristy than it had been eight years ago and sped into what might charitably called the suburbs. Lady led the way, having been by several times because she patronised Nicoletta Goldstein’s services and had a passing interest in Nero’s devil hunting business.
The homes that lined the road they were on looked less and less prosperous. But there were signs that the people living there took pride in their houses. The whitewashed wooden fences and neatly trimmed lawns were pleasant enough, Trish supposed.
Lady stopped in front of a single storey house with an attached garage and a lawn that looked like it had been used as the neighbourhood soccer pitch. Lines of laundry were strung up outside and all it was missing were the laughing children and a dog. There were sounds of children playing out back, so it wasn’t far off from the domestic idyll.
But the moment they ducked into the rather well-used garage, Trish realised that Lady might have ulterior motives.
But she did not do anything other than raise her eyebrows slightly as Nico stammered cutely while Lady batted her eyelashes coquettishly at her. Trish had graduated from don’t-kill-this-human-they-might-be-useful to “you should only tell your vitriolic close acquaintances that you can smell them when they are horny to rag on them” a long time ago after all.
Apparently the last time they had spent any significant amount of time alone, it involved overalls, shovels and the destruction of a lot of the city--Lady was trying to make up for lost time. Or squeeze a discount on whatever new explosive rounds Nico had come up with to go with the modifications on her rocket-launcher.
The eyelash batting must have had some effect because Nico had stopped whatever she had been working on to run to the backroom to fetch samples to show them. Leaving Lady and Trish to idly examine the somewhat familiar prosthesis on the workbench.
Familiar because they knew that Nico made them for Nero. Somewhat unfamiliar because they had not seen it used before.
“Is that silicone?” Lady gave the surface a poke. She liked mechanical things almost as much as Nico did. Though not to the point of actually building them.
“It could be the one she made him for everyday use back then,” Trish suggested. Before she could make a second guess, Lady had attached the cables that led to a battery pack and turned it on--
The way the hand started vibrating was certainly new--but not all that unfamiliar for anyone that had ever owned a vibrator.
“Uh,” Lady said intelligently before looking at Trish.
“Well, it could just be--” Even Trish could not find a non-sexual excuse for that.
Lady toggled another switch at the forearm end of the prosthesis and they both watched as the hand started to move up and down rhythmically.
“Yeah, Kyrie is a lucky girl,” Lady concluded before uncoupling the battery. “Or Nero has more brain cells than the rest of his family put together.”
“Or just the brain cells to even maintain a functional relationship.”
“Dante and--” Lady’s brain appeared to stall at the very thought of Complete Asshole Twin in the same sentence as a functional relationship—quasi-romantic, familial or otherwise. “Those two never had any significant romantic relationships anyhow.”
“Dante was never actually trying,” Trish pointed out. Aside from the occasional whine about not having any luck, Dante’s forays into any sort of entanglement had always seemed performative. There was a woman on Dumary Island that Dante never talked about. Trish and Lady never investigated—they counted that as the one nice thing he got as a sort-of-friend from them.
Even if the hypothetical person that Dante might consider a relationship with existed, said hypothetical person would need infinite patience and no sense of smell, for eau de Dante came mainly in two variations—pizza grease or rotting ichor.
Lady and Trish had figured it out eventually in the early years after the events of Temen-ni-gru and Mallet Island. The guy had issues. Being a hybrid was just one of them. For all his flippant blowhard nature, Dante sure was good at walling himself off from people and putting the kibosh on any meaningful looks from anyone.
It did not require special intuition to figure out that constantly forgetting to pay the bills, doing laundry maybe once a month if he remembered and acting like a bum (or just a sleazy bum) were acts of deliberate self-sabotage. (Now the whole not shaving thing could be put down to him being an old bum.)
If Dante’s job had not necessitated skidding around in demon guts regularly and maybe stopping the end of the world as they knew it by leaving huge swaths of destruction in his wake, they were pretty sure he’d find other ways to cock-block himself. Lady and Trish were pretty sure of that because they were two of Dante’s tiny circle of close acquaintances.
“And Vergil--“ Trish begun.
“Is a complete asshole,” Lady finished. Knowing the guy for ten minutes around the same time she had met Dante had probably been ten minutes too many. It was safe to say that that guy had no friends. Which was pretty sad coming from them of all people.
“He was less abrasive as Nelo Angelo.” Trish had known Complete Asshole Twin briefly while he was Mundus’ puppet. His propensity for ending the world in the search for ultimate power had not been so obvious back then.
They were both mostly convinced that the demonic and human DNA inside Vergil had called a truce in the interest of self-preservation and made sure that the first and possibly only chance they had resulted in conception. (As worldly as they were, Trish and Lady still could not imagine that scenario.) The Disaster Twins weren’t exactly the paternal sort.
Any further ruminations were interrupted by Nico noisily hauling in an armload of schematics and ammunition shells. And Kyrie following behind her with a plate of cookies. Lady and Trish had to keep themselves from checking out her jegging-clad legs but damn, the curves on that girl should come with a hazard sign.
Nico blithely dumped everything on her workbench, completely obscuring the prosthesis. The mechanic wasn’t oblivious, thank goodness. Neither was Kyrie, they both suspected. Though it be interesting to have a chat with Kyrie about that . . . Maybe when Nero finally got the nerve to marry her and they could have that hen night eventually.
Trish and Lady praised the cookies and made small talk so that Nico could whisk the vibrator arm prosthesis under the workbench.
“You made these? Wow, I need to drop by more often,” Lady said, not entirely lying because there was nothing like homemade cookies to anyone that had not had any in over two decades. Humans set a store by such things.
They put on their company manners because Kyrie was a nice girl. Out of Nero’s league, of course, but she apparently liked him. Trish took another cookie and reflected that they really should nudge the kid to propose. Or just drag him into corner and tell him straight to his face. Dropping hints might not work despite Nero having more sense than the Disaster Twins most of the time.
Kyrie offered to get them coffee and allowed them a brief respite. Though none of them could say with honesty that they had not checked her out for a second when she exited the garage.
Lady cocked an eyebrow at Nico, who looked a little flustered before she nodded and shrugged. Yeah, there was no harm in looking.
Trish waited patiently for Lady to finally come to the realisation that Nero was getting more action than she was. It wasn’t long before Lady was using the unfair advantage of her heterochromia and lip pout combo to either score a date or score a deal on munitions. Nico was deploying freckles and nerdy mechanic to the hilt. Trish had told Lady that showing Nico everything was a mistake--a lot of humans liked the flirting part.
“So about those mini-missiles--”
Shopping and scoring was interrupted yet again by a stampede of small sweaty human children. Well, it seemed like a stampede to Trish as their loud chatter filled the entire space.
