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A Sort of Fairy Tale

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"Once upon a time, there lived a King and Queen in a kingdom far, far away. They had two children- twins. Both whose hairs are white as snow, eyes as clear as the blue sky, for they are halves of one whole. One silent like the frozen ice, the other blazing with scorching fire.


"They were family, for they were never separated. The King and Queen were very proud of their children: the Crimson Prince was brave, valiant, bold; the Azure Prince was silent, calculating, sharp. Everyone knows they will be right for the throne.

"The Princes have many people who love them, but they have each other. For nothing will tear them apart. They both are sure of this. They care for each other, attached to each other, entwined with each other.

"...at the time, when they were still young, it was a righteous, yet wistful thinking."

 


 

His head is aching, the white noise dissipates from his mind as he opens his eyes.

Wails of sirens. Loud voices, crunching footsteps, and fire crackling. He barely feels anything except for the searing pain all over him- and he whimpers when he attempts to move. He barely croaks something before it disrupts into rough coughs when he sees someone inspecting the wreck, this time crouching down to-

"Wait- there's a boy! I can see him- hey, hey, He's alive!" And he sees someone- a man. An older man with tawny brown hair- relieved shock is on his face before turning to yell, "Robbins! Anyone!? Someone help me lift this car out of the way- I found a survivor-!"

"A survivor!? Dispatcher to operator-"

"Hey, hey kid! Can you hear me!?" He feels himself nod, the pain feeling so much worse, but he can barely see someone attempting to come closer. "Look, it's going to be okay, we can get you out of here! Hold onto my hand- stay with me, okay? Stay with me."

The hand feels warm. Comforting, soothing- the man smiles in exuberant relief before telling him, "It'll be okay, all right? You'll get out of here, alive..." Then he turns to someone- "Where are the others!? Did you call for help?"

There's someone else approaching him and another garbed in yellow and red shows up, frantically relieved. "The ambulance is on its way- oh, the poor child..."

"Good, that's good." The man nods before he turns back to him. "Can- Can you hear me?"

He nods again, this time feeling a bit better. More aware of the burning smells, gasoline, scorched earth and metal-

The radio crackles, "-requesting backup, on the way, I repeat-"

The man's hold on his hand tightens, silently reassuring him. "Hold onto me kid, we'll get you out of this mess of a wreck- I promise, we'll get you to a safe place- Are you able to speak?"

He opens his mouth to say something-

 

 

The alarm cuts through and it was not from the ambulance wails. It was his alarm- the one from his cellphone. A man groans- and fumbles for his phone, which was conveniently on his nightstand. He bleary blinks, looks at the time, and groans, turning off the alarm and burying his face back in his bed.

But the dream doesn't return. It's about the one thing he still held onto as a clue to his past was that he was the lone survivor of a car accident and he was going somewhere. But the more he dreams, the more the smaller details come to him, albeit suspect...

He can't go back to sleep. Fuck.

The man slowly opens his grey-blue eyes, taking a mental note that he needs to set the alarm for an hour later so that he doesn't get disturbed from his sleep. He was barely sitting on his bed when said phone rings to a more chirpy ringtone he easily identifies with-

"Dante speaking." He smoothly responds, knowing pretty well his voice is scratchy from sleep.

"Well, look who finally wakes up." It was a woman's voice and Dante closes his eyes. Trying to fool his friend is literally a gamble- he'll always lose there. "It's around nine in the morning and you're still in bed?"

He pinches the bridge of his nose; he can't feel his inner arcane stir up with excitement either. "This is too early. I think after last night, I deserve some form of rest."

"That's a good point, but I'm on my way." He groans, tightening his eyes further. "Remember? We're splitting the pay from the last job and Morrison is on his way."

They're both coming here?? In his current state of his apartment, mess and all? Really?

"Gee, thanks for the advance warning, Lady." He mumbles, finally getting the energy to sit up. "I think I'll get ready- wait, Morrison's coming?"