Bringing up the rear, just as sweaty and covered in grass stains, was Nero with a football under one arm and a playful chokehold on a slightly older boy under his other arm.
“Oh hey,” Nero said over the din. “Any news? Or a job?”
“Okay you cretins--back off!” Nico hollered when the kids started to encroach upon her space. “Kyrie has cookies--so if you want them, you better go wash your hands now!”
The words were like a magic spell that left the adults standing in the garage with Nico’s hair swaying in the wind from the speed of their passage. Also, the blissful silence that followed.
“Not exactly here for business today,” Lady clarified. “Just some shopping and getting my discount from the time she loaned out Kalina Ann II.”
“I said you could claim it from Dante--”
“Dante isn’t here,” Lady shot back before looking over at Nero. “Sorry, but we’ve not heard a word from our contacts.”
“Or from my contacts,” Trish added helpfully. “And I did threaten to stick Lady’s bazooka up where the sun don’t shine if they tried to hide anything.”
“Yeah, she’s very free with other people’s weapons--”
The sniping might have resumed if not for Kyrie sticking her head in just then.
“Nero, you’re just in time. Let’s all sit down for coffee instead.”
“Okay, just let me get cleaned up,” Nero said, making for the old stained sink in the corner of the garage and giving the rest of them the stink-eye that plainly said Behave.
“Relax, kid,” Trish huffed and examined her nails after Kyrie had gone back to wrangling the children and the food. “We’re not going to embarrass you in front of your girlfriend.”
“Though she can’t be that easily shocked since she lives with you.” Lady grinned as Nero flipped her off with one soapy hand.
“And all those kids too.” Trisha shuddered inwardly at the very thought of facing all those loud mini-humans twenty-four seven. One or two might have been manageable, but they it looked like they had taken in a few more for day-care. Nero really was the responsible one of the family. Or at least he had the chance to be after the Disaster Twins kept him from following them.
“Kyrie feeds a lot of kids in this neighbourhood. I always say they’re addicted to her cookies,” Nero said with shrug as he finished washing his hands. “She will not confirm or deny it.”
“Well, you can tell her that I believe that those cookies can be classified as an addictive substance,” Lady chipped in. “Oh, and you won’t believe the news Morrison gave us!”
Nero grinned at them both. “So you weren’t just here to flirt with Nico and scrounge for freebies?”
Trish would have brought up the special prosthetic arm to tease the kid but a) it had only been a few weeks since Nero had grown a new arm and b) there would be more cookies if they could make it inside before the kids demolished everything.
Also c) Kyrie might get mad if they were late for coffee. It was too risky--she might not offer them dinner.
They could save up that little morsel for another day. Trish wanted to enjoy her vacation. And maybe the look on Nero’s face when he found out that he would have the funds to pay Nico to repair the RV and support his budding football team of orphans.
Chapter 2: Girls just wanna have
As Dante’s shop was a sparsely populated garbage tip on the best of days, this spoke more of Lady’s growing awareness that she was forty-one going on forty-two and still living out of hotel rooms and the odd crummy motel.
Free toiletries and not needing to clean up only went so far.
So maybe she was glad that a job outside the cities cropped up. Being out there on her bike with miles and miles of open road was a sort of palate-cleanser.
A trip up to what might have been the most idyllic hamlet ever to sit in a valley with goats and gingerbread trim all over the place was just the thing to break up the post-apocalyptic monotony.
And there was a paying job involved. Trish covered the occult and demonic magic side while Lady mopped up any strays and rescued a trio of post-graduate students from their own folly. No monasteries were set on fire and no shambling corpses bothered the residents, safe in their gingerbread-trimmed houses and goat pens.
The human students looked like the trouble-making sort because they had too much time on their hands and the knowledge to raise hell. But Trish and Lady sent them off with a flea in their ears and one of Trish’s little tags to monitor the amount of demonic influence they would come into contact with.
Lady knew that those weren’t the last humans to try what they had attempted in the old library. There just was no help for some people.
Now Lady had feelings about humans trying to do stupid shit like that, but she didn’t let those feelings get in the way of doing her job. Her rather messy job that was hard on her clothes, her weapons and her motorbike. And her relationships. Or lack thereof.
But it was a living and they were doing some good.
Morrison’s news about their big payday was the icing on the cake. They definitely had to take some time off. Lady had barely escaped being crushed in the ruins of the houseplant from hell before crashing for half a day. Then she had tidied herself up and hauled ass to Patty’s belated second party in her one good party dress. The party that Patty decided she had to hold for her not-so-regular friends. Because Dante didn’t do teenage parties and neither did Lady.
They would have looked really out of place in that party. Or just really creepy standing around a party full of teens, bopping to their music and talking about their favourite bands. Someone would definitely have asked Dante for alcohol--he just looked like That Guy that would have a flask in his coat. (He didn’t--Lady and Trish knew that he kept his drinking indoors and at home at certain times.) Or tried to hit on Dante because he did look like That Sleazy Older Guy. (Which was another reason why Dante avoided that type of gathering.)
Lady knew that very few people would be moving about outside in the aftermath of a vampiric demon tree. Traffic was almost non-existent along the way and it was a very small party that formed that evening in the Lowell household. Trish had even put on a dress that covered her from neck to knee--it was sorta translucent in the back and sleeves, but it was the thought that counted.
It had been a little sad, sitting there with Patty, who was obviously trying not to pout as she surveyed her gathering of five adult guests including her mother and Patricia Lowell (also not into teenage parties and mainly there to drop off a birthday cheque), awkwardly trying to make conversation.
The birthday girl had put a brave face on when the small cake was brought out. Declaring that she was glad that the business with the hell tree was over and that certain unnamed bums would owe her loads of presents.
“Atta girl,” Lady had said, trying very hard not to remember her own eighteenth birthday. Which took place in a hospital while she was recovering from the secondary infection from the stab wound in her leg. Dante had been by a few days earlier to throw a few quips and check up on her (though he would have denied it at the time because he thought he had a reputation to maintain).
Dante probably would make it for the double-belated birthday party, once he got his ass back into this world. He was the goopiest half-demon Lady had ever met. In fact, he was probably the most human half-human Lady knew of. Mainly because Dante’s behaviour was reflective of both extremes--the most stupid parts and the most compassionate parts of humanity.
It was one of the things that Lady never ceased to marvel at. That they lived in a world where Dante was the most sensitive member of the Sparda line and figured out Nero’s parentage eight years ago. And he was daft enough not to tell the kid until said Complete Asshole Twin’s reappearance. (Granted, he had thought that Complete Asshole Twin was dead and there was that little sticking point where he had been the one to do the deed . . .)
Lady’s brain still shut down briefly every time she remembered that Vergil was Nero’s father. There was a whole raft of issues associated with Complete Asshole Twin, starting with how he had been her late unlamented father’s partner-in-crime and ending with just how many lives he had been responsible for on two occasions now.
Said offspring was doing well for himself and showing no tendencies towards opening up portals to the Underworld. After going through the various stages of being poleaxed by the news, brief denial, unwilling acceptance, actual acceptance, kicking the shit out of the Disaster Twins to make them see reason and being told to hold the fort while they faffed off to the Underworld all in one afternoon, Nero was getting on with his life. He was rightfully pissed off about it, but was taking it out on demons that could not take a hint.
Some years back, Lady had taken an interest in Nero when Dante had left the sword Yamato with the kid. That meant something to the kid. The fact that he had taken up demon-hunting as a profession was telling.
That he might have been Dante’s son had never crossed Lady’s mind, superficial similarities in appearance notwithstanding. Dante at nineteen had no game whatsoever and everything she witnessed after that just confirmed it. Like Trish, she had just assumed that Sparda senior had been around the block more than once or twice in the past two millennia and Nero was a genetic throwback.
Knowing that Nero was just two generations removed from a full-blooded demon lord explained a lot about his devil-killing abilities. The kid was good at it and Lady did not actually care who his bio-dad was (unless that became a problem). She was perfectly happy to deliver the good news of their bonus to him in person--for various reasons.
Fortuna was not as uptight as it used to be when the Order and their church held sway. (Though it was amusing to watch them react to her and Trish.) There were fewer people in hoods and outdated clothing from three centuries ago out on the streets. They had repaired most of the streets and fallen buildings, taking care to match the existing architecture. It resulted in a city that was an aesthetically pleasing amalgam of old and new elements.
Some opportunist with an eye towards development had started marketing the place to tourists from the mainland, banking on the romanticism of the island and downplaying the whole demon-worshipping religious cult angle. Or so the advertisements at the ferry port appeared to imply. Slowly, but surely, Fortuna was moving forwards after the events of eight years ago.
On one visit a few years ago, Kyrie told her that some people had flat out left the religion entirely after the fiasco engineered by the Order. Others had joined the reformed church, one that focused more on the doing of good works and less of the sitting around worshipping Dante’s dad. (Or their idealised version of Dante’s dad.)
There had been plenty of good works to be done in the aftermath of the destruction of most of the main town. Kyrie had waded into it with a will, working ceaselessly at the hospices, bringing food to construction workers and finally taking on the care of three orphans a few years ago. (Lady could tell that the clothes they wore were homemade and mended more than twice. It spurred her to pass on a few jobs to Nero--the kid did not have many contacts back then.)
Lady didn’t have to wonder why Nero chose to stay on Fortuna. He had a girlfriend that just might be the nicest person on earth and the kids they had adopted probably grew on you, given the chance. The attitudes of some people on Fortuna though . . .
Nero had once told her that some people still looked in askance at him and Kyrie cohabiting. Lady witnessed it herself that time she walked with Kyrie to get groceries while Nico was working on her order of ammunition. Now Lady didn’t know much about smaller cities and towns where almost everyone knew everyone else, but some of the residents of Fortuna were definitely snubbing them.
That just told Lady that they couldn’t blame their weird religion for everything. And Kyrie had a spine made of steel because she just smiled and waved at everyone no matter what their response. There were a few stores that Kyrie avoided because she could not get any credit. Little wonder that Nero and Nico did not do the grocery runs. Lady felt her fists itch a little when the sideways glances became more obvious.
“It’s not that bad,” Kyrie told her on the way back. Hauling a large hemp sack full of vegetables in each hand, the younger woman had been her mild-mannered and cheerful self throughout. “Some people still don’t trust Nero, so he feels it more.”
“Still doesn’t make it right,” Lady muttered while balancing her own load of eggs, bread and fish. “And some of them looked at you like you’re the--”
“Whore of Babylon?” Kyrie supplied when Lady’s brain could not find the appropriate adjective. She smiled gently while Lady spluttered a little. “They haven’t actually called me that. But most of them have known me since I was a baby. Nero too, actually . . . It’s just a few stubborn people. Mrs Hansen sells me bread when her husband isn’t minding the shop. And they definitely will call Nero when there’s a demon rat infestation. They’ll come around.”
Kyrie might be optimistic about their situation, but Lady had made up her mind to check up on them--and Nico--more often. They still didn’t like outsiders much on Fortuna, even though Nico was technically one of them by virtue of her parentage. From what she knew, Nico didn’t go out very much because they still weren’t that cool with outsiders.
After arriving at Kyrie and Nero’s place during their self-declared holiday, Lady did not need Trish raising her eyebrows at her to know that her demonic colleague had guessed that Nero’s co-worker was why she kept coming back to Fortuna.
At first, it was just great to have someone that didn’t make comments about how a cute girl like her couldn’t possible handle a rocket-launcher that large. Lady had bruised her knuckles on more smug faces than she had hot dinners back in the day when she had just been starting out. Morrison usually pointed her in the direction of decent mechanics that just got the job done, so things got a little better in her twenties. She still had very little patience for the mostly boys’ club of mercenaries and wannabe devil hunters though.
Then there had been the fact that Nico was a massive gearhead and loved Lady’s bike almost as much as Lady did. Nico wasn’t adverse to the company of guys or girls. Lady did have to check a few times because she was afraid she was reading the signs wrong--she had been out of the game for a while now and Nico was . . . kinda young.
Finding out that Nico was twenty-five was both a relief and an unwanted reminder than she was sixteen years older. Lady knew she didn’t look her age thanks to good genes on her mother’s side (and a decent skincare routine) but it was a little galling.
But Nico’s frank gaze was flattering and her blush while holding out a shovel was too cute. From what she gathered, the younger woman was either bisexual or pansexual--though she obviously wasn’t going to wave that fact about on Fortuna just yet. While Nico was a Dante fangirl (everyone was allowed to have flaws), she had other good points like competence and the ability to drive through Hell. A practical mechanic with a good head on her shoulders.
Sometimes a little too practical. Which was why Lady had been a little snippy after being rescued from being a living battery. Her personal autonomy had been violated and she just needed a moment to process the whole thing. (One more thing to blame on Complete Asshole Twin.) But the end of the world didn’t allow for time-outs and they had to juggle that on top of Days of Our Demonic Lives with Dante’s family issues. And Nico had let her drive the RV.
The whole issue was a bit of a moot point when Lady was confronted with those freckles and plastic-rimmed glasses again. She never knew she had a thing for girls in glasses until nine months ago--Lady was learning a lot about herself now that she was considering things like settling down in one place.
It was partly Kyrie and Nero’s fault, but at least Lady knew that she wasn’t at the white fences and a family pet stage yet. She could blame herself for starting out late.