"Yeah, so this means wear a shirt, Dante." Lady's stern voice tinges with amusement. "Nobody wants to see your chest and your gun holster this early in the morning."

"You mean you don't, but I want to-"

"That was years ago!" He laughs, swearing he can her hear blush. "Now?? Not so much! Just wear a shirt, all right?"

"All right, all right, can't promise a thing with my belts, though." Despite her pained groans, Dante grabs one of his looser black shirts and a clean pair of pants along with new underwear- he eyes his laundry pile before hearing a small growl from his stomach. He sighs, a loose reminder that he forgot to go grocery shopping. Again. "...which reminds me-"

"No, we're not ordering pizza for breakfast, you monstrous slob, and for once, please do your laundry! I'm not sure why I have to keep reminding you, but come on, you should know this by now!" And she hangs up, leaving him to change his clothing- well, it's just him in his boxers.

"Fine, fine, if it makes you feel better..." But he chuckles, placing his phone down on his dresser. He knows she means well and tries to help him in her way. He appreciates it, really. It's the same old routine for the last several years that never ceases to make him tired of it all.

It's his daily routine in the morning: get Lady's call, wake up. Then he takes a shower, changes his clothes, makes sure there's no wrinkles in his shirt or pants. After he changes, he puts his laundry into the basket before placing it all in his pre-loaded washer and turns it on (it's located inside of his closet and for that, Dante is silently happy for this accommodation). Then he checks himself in the life sized mirror- making sure there's no scars, weird marks, unusual markings that make him stand out.
Check, check, and double check on the last part- and for that, there's a good reason. (It's worth the extra effort and trouble to cover it up, should it come to it.) That and for someone who should be older, he still looks like his thirty year old self. Ah, the wonders and plus of being proficient in any arcane. They can either choose to retain their image at a certain age or grow old with age like the non-arcane users. Ah, well, who was he to complain about his looks?

Lady does. But then again, he doesn't see her age anytime soon like him.

And then he makes his bed and grabs his gun holsters, cradling his beloved duo of pistols. As the final touch, he grabs his red jacket- and places his hand in his pocket before taking out a thin silver necklace: a pair of dog tags- one with a tiny red gem at the end with an emblem blazed on it, the second tag with his name Dante engraved against the silver alloy. He loops it around his neck, hides it under his shirt, and smirks as he walks out his room-

-but not before he grabs his cellphone.

"Well, time to work."

He feels his fire arcane stir awake before shutting his now clean room.


"Ah, here he comes, the man of the hour."

Dante perks up a bit, an amused smile cracking his face as he casually waves to the sharp dressed man waiting for him- along with a black-haired woman with bi-chromatic eyes; one red, the other her natural blue.

"Hey, so you guys were waiting here this entire time? You should've barged in my room! I would have been more than happy to be up by now."

"Haa. That'll be the day I'll live to see that." The woman smirks, her eyes meeting his out of sheer amusement.
Morrison- the suited man- snorts with amusement before strolling to the man's kitchen. "Well, I appreciate if you didn't attempt to drink so early in the morning."

"I don't, it's not a thing I do anymore." Whatever Morrison is getting, it's smelling really good- eggs, bacon, toast- the works! No wonder breakfast's the awesome time of the day.

So Dante instead jumps to the other side of the couch where the woman was sitting, too busy looking at her pistol. "Huh, is that new?"

"It is, if you want to know, custom made. You're not going to take it. Your fire magic is too much for this poor guy." Lady places the pistol away before warily glancing at him. He can feel her own fire arcane cooling against his- simmering to annoyed embers. Yeah, she's a little bit grouchy, like him. "Last night was rough, was it?"

"Well..." Dante knows last night was... interesting. He and Lady were just returning from another job, attempting to celebrate their victory by drinking a beer flight... or three. (They bought food to supplement that, though he's pretty much sure pizza was the best food for that). Then something that look like demons start to attack the people, so being their typical mercenary selves, they take down the said demons, but at the expense of their more than typical used abilities. Something made them look off- do their run-of-the-mill monsters and demons glow white?