While other teenage girls went on dates and to parties, Lady had learned to fire a rocket launcher and used the shooting range every day until she had calluses. All while evading the well-meaning family services that sought to place her in a foster home or group home. (Her therapist back then had told her that she felt out of place because she had skipped over parts of her formative years--in addition to being a patricide.) The year after the events on the Temen-ni-gru had been the second darkest period of her life. Taking an interest in other people had been a step forward back then.
From their conversations, it was clear that Nico had dated before. Possibly more than Lady had. Lady did not count the odd one-night stands over the years with people she had found tolerable. So that evened the playing field a little more. That and the fact that Nico had seen her naked before. Trish said that that had been a mistake--well obviously, because there was something appealing about having new things to discover about a person.
Like how far down those tattoos went. Which Lady tended to think about whenever Nico’s midriff was in her direct line-of-sight. It was really distracting sometimes.
Lady most definitely saw Nico glance her way coyly as they went into the house to have cookies with Kyrie and deliver the good news. She smiled back and wondered if Kyrie would ask them to stay for dinner. There would be more opportunities to talk if they stuck around longer.
After hearing about their bonus, teatime turned into an impromptu celebration. Nico asked for a raise on the spot and Lady could not suppress a grin. The oldest boy--Julio, the one that was a bit of a scamp--very daringly asked if he could have a ride on their bikes, no doubt hoping that the adults were in a good enough mood to acquiesce.
“Only if Kyrie says yes,” Lady replied when Trish was obviously not going to.
“Maybe tomorrow,” Kyrie temporised, neatly avoiding making any commitment and cut short any potential discussion by looking at the clock. “It’s almost time to help set the table for dinner. And these cups and plates need washing.”
Oh she was good--Lady had never doubted that Kyrie was head of this household.
Kyrie asked them to stay for dinner and Trish pounced on the opportunity while Nero was still too pleased by the size of the bonus to say anything.
“Oh we have some space now that the boys have their own bedroom now,” Kyrie offered when Trish inquired about potential hotels or motels in town. One of the new changes to the house had been the creation of a loft room under the roof to accommodate the boys--one of the reasons why Nero had been looking for more work of late.
“If you don’t mind roughing it,” Nero muttered, apparently embarrassed that they might have to crash on his couch. But he wasn’t objecting. Lady wondered if they were trying to save some poor innkeeper from them or avoiding any potential issues of them interacting with the locals.
“I’ve slept rougher. Thank you for offering.” Lady was bound and determined to shove bills into the pillowcase now because Kyrie was not going to accept payment for them crashing in their spare room.
“I don’t sleep,” Trish said, deadpan. The children stared at her, fascinated by her declaration.
“I’m joking,” she said, setting the older kids off because they thought she was kidding around. They would go back with the news that Kyrie and Nero’s outsider guests were weird but somewhat hilarious.
The surplus kids left reluctantly for their own dinners while Kyrie and Nero’s small brood washed up the tea things and prepared the table. Watching that potential troublemaker Julio concentrating hard to put the utensils neatly at each place setting was oddly endearing--maybe the kid could have a bike ride down the street tomorrow if Kyrie said yes. Lady did not know many kids but this one looked like the persistent sort.
There were no prayers before dinner except for Kyrie saying some sort of generic thanks for the food. It would have been really weird to be thanking Nero’s grandfather for the oxtail stew and fresh bread that Kyrie had set on the table.
“This is awesome,” Nico gushed after her first spoonful.
“We have it almost once every week,” Julio mumbles, but very softly because he wasn’t actually stupid.
“Yeah--and it tastes great every week,” Nico declared, reaching for the bread basket. “Appreciatin’ it don’t cost me nothing.”
Trish and Lady were more than happy to back up Nico’s assertions. The meat was tender and falling right off the bone. Kyrie did have the gift of turning what was essentially the butt end of a cow into an edible meal. Lady could count the home-cooked meals she had been invited to without taking her boots off. Mainly from the people she had saved by accident while on the hunt. Clients almost never asked her to stick around.
It was refreshingly normal and they didn’t talk about demon hunting in front of the children. Lady was just fine with fielding questions about everything outside Fortuna from the two that could ask coherent questions while Kyrie looked on indulgently.
After dinner, the kids were packed off to wash up and change before bed. Lady volunteered to do the dishes with Nero while Nico took out the trash and Trish bundled up the empties for recycling. It was then that Lady got the full rundown of the jobs Nero did for the cash-strapped members of their island. They got foodstuffs in return, which was good for keeping them fed but not so good for keeping the RV’s tank full or buying parts for repairs. The extra cash was timely because the kids needed new shoes and school things.
Kyrie joined them back downstairs for wine and shop talk after putting the children to bed. Enforcing bedtime was a specialist job and not for the faint of heart. She sat down on the sofa next to Nero with a less than ladylike sigh and accepted the wineglass Trish passed her.
“And then that guy’s wife was like Do you do pest extermination as well?” Nero put on an exaggerated impression of a prissy customer while recounting his last job. “I would have taken it if she was willing to pay a decent rate. The rich ones are such a bunch of skinflints.”
“Some people react to demons in their backyards like that. Like an annoyance that they’d like to be rid of.” Trish and Lady could relate. They had their fair share of shitty clients that forgot that even temporary employees had rights.
“At least Mr Williamson was grateful enough--he gave us a discount on the glass for the windows,” Kyrie chimed in.
“Yeah, but I got no patience for negotiating with most of them.” Nero paused to top their glasses up with more wine. “You think Morrison can take me on permanently? For jobs outside Fortuna?”
“Sure, he’s usually reliable,” Trish replied. “You just pay him his share and he’ll do the rest.”
“Just remember--he’s not a fighter though. He’s not gonna be on the scene for the actual job,” Lady cautioned. “And you have to do some groundwork for yourself because Morrison charges extra for that.”
Shop talk took up the rest of the evening and they decided to call it a night when Kyrie appeared to be nodding off. Lady was feeling the effects of their last job, but seeing Nico go outside made her pause.
Trish nudged her and gave her a knowing look before asking to use the facilities. Now Trish didn’t actually need to wash and change in a bathroom, but Lady knew an opening when she saw one.
“Save some hot water for me,” she murmured before drifting off towards the back porch.
She found Nico relaxing on the steps, fiddling with a small cardboard box of cigarettes. The mechanic was looking up at the night sky, which was clear and dotted with stars that were more visible now that they were away from the light pollution of the major cities.
“Need a light?” Lady asked before belated remembering that she did not actually have a lighter.
Nico craned her neck a little to look at her. “Nah--just thinking about stuff. I don’t smoke ‘round the house ‘cos of the kids and Kyrie.”
“That’s nice of you.” Lady sat down on the step so that they were at the same eye level and hoped that she was acting casual enough.
“I-I should cut back anyway,” Nico said, pocketing the box. “It’s a b-bad habit.”
“When did you start?” Lady asked out of curiosity.
“Probably at school. Kids did all kinds of shit in school--guess we thought it was better than sittin’ in class.” Nico grinned at the memory. “Tho’ my dad said that he’d teach me to drive if I managed to get my diploma at the polytechnic.”
Nico had a normal non-demon-summoning adoptive parent. And a mostly normal life despite her deadbeat bio-dad. On one hand, that made Lady want to scream at her to get away while she still could. On the other hand, Lady was not going to be the person to stop someone from attaining their dreams, atypical as they were.
“He’d be proud of you for helping to save the world,” Lady said, meaning it.
“I guess we did--save the world that is.” Nico’s smile lit up her whole face. “Imagine that.”
“Don’t have to--because you might get to do it again.” And Lady very daringly put her left hand over Nico’s right hand where it rested on the step.
“Aww shoot, I really need to quit now,” Nico said at last. She had not moved her hand away.
“Oh?” Lady felt Nico inching closer to her side and refrained from pumping her fists in celebration. There was just enough light to see her face as she leaned in.
“Cos I probably taste like an ashtray,” Nico replied. There was no trace of a stammer now. “But I’m really feelin’ like I should be kissing you right about now.”
Nico up close smelt mostly of the dinner Kyrie had made with traces of grease and gunpowder. It masked the scent of nicotine well enough. But she was right--she did taste like an ashtray under the traces of stew and the wine that Trish had brought.
“We need to try that again,” Lady said when they finally disengaged. She was glad she had used a decent brand of lipgloss that day. The kiss had been nice . . . not too aggressive but promising a lot more for the future.
“I’ll go get a mint.”
“Wait a minute--” The second kiss was still flavoured with nicotine but it lasted longer. It was turning out to be a pretty good vacation.
Chapter 3: (Demon) Girl needs a hobby
But it could have been worse. Vergil’s demonic half had not deliberately warped their minds the way that Mundus would have. Small mercies. Or perhaps it was a silver of conscience leftover from the time when he had been Vergil, power-hungry but not into toying with the minds of others until they were broken husks.
Or perhaps it was the avoidance of anything resembling the sort of dominance Mundus favoured. The former Lord of Hell liked mindless subservience, hence the preferences for created thralls or mentally and physically enslaved demons that would obey his every whim. (When Trish dared to consider her former master’s motives, she supposed that Sparda’s defection was reason enough to shut down all avenues for free will and potential rebellion to creep in.)
Whatever it was, Trish was glad that neither of them had been permanently altered. That might have resulted in an even greater mess in Red Grave. Dante always took things extremely personally wherever Vergil was concerned. And if Dante had succeeded in killing his brother, Nero would have been well on the way to losing the rest of his family.
Trish had seen, even without the odd updates from Lady and the bottle count in the empties bin, how passive Dante had become at times. Like he lacked the will to do anything other than nap at his desk. That was probably the human side of his heritage. It wasn’t something that happened to most demons, even the ones that lived for centuries out here in the human world. Unless Sparda had been the exception and had passed that trait down to his offspring.
Odd how caring too much was could be as detrimental as not caring at all. Perhaps that had been why Sparda rebelled.
Trish had learned a lot while living here. It wasn’t just about why Dante didn’t use his power to lord it over the obviously weaker humans. It was also a bit more complicated than not mugging the pizza delivery person because the pizza they were carrying might have toppings you didn’t want on it.
Sometime two millennia ago, Sparda had chosen the humans over his own demonic brethren. Almost twenty years after her creation, Trish was getting the hang of it. She had no morality of her own back then. Nothing except that one instance of compassion that showed her that she had a long way to go before she could comprehend that sort of thing.
(And what happened in the space between life and death--but that was her own secret to keep.)
She could comprehend some of it now. It was in Kyrie and Nero taking care of children not their own. It was in Lady secretly not always taking paying jobs. It was probably in Dante’s endless quest to bring his brother back from whatever depths he had sunken into. No matter how much that would take out of him.
It was in Lady checking the recycling bin and counting the empties under the sink whenever she dropped by the shop to harangue Dante about his debts (the unofficial tab was a different thing). It was what allowed Trish to have friends in this world and got her invitations to birthdays.
So she observed the niceties and accepted the bed she doesn’t actually need to sleep in in Kyrie and Nero’s spare room. She doesn’t need the bathroom or the nightclothes Kyrie supplied but she went through the motions while Lady drifted off after Nico. She let her awareness spread out like a puddle, politely avoiding the humans as she swept the area around the modest house for potential threats.
This she did because these people were, for the want of a better term, her friends. A very mixed brood. An adopted clan of misfits. The unlikely alliance of the outcasts of both worlds—
Was that too melodramatic? She did hang around very extreme personalities. Trish pondered this while splitting her attention between monitoring the surroundings and considering what else she could do on vacation.
Which was why she was wide wake when Lady entered the room half an hour later with a damp towel around her neck.
“How did it go?” she asked, sitting upright in bed and turning up the lamp with a mental nudge. She did not say “you didn’t get past kissing” because people didn’t like to have that sort of thing pointed out.
“Yeeeesh--don’t do that,” Lady hissed as she closed the door. “I forgot that you really don’t sleep . . .”
Trish could be patient. She tilted her head and crossed her arms, making herself comfortable against the pillows behind her as Lady started to brush out her hair in front of the small mirror mounted on the back of the door.
“If you must know, it went okay,” Lady muttered. “She’s okay with it and I’m okay with it. More news to come after we talk more about it. Or go on a date to talk about it. Probably tomorrow.”
Ah, Trish forgot that Lady wasn’t a teenager anymore. There would be no wild romps in Nico’s van on the worn-out old sofa. Not unless they agreed on it first perhaps after a few drinks.
“But you kissed her.”
“Yeah. She even offered to get a mint. Which was sweet.”
Lady did not have Trish’s sense of smell but even humans could taste nicotine on each other. And Trish ranked nicotine fairly high on the list of toxins that tasted foul. It would also be a bit crass to have a first date quickie in the garage of someone else’s house.
Humans had all these rules and that whole social etiquette thing that was as complicated as (or more complicated than) the courtship rituals of the higher demons.
“Ah--so did you even get to ask what Nico intended when she made that arm with the silicone--”
“Hey, I’m taking it slow,” Lady protested. She applied product to her hair and spun back around to face Trish. “I wanna do it right this time.”
“Not your usual one-night stands the--”
“That would be awkward when she’s my weapons supplier and sometimes mechanic,” Lady scoffed before becoming more serious. “I mean, Nico’s really . . . something.”
“You really like her,” Trish said, allowing herself a smug smile. “I knew it.”
“What? You were making bets?” Lady looked outraged--either at the fact that someone might be making bets about her love life or that she wasn’t able to bet against someone (probably Dante).