While Lady takes her usual way home, calling Morrison about this, Dante went home, stripped down to his underwear, and just flopped head-first in his bed. "We did try having fun while battling out those monsters."

"Yeah, but it nearly drained my magic and yours. You look dead."

"Barely- got lots of sleep still."

"Really." Lady huffs, looking frustrated. She eyes Dante with worry. "Still, those monsters- what was that all about?"

Dante wasn't so sure, but the smell of food awaits him. So was his stomach- it made a gurgling noise that elicits a snort from Lady. "Shut up. I'm hungry- say, Morrison, did you get it from the diner?"

"Yeah, and coffee's brewing. I'm not about to drink that sludge from the diner and make you both suffer for it." Morrison places down something like breakfast- presented on their take out cartons. "Breakfast, anyone?"

"Yes, please!" Lady gently takes hers while Dante grabs his, immediately savoring the taste of scrambled eggs and green onion. Lady is the first to ask, "Sorry- it's just Dante and I were up against something else on our way home and we're tired."

"It's fine- in fact, those monsters you mentioned are what I want talk to you both about." This captures their attention and Morrison hums, leaning on his elbow and placing his breakfast down. "Word around the street says the city next to this one is infested." And Morrison hands Dante something like aspirin- he swallows it dry, "There's confirmed sightings too- not just word of mouth."

"So, what's the job?" Dante barely talks with his mouth full- and nearly chokes when Lady nearly flicks him. "Lady!"

"Eat before you talk- we wouldn't have you choking, now would we?" Lady smirks and yelps when he snatches a strawberry from her fruit salad. "Hey! No stealing!"

"Finders keepers." He sings before plopping the sweet red berry in his mouth. "Hmmm~ you've got to ask the chef where he keeps finding these strawberries- they're always the best."

Morrison chuckles, shaking his head as Lady attempts to steal one of his toasts, beginning the start of a ridiculous fight over their food. He'll talk about the job after they eat.

These two are his best mercenaries- in both fighting and arcane. He's the one who approached them- one by the meet and greet at a bar, the other through at a later time of the year when Dante introduced him to her.

Lady is the one who uses her arcane with her gunfire- her arsenal can fit an entire woman's closet and she'll be proud of her collection more than her clothing. From what Morrison understood, her father was power-hungry and wanted a desire to gain more- to the point where he murdered her mother. She witnessed the murder as a child, but her father Arkham didn't notice her silent rebellion nurse into revenge until she was an adult. Then like her arcane, Lady- formerly Mary- unleashed her power at her father, angry for her mother's death, but he manages to restrain her, trying to kill her for power.

It was at that time someone else requested for Dante's help- a woman named Nevan (she wanted to see her beloved again but she suspects he's trapped in Arkham's hands) asked for his help. Morrison only recommended her to him- and she thanks him.
And while he did save the person Nevan wanted him to find (a man named Ifrit who was just seething, stating he never needed help. But he was grateful for the rescue), Dante finds Lady about to be killed and dealt with the man himself, saving Lady's life in the process. It was a rather unwelcome reality check, but Lady realizes she needed to better equip herself.

They all escaped and Arkham, seething mad with rage, was discovered and arrested for... other things that aren't just for Kalina Ann's murder. Nevan had the right idea to call the authorities and the magi council.

The day after the entire incident, even while Arkham attempts to deny everything, Lady disavowed her family name, successfully distancing away from the man who is no longer her father. She went into a government official's office and decides to change her name- only from a lackadaisical remark on Dante's behalf:

"I got nothing for you, Lady. Sorry."

It fueled her arcane when she hears that name. It makes her annoyed, yet empowered to know someone sees her for her abilities, smarts, power. She manages to track Dante down- only because nobody would approach Nevan's mission like him.
Few days later, to Dante's and Morrison's surprise she strolls in to the Cellar, her first three weapons prepared and aligned with her fire magic. She makes it known to Dante she's not finished henpecking at his brain.