“Just in my head,” Trish clarified. “I always thought it’d be split between a guy or girl--probably into guns or bikes or both. Mind you, I also thought it might be a humble kid from a farm somewhere that you save from some demonic invasion--”
Lady’s nose wrinkled as she pondered this. “You ever think about writing novels? Like fiction? Romantic fiction?”
“That might be a hobby I could get into.” Lady had hinted--more than once--that Trish should find something to do other than observe humanity to a stalker-like degree.
“Might be money in it.”
That did sound promising. “We’ll see.”
“Your treat if you ever get published,” Lady declared. “Proper tapas and wine!”
It was an easy enough wager to agree to. Trish pondered the likelihood of her managing to complete a piece of saleable fiction as Lady dozed off.
Blindfolded and concentrating hard, Lady and Nero’s hands darted around two trays of dismantled gun parts, shoving them together at rapid speed.
Kyrie would not hear of letting guests do the breakfast dishes, so the others were free to do stuff like this while the children dutifully cleaned up and got ready for school.
Trish watched in amusement as Nico refereed the match and played the cheerleader for both sides. Nero had demonic speed plus enhanced senses while Lady had decades of experience on her--so it was a closer match than most people would think.
With a loud click, Lady slide the last piece in place and held the gun--it was Colt pistol--up triumphantly.
“Lady wins!” Nico crowed and there was a moment when Trish believed that humans could do heart-eyes like in their cartoons.
“Close enough,” Nero said easily as he completed his task without faltering. He was not as competitive as some people Trish could name, but perhaps that came from him knowing that he was not fully human and making peace with that at last. “You’re good.”
“Have to be,” Lady pointed out as she took the blindfold off. “Mind you, that trick also gets me drinks in certain bars.”
“Is that before or after you shoot the place up?” He could be snarky too--Dante’s nephew had a mouth on him that a mostly-religious upbringing could not quite tame.
“If Dante’s been telling you stories, then he’s exaggerating.” Lady refrained from rolling her eyes because the mood had dipped a little when she mentioned that name. “It was only one time--”
“Two,” Trish interjected. She had been there for the second time Lady had shot up a bar.
“Ok, two, but the second time was not my fault. This gang of mercenaries from Montague started it.”
“The biker gang you told me about?”
“No, the other one--with jacked-up all-terrain vehicles.”
The intricacies of mainland mercenaries and their society obviously eluded Nero, who shook his head ruefully. “I can’t get all those groups straight. You’re gonna have to run that by me again.”
“Yeah, okay--in exchange for dinner. I gotta date today,” Lady said breezily as she started towards her bike.
“A date?” Nero looked puzzled as he wiped gun grease from his fingers.
“It’s a good day for it,” Kyrie chimed in as she popped her head in. “I’ve got some food and a map ready.”
“I’m taking the day off,” Nico announced to Nero, who was looking more and more bewildered. “Told Kyrie about it earlier.”
“What? But we finally have money for parts--”
“Hey, I haven’t asked for much since I started here,” Nico began.
“Except for access to a lot of restricted materials from the Order, all those demon parts I got for you, your daily board--” Not one to back down easily, Nero started to list down everything Nico had requested.
“I’m sure Nico will be ready to go shopping for new parts tomorrow,” Kyrie said calmly, not quite getting between the two of them but still managing to inject some calm into what looked like a familiar argument.
“Yeah, we can go all out tomorrow!” Nico exclaimed. “I know the best places--not on Fortuna obviously.”
The issue of Fortuna’s currency and the not-so-great exchange rates was no longer an issue now that they had a big fat bonus.
Trish left Nero and Nico to sketch out their plans and sauntered over to where Lady was checking her bike over before putting on her gloves.
“A date on Fortuna?” Trish queried. A place that was struggling to get with modern times at the best of times. They managed in terms of things like cars and ships, but Trish knew that the mentality of the place might not have changed very much if the Order had not self-destructed in the way that it had.
“It’s got really picturesque views in some spots. But I was thinking about something off the beaten track.” Lady patted her ever-present rocket launcher and slung it on her back. “Heard there might be some beaches along the coastline too.”
“Good luck with that.” Trish knew that Lady was up to handling whatever demons Fortuna still had lurking around. The attitudes of the people might take a while though.
“Here’re some sandwiches, a salad, cookies and some of the cake I made this morning.” Kyrie’s return with a food hamper broke up their individual meetings. “And a map--I think it’s still fairly up to date.”
“Thanks--owe you another ride to wherever you want to go,” Lady said to Kyrie and took the map.
“As far as the mainland?” Kyrie surprised everyone by taking up the offer quickly. It was not as though she had not gone with Nero every now and then out into the world, but she had never been very attracted to the big cities.
“Sure--your wish is my command.” Like Lady, Trish could smell the cake by now and it was probably worth the petrol fees.
“Ease up, sugar, I might get jealous,” Nico joked as she looked up from her perusal of the picnic hamper. “Just kiddin’! This looks great, Kyrie!”
Kyrie smiled brightly as Nero evinced confusion and eventually dawning comprehension as Nico hopped onto the seat behind Lady.
“Oh, uh, right. Enjoy your day off,” Nero offered awkwardly. “And wear a helmet!”
“Gotcha! I gotta be home by ten too, Dad?” Nico shot back.
Lady just chuckled as she passed Nico her spare helmet. (Trish never used one unless they drove passed the local law enforcement.)
Trish watched them speed off with Nero and Kyrie--who waved because she was just that nice despite probably only knowing about Nico’s plans that morning. “They’ll be fine--I think.”
“Uh, it’s not that common around here. But it’s Fortuna--who knows what happens behind closed doors?” Shrugging philosophically, Nero looked around the garage. “I guess I could work on the RV some more--”
“You should take Trish to see those ruins you found out at the old lighthouse,” Kyrie suggested.
“Ruins?” Now Trish’s interest was piqued. Dante had accounted for most of the demonic gates the last time around, but if Fortuna had been Sparda’s seat for centuries, there were bound to be other demonic artefacts scattered hereabouts.
“You sure? I could drive you down to the market on the way?”
“Yes--with the new trolley Nico made for me!” Kyrie’s enthusiasm apparently extended to the modified shopping cart Nico had cobbled together from parts she had salvaged. (Often from the side of the road if Nero was to be believed.)
It sat in one corner of the garage, a not-very-streamlined hybrid of a super-market shopping cart and infant stroller seat. There were handles on the sides for other people to pull it along and places to strap on items that might not fit in the trolley. Aesthetically a mess, but functional enough to hold Carlo strapped in place and allow Julio and Kyle to steer it along.
Nico always did say that she was a weapons smith first and everything else second.
“All right then,” Nero sighed. Heaving the trolley up onto the roof of the RV was no trouble. But strapping it down took a few tries.
In the end, the RV rolled out with Nero at the wheel, Kyrie riding shotgun and Trish at the back with the three children--all three of whom stared at her in fascination as they chugged along towards the nearest market centre.
To be fair, they were only children and even the oldest kept his gaze above her chest because they were in the process of being well-brought up. Trish was glad she was wearing her made-locally-in-Fortuna linen shirt.
“Are you a hunter too?” Julio finally asked, confirming the fact that they were mostly just curious about the strangers from the mainland.
“Yes, and I collect old things, which is why Nero is bringing me to see the ruins he found.” Trish’s experience with human children had been limited, but she knew that they values directness and honesty.
“Nero won’t let us go near some places,” the second oldest chimed in. “Like the mine ruins--”
“With good reason,” the hunter said. “It’s down an abandoned mine shaft.”
“And crawling with demons!” Julio should not have sounded so gleeful about that if Trish was any judge.
Upfront, Kyrie and Nero exchanged the bemused looks of people that had been dealing with this for ages.
“Even if we cleared the demons out, it’s still not going to be safe until they do a survey and decide to reopen it or something.” Nero turned the RV around a cobbled street with a picturesque fountain in the centre. “Then you can go on a school trip to visit it.”
This was not greeted with as much enthusiasm as an unsanctioned visit. Humans liked breaking rules more than following them.
“Okay, we’re here,” Nero announced as he pulled up by the central market. “I’ll pick you up later before lunch time--Kyle and Julio after school at two.”
Trish observed the sweet good-bye kiss that Kyrie and Nero exchanged--domesticity suited some people. The children piled out and they wrestled the trolley-cart hybrid out onto the street. Somewhere in this town was the school the older boys attended and the orphanage that Nero and Kyrie supported.
The people out and about that morning stared a little at their outlandish company but it was obvious that they were used to Nero and Kyrie’s small brood. Trish got more stares, but she was used to it.
Nero looked slightly apologetic as he drove off. “They’re just not used to outsiders. It’s getting better. This is a smaller town--newer, after that . . . thing with the Order.”
Trish looked about with renewed interest. A few sections of the main city had been decimated and smaller satellite-towns had sprung up in the intervening years to house the population. Some of them probably felt it was too troublesome to move back. “I’m glad you’re fitting in. Though they hardly treat you like the hero of Fortuna.”
“I keep it under wraps. The Order’s secrets--what’s left of the Order, I mean--they’re not going to wave it about.” Nero looked acutely embarrassed for a moment. “It’s not like I want to be known as a descendent of Sparda.”
“The grandson of Sparda.” Probably the only one in the direct bloodline too.
“Ugh--that sounds so lame,” Nero groaned. “The Sons of Sparda, now that might have sounded cool once--until I found out who they really are.”
Trish concealed her smile by looking out of the window at the changing scenery. “No-man is a hero to his valet--or however that quote went.”
“Y’know they knew about Dante, right? But finding out that the Son of Sparda was some lazy mercenary with a pizza addiction and an aversion to doing laundry probably made them choose Plan B.”
“The Saviour.” Humans had the imagination that demons lacked, surely, but the execution of that plan . . . was really beyond even Trish’s grasp.
“The most stupid idea they had--other than trying to get Dante into it,” Nero agreed as they turned out onto the road that ran around the coast of the island. “I mean, can you imagine? But I guess I never really knew him either . . . He never even mentioned his brother.”
Trish let him ramble on. The kid needed to air his grievances. And concentrate on the bends in the road.
“But I guess I know what he felt.” Trish looked over in mild surprise when Nero started talking again. “Just a little. When I found out that Agnus was Nico’s dad and I wondered if she knew that Dante killed him.”
“She doesn’t seem the type to hold a grudge,” Trish ventured. Nero had human morals for the most part and he was the type to feel guilty by association.
“Nah, she pretty much said Agnus was an asshole--which is something we both agreed on.” Nero’s tight grin turned into a grimace. “We also agreed that Vergil is an asshole.”
“The evidence certainly points that way.” Brutality was a way of life in the Underworld, but maiming your offspring was something else altogether. How far gone Vergil must have been to not recognise his own son--as if the Yamato would have submitted to being wielded by someone not of Sparda’s lineage.
Or, as Lady had said (with an air of disbelief most of the time), Dante really was more attuned to these things.
(Trish never asked why Dante had let her use the Sparda. Dante never asked why she could use it. Their friendship was based on a very delicate balance.)
“Guess I’ll never know now.” Oh, Nero was definitely pissed at his biological father.
“They’ll come around. At least I think Dante will.”
“I used to think Dante was my father,” he muttered. “Is it odd that I still wish it was true?”
Trish did not say that she sort of knew because Nero had been rather obvious during the times when he had visited the shop. She and Lady had chosen not to disabuse him of the notion because humans needed role models. That fact that it was Dante . . . was another thing that Trish took a while to comprehend. (Because he wasn’t, deep down, anything more nefarious than a half-demon that liked pizza and scraping with other demons. Nero just needed to know that demonic hybrids weren’t evil.)
“Not at all. You look alike. Coupled with the recognition you instinctively feel for your kin, it would be normal. And you’ve known Dante for longer.” Also, Dante had not yanked his arm off to raise a bloodthirsty tree. Vergil might have set Nero’s development back by a lot if they had met earlier.
“Instinct, huh? Demonic instincts?” The kid had lost some of his hang-ups about his heritage, but he had been raised human after all. Trish supposed that she was the only demon he could talk to about that sort of thing right now. And she wasn’t even a real demon by some accounts.
“Humans have that sort of instinct as well,” Trish pointed out. “We don’t have a monopoly on extra senses. That’s why there used to be witches and other types of humans that could do what demons do.”
“The Order’s documents hinted at that. Some of the ruins might have been made by humans then?”
“That’s what we’re here to find out, right?” Trish peered out of the window as she sensed something otherworldly nearby. They were close to a site where sorcery had been utilised--very minor sorcery though.
“If you can read the stuff carved on the walls, sure.” Nero steered the RV over to the side of the road near a small promontory. There was a structure that looked like an old lighthouse at the end of the narrow spar of land. “It’s over there, down by the cliff-side.”
They had to climb down the cliff under the lighthouse. Regular humans would have a hard time getting down the sheer stone face. That would explain why the ruins in the old cave had not been discovered for so long.
The entrance was a wide gash in the rocky surface of the cliff. It appeared mostly inaccessible due to the lack of stairs and the sharp drop down to the rock-strewn shallows below. This was probably one of the not-so-nice beaches.
Trish hypothesised that there might have been a secret passage from the foundations of the lighthouse above.
“That might be why there’s a rock-fall down in the furthest tunnel.” Gesturing towards the back of the dim cavern, Nero’s eyes began to glow faintly as his night vision automatically kicked in. “It’s all man-made, right?”