Said man laughs, introduces her to Morrison, and tells him she's a fantastic fighter with a fierce arcane (something she's rarely been proud of until that day). Though with the name-

"I like it." Lady grins, earning Dante's genuine shock. "It's better than the one I used to have- but hey, I'm not whining."

And so the two of them have jobs together- some more than the times they work on their own- but they work well. Morrison is proud of them for teaming up- getting along like comrades in war.

Speaking of Dante (though he's laughing and still eating his own food as Lady happily claims victory on a piece of bread from his plate)-

There's something about Dante that makes him different than others. Morrison realized this within the years they worked together: Dante's rather different- unpredictable, impulsive, and brash. Strong? By far the best. He is infamous among others- though they begrudgingly admit Dante is really good at what he does: take down monsters who threaten the city, large, looming, gargantuan, dangerous.

His arcane matches with it- fire that can perfectly par with whatever inferno has to offer. His fire can command to Dante's will, to his desires, and can't be decimated by normal means. It also forms to his weapon of choice: a broad long sword he jokingly calls 'Rebellion'. Without it, he uses his precious pistols- the 'ladies' he calls them. (Lady rolls her eyes at that, but Morrison gets it.)

But the thing that also makes him stands out (aside his appearance of peaking silver hair from the black dye, grey-blue eyes would be normal, but aren't when they flash red with his arcane) is his lack of a biological family. Morrison wondered about his past once, but Dante wasn't too sure. In fact, he even admitted to the contractor the other reason he takes on these jobs- not just for finances.

"I have no idea where I came from." Dante was quiet, but mulling in his thoughts as the two were sitting in the Cellar. "I tried to find out records of my birth family, but I got nothing."

"So you think," Morrison takes a gulp from his old-fashioned, "By taking these jobs, you'll be one step closer to finding them."

Dante nods- and takes his shot of whiskey. "Yup. And maybe, if I can, it can help me find out about my necklace."

Ah, the only hint of his past and Morrison spies the silver chain around his neck. There is an emblem that he doesn't know where it comes from, but Dante's name is on it. It's the only name he has and desperate for answers, Dante told him how many attempts he's tried, asked for records of anyone who is related to him.

He comes back with nothing. This goes on past his teens, to his adulthood, but nothing appears. Not even a hint. Not even the jobs offer a single glimmer to a hint.

Dante was disappointed, but fuels to go on. It's his motivation for finding things out about him, who he was when he was young.

Even his foster family- supportive and helpful as they are- tried to expand their search, but to no avail. Morrison has a suspicion that's another subject Dante refuses to delve on- the state of his foster family. So he looked them up- and decides it was best not to open another chest of demons for him. They were, after all, shot and dead by a mob who needed a scapegoat, to only be bested by the real culprit, and humbled by Dante when he saved their lives - but it was too late.

Perhaps this explains Dante's blasé personality. It still holds today, despite his concern for the safety of people. It was rather more along the lines of 'responsibility' than actual care- something Morrison's seen too often in his line of work.

He wonders if this still holds now. Even as Dante returns with three mugs of coffee- one black, one with milk, one with milk and sugar- and sets them down as Lady finishes with her breakfast.

"So, Morrison, about those things that nearly drained our arcane." Back to the subject. Morrison arches an eyebrow, realizing that he too finished his breakfast before seeing Dante set down his coffee with milk. Lady, he realizes, is going all out with straight up black. "You said it's coming from the next city over? And they have proof?"

"Yeah." Down to business it is. They'll discuss pay later- along with the share from the last one. He takes out his phone and taps on a few things- to only hear buzzes from Dante's phone. "I've sent some stuff for you and Lady to look over- it should interest you."

Both of them look over at Dante's phone- and Lady's eyes widen while Dante scrolls down, expression hardening when he looks over the images.

They do not look like demons, but Dante definitely recognizes them- they look like the ones he and Lady had to take down last light. More images appear and he frowns, scrolling down and seeing them of various kinds- human-sized, creature-like, beast-like. And he hears himself ask, "Morrison? These aren't our run-of-the-mill monsters."