“Mmmh,” Trish hummed neutrally as she brushed her hand down the smooth inner wall. Human hands could have had extra help to create the roughly circular room with pseudo columns carved into the walls. There were definitely carvings spelling out a language that was beyond the ken of most people today.
“I’m not a hundred percent cure, but it might be a hybrid tongue--phonetic, of course.”
Nero looked up from his study of the tiled floor. “Uh--hybrid of what?”
“Human and devil.” Trish swept aside some of the dirt and stones from the centre of the room. “I’ll light it up--watch your eyes.”
She threw up a spell of illumination while clearing off more of the central floor space. The small tiles were part of a mosaic, fairly simple in design but the creators had got the point across. The light from her spell spread outwards as they brushed aside the debris to reveal two concentric circles. There were three figures depicted within the inner circle--one was horned and bipedal with insectoid appearance, one was human and the last was winged and obviously demonic. The human and demon were depicted facing each other.
“A gate or portal between worlds?” Nero guessed.
“A gate? Maybe. Places like this, islands like this, tend to be easier to open pathways between worlds.” Trish stood back with her hands on her hips. “But this is something more like a temple or place of consecration. That’s probably your grandfather in the middle.”
Nero’s head snapped around so quickly Trish thought he would get whiplash. “The insect guy?”
“Most records of Sparda and those recording his appearance were destroyed, but that’s a better representation than that Saviour statue.” Trish indicated the central figure--the stylised Sparda without his sword. “Sparda is not armed for war. The human and devil are facing each other. Sparda’s hands extend towards them both--if I’m reading the runes right, this is a place where demons and humans sought unions a long time ago.”
“What--they got married here?” Nero’s expression as incredulous, but the underground room’s purpose was becoming less ambiguous now.
“It’s not something that either side approves of--but he approved of it.” Trish nodded at the representation of Nero’s grandfather. “That’s why this was a secret place.”
“So when Sparda ruled here, he blessed their unions? Wow--he was some kind of a liberal or something!” Nero looked at the walls with new appreciation. “So that’s why there’s a hybrid language . . .”
“Phonetic--because humans cannot accurately read any of the demonic languages. Some of them don’t even have a written form.” Yes, Sparda had been very different according to all surviving accounts. “And that explains why the people here have traces of demonic heritage--more than other places, I mean.”
Nero’s mouth opened and shut soundlessly for a moment as he put two and two together. “The genealogy charts--the Order had so many of them in their files! That’s why--”
“I suppose humans with greater demonic heritage might take to certain modifications better.” Trish too remember the Angelos. Mundus would have found a colleague in Agnus the Chief Alchemist. “Or have certain abilities that your Order might have found useful.”
“Not my Order--I quit a long time ago,” Nero said automatically before catching himself. “I got asked that a lot back after the whole catastrophe--I think attacking a superior officer would have made it pretty clear.”
“I imagine things were very unclear back then.” Trish let the light spell fizzle out. “The evacuation was . . . traumatic for all involved.”
“Yeah? Some people definitely remembered a blonde woman in very little clothing herding them to the port when all hell broke loose,” Nero said with a wry smile. “Definitely a story to tell the grandkids--that and the accounts of some people that actually felt the gates open.”
They both looked at the mosaic at their feet. “That would be the additional senses. They were probably extra sensitive to it, living right next to the gate.”
“A better warning system might be in order, assuming the gates open again . . .” The tentative hope in Nero’s face was like a candle flame in the dimness of the cave.
“They’re all broken now,” Trish cautioned. Dante had done a thorough job. Some practitioners did that too--destroyed the gateways so that others could not misuse them or stumble across them by accident. They were the smart ones. “But if they were to carve their way out of the Underworld, they could end up anywhere. It’s not an exact science though.”
“You and Lady are pretty sure they can get out.” Nero left off examining the old runes and joined her at the edge of the cave opening. “You’re not worried at all?”
“They’re the offspring of the most powerful demon to walk both worlds. I think that the Underworld is going to come off poorly in a fight,” Trish replied.
She had given this some serious thought earlier on. Mundus had reason to strike at Sparda’s sons while they were still children--he feared what they would become. Mundus had been right, to his own detriment after trying to finish what he had started all those years ago.
“And you know Dante--he’ll annoy the Underworld into spitting him back out. That, or Lady’ll drag him out to pay his debts eventually.” Whether or not Vergil would return was a different story.
“Yeah, I guess that’s more likely. So . . . you and Dante--” And here Nero looked younger than his age as he glanced at her sheepishly. “Aren’t together?”
“No, why would y--”
He was owed some of the truth anyway. After all, he was practically family.
“That picture on Dante’s desk--it’s his mother. Your grandmother. I was made to look like her.”
As briefly as she could, Trish sketched out the rationale for her creation. She did not voice her own suspicions about how Mundus had managed to make her in Eva’s image. That some minion might have taken a part of Dante’s mother from where she had been slain and brought it to their master to use in his unspeakable experiments. Combined with childhood memories torn from Vergil’s fractured psyche . . . Dante had enough reasons to hate Mundus.
(Eva had the last word about that. Not that anyone else knew.)
“That’s sick.” Nero’s reaction was predictable and natural. Trish was doubly glad she was wearing her new shirt as Nero turned bright red. “That’s--”
“Take your time,” she said, not unkindly. “Eva was kinda hot. Though she might have been older than she looked--”
“Can you please stop? Just for a second?” Nero asked plaintively, still ruddy in the face and having a hard time looking at her. “I’m dealing with a lot right now.”
“I’ll have a look down there then.” Trish knew that people needed space sometimes and took herself off to examine the fallen bits of masonry and potential artefacts that littered the shallows at the bottom of the cliff. Nero would figure out in time that she was chronologically younger than he was.
Mentally older though, because the Underworld and the court of Mundus had been a perilous place back then. Even a created demon had to grow up quickly and learn how to survive in that poisonous place.
Pushing those thoughts aside, Trish set to searching the shallows with a will. She picked up a few ceramic shards and remnants of statuary with no arcane or occult significance whatsoever--but they were centuries old, so they would go into the new museum (one more focused on the history of Fortuna than the worship of Sparda). The secrets of the cave temple would remain secret and Sparda certainly wasn’t about to break his silence anytime soon.
Later, Nero agreed that the cave and what it held did not need to be brought to the attention of all and sundry. Trish would present the museum with the artefacts as a donation as she had a human alias just for that sort of thing--an archaeologist that specialised in very esoteric items. They counted it as a job well done and returned to help Kyrie distribute lunch.
Lady and Nico returned by tea-time, tanned and glowing. It had been an almost perfect day. Which was why the phone call from Morrison after dinner came like a bolt out of the blue.