"No, they're not. Nobody's sure what they are." And Morrison's hat tips to them, eyes narrow. "We're going over there to check it out later day."

That halts Dante's brain and he straightens up, all exhaustion gone. "Whoa whoa whoa, wait. We're- we're going to- investigate these things!? NOW?" He's wary about this... Why am I suddenly worried?

"And where are heading out to?" Lady asks equally as suspicious. Looks like he's not the only one. "These things... aren't normal. Shouldn't we be more prepared and head off tomorrow?"

Morrison sighs. He anticipated this. "Our client wants to meet us within the vicinity of this city- earliest is tonight. And from the looks of it, this isn't going to be the normal three day job."

Not just a three day job? What the- He glances at Lady, who looks equally as confused. Dante blinks once- before he warily asks, "...I'm sorry, but where are we going?"

"Red Grave City. And I know what you both are thinking. You're right- this isn't the typical demon job. Our new client is waiting for us at a familiar place: Fortuna City. So we should have a safe spot before entering into Red Grave."

Looks like it's all three of them who have questions about this job. But Dante stills, the name 'Red Grave City' begins to slowly bounce in his head-

-has he heard of this city before?

"My suggestion for you both? Pack up a good amount of clothing." And Morrison places his mug away on the tray, standing up to brush off any crumbs from the food earlier. "And bring anything that can help replenish your ammo or magic. This job might be a long one-"

"Morrison, the city- it's called Red Grave City?" Dante suddenly asks, voice straining with a struggle to keep his consciousness in tact, his expression contorts to confusion and swirling emotions. His fire isn't exactly in center either, it's as if something has suddenly bothered it, flickering with its fire-

Lady sits up, looking worried for her friend as Morrison approaches closer when he hears the sudden waver in Dante's voice. Something's different.

There's a twinge- and Dante sees something slowly flash in his head with the flits, scattered fragments of voices that return to him-

 

"...ask you something?"

"...new home- Red Grave City-"

"...really going to..."

"-don't want to stay in forever-"

"-can be dangerous-"

"I don't want you to-"

 

-and Dante gasps, clutching his head before feeling warmth on his arms. He feels Lady grabbing his elbows and Morrison barking out his name. "-ante! Dante- can you- are you all right?"

Dante barely clutches onto Lady's arms, his fire magic flickering back to life, albeit smaller. His touch is colder- has something affected him? His eyes meet theirs, a sudden realization coming alight in his eyes.

"...Red Grave City. I think-" He gasps again- he hears home in that name. The feeling of a past wanting to be awakened once more. "I used to live there."

Chapter Text

 

"Then one day, tragedy strikes.

"Both Princes were playing outside, their parents were with their own company, respectfully talking about plans for an upcoming festival when they heard a very loud scream.

"They all run outside to see what took place- and they notice the Azure Prince on the ground, crying, injured, but alive. As they embrace him, they ask for their other son's whereabouts-

"-to which the Azure Prince starts to panic.

"His twin brother isn't here. His bolder younger twin brother, brave and valiant, has pushed his older twin away before someone took him, whisked him away-

"-he was gone.

"" My brother, my brother!" He cries out, heart slowly breaking. "Where are you!? I need you!" "

 


 

He looks around, but he realizes one thing: this isn't the usual dream.

A new memory?

It's a much different one. He's wearing something clean, comfortable, and he knows the necklace is around his neck. And he's still a child. He doesn't have enough time to process it further when he hears-

"..nte? Hey... can I ask you something?"

"Hm?" There's walking and he turns to the person next to him- and he notices right away the boy also has white hair and is wearing something similar to him: white shirt, black tie, black shorts, shoes to match. "What is it, ......?"

What?

Why can't he place a name with this other voice? It sounds similar to his, but it sounds more... quiet, mature, soothing.

But the person knows his name. And he knows this person, but the name's muddled out- Wait, where is he?

"Do you like it here?" The other boy quietly asks, looking up at the window. But he can't see the color of this boy's eyes, but he can see a quiet scowl appear on the other boy's face. "Our new home- Red Grave City. It's too noisy."

Home? What- oh...

He turns and now sees atop of a building; the view of a slowly calming city, lights twinkling against the pillars of steel. The night skies are not as clear, but it's still amazing.

"Yeah, but you know," He grins, pointing towards the scene, careful not to smudge the glass window. "I like it! It gives me lots of energy- I wanna explore around and do things! There's so many things to do here! Maybe-" And he gasps, excitement rising. The other boy turns to him, allowing him to ramble on. "OH! Making new friends, being in a new adventure-! It's like a new playground! There's always something to find in new areas! Like an action game, but more awesome! I'll be the hero, saving the day from many bad guys! And I'll be strong- like you, ......!"

Again with that muffled name.

Somewhere behind him, he knows there are two others watching him, but filled with parental love and warmth. And Dante knows he's thinking so many fantastical things, but the thought of exploring in a new area excites him.

But he still doesn't know where he is exactly- but he knows he's in Red Grave City, with who, he's pretty sure this is his birth family. His foster family doesn't possess a lofty home like this- it's more subtle, down to earth, comfortable. Yet he should be delighted with this shift, the new realization that this used to be his own home...

Isn't that enough? So why doesn't he feel like he's found out anything new?

And then he feels a cooler hand wrap around his warm ones, lacing his fingers and now holding his hand tight. He blinks, looking at the boy in confusion. "Huh? Hey-" The name sounds very fuzzy, he can't hear it- "-what's wrong?"

"...are you really?" The other's voice is trembling, but tries to hide it with his silent courage. "Are you really going to go out there one day?"

"Well. Duh. I don't want to stay in forever. Who wants that?"

"I do." He hears the voice grow insistent. "Why do you want to go outside? It can be dangerous. Mom and Dad say so."

He blinks, "Because I wanna. And you like staying inside and reading lots of books. You have your own thing, I have mine. I mean, you're mentally strong and capable. Me? I gotta catch up!"

The hold on his hand tightens and Dante is pretty sure this boy doesn't want to let him go.

"...I know that."

"So why-"

"I don't want you to..." The last part is muffled, but Dante careens his head, getting closer to the boy.

"Uh-" Crap! Why can't he hear the kid's name!? "-sorry, what?"

The other looks annoyed, finally looking at him and about to say something-

-and suddenly he hears an explosion, screams, and he feels being blown off, falling down the building. Dante screams, hearing the change in voice and now he's in his current self, free falling to the ground below where it is infinite. Then-

"-can you hear me!?"

He hears the older, frantic voice of the man who saved his life. He hears so many voices it makes his head nearly ache, forcing him to shut his eyes. But he tries to grasp for the warm, fatherly hand he knew for so many years. Instead, he hears someone else, now coming closer, and he slowly feels another attempting to grab him. But the person feels different- but who is this?

"...nte...!"

"Look, it's going to be okay, we can get you out of here-"

"Desmond!?" Dante calls out, trying to each for the hand and thinking it's his foster father-

"Da...!" No, it isn't him. It's someone else, but the feeling he gets is frantic, grasping for his hand.

"Hold onto my hand- stay with me, okay?"

Dante whimpers, trying to stretch his hand out for- for- FOR WHOSE HAND HELPMEHELPMEHELPME PLEASEIDON'TWANTTODIEIREALLYDON'TWANTTODIE-

"-ANTE-"

"Hold onto my hand- stay with me, okay? Stay with-"

And then he feels-

"Hold onto me kid, we'll get you out of this mess of a wreck-"

He thought he feels a hand and for a minute, it felt nice, comforting like-

"DANTE!!!"

A new voice rips through, roaring out of desperation, panic, fear- and Dante attempts opens his eyes, trying see who is trying to grab him-

 

He gasps, sitting up on the bed, fear seizing his heart, but he knows his fire arcane stirs him awake. Nothing's on fire. His room's in tact... and he's officially back in his good age of thirty-eight. (Despite looking like twenty-something, he wants to keep it that way.)

Dante knows for certain this isn't the same dream. In fact, it was him looking at it, but at the same time, someone else was talking to him.

In a completely different setting, time, and area...

That... was weird.

Instead, he sees his cellphone next to him, the time happily flashing 3:00 PM. He was about to go back to sleep when the whispers return to him- those whose voices he can't place, no faces to connect them with. And he knows one new thing to add to things he already knows:

His name is Dante, he's a car accident survivor, and he used to live in Red Grave City as a kid with... someone.

And that there was a kid around his age he made some sort of promise to.

Great. He's happy about that, at least.

"Are you feeling better?" Lady's voice floats through.

He blinks, seeing her approach him. Then he frowns, realizing something. "Wait, where were you-"

"On the living room couch. It was actually nice- better than my own mattress. That's actually sad." Her lips quirk as he breathlessly chuckles, flopping his head back on the pillow. "Come on, get up. I know what you're about to say." The black-haired woman rolls her eyes, hands on her hips. "But after your spell this morning and how pale you looked, there was no way in hell we could've left in your bad state."

Ah. Right. The job...

They just got it, but with a catch on their end. Dante was not in the better state to go anywhere, so Morrison made the call to... whoever their client was, telling them there was a slight delay in their plans- one of his best wasn't feeling so well, so they needed a moment to rest.
It was strange that their client agreed to this and just told them to get to the city as soon as possible.

That, at least, makes memories of his newer, strange dream go away.

"What the crap... did I throw up or say something weird?"

Lady shakes her head.

"Sorry to worry you." He really feels bad.

"It's fine! Don't worry about it." And Lady smiles, gently patting his shoulder. "I mean, we've been through worse. I mean, you could sleep for an entire month with nothing and the world would be up in flames."

"Ha ha. Says the one who stood up after being hit too many times from that one asshole we tried to pin down." Dante talks back and Lady rolls her eyes. But her smile makes him relieved that there was little to no offense between them. "Remember? We had to do it for that girl we were watching. Patty Lowell, right?"

"Yeah, I remember her." A cheeky little brat who likes to hang around Dante and Lady- Morrison brought her in as a bodyguard job for both of them. She was loud, demanding, and asking way too many things for Dante to answer- yet they both care for her dearly as she has her kind, sweet, and understanding side for things they don't want to tell her. "How's she been?"

"Worried, wondering if any of us got killed yet." Lady sighs and Dante knows why: they both nearly died taking down the man responsible for Alan- Patty's father, proficient in the summoner's arcane- and his somewhat well deserved death (given what Sir Alan Lowell was about to do, he didn't think far to know certain demonic monsters do not like being controlled). "But Morrison told her we're fine. So there's no need for her to worry. Her mother sends us her greetings."

"Good." Dante frowns, looking at his hands. "...is Morrison on his way?"

"Yeah, so I've done the liberty of packing a good amount of your clothing and toiletries." She indicates to the large black duffel bag and Dante suddenly doesn't look forward to this. "Though no need to thank me-" She quirks an amused grin. "You did do the laundry after all! I'm proud of you."

"Hey! It's only because you can't stop annoying me about it."

Lady laughs, shrugging. "Hey, it got you some change of clothing if you need it. But seriously, get up and get changed. I already brewed coffee, so get up."

"All right, all right." Dante pauses before he sighs, placing his hand on his head. Then he asks, "...Lady? Thanks. For... well, all of this."

Lady grins. "No problem- I've been doing this for more than a decade now. But hey," Her gaze softens to that of concern. "At least you remembered something now."

"Yeah. ...where I lived as a kid." Red Grave City. ...the very city where those magic sapping monsters reside in. "That's... not a good thought, actually." He groans. "I just realized I only know it by name, but it feels so familiar to me. I'm not sure why, but it feels so right..."

Lady falls silent, not sure what to say.

"Sorry. I've- well, been thinking." About the very tiny sets of memories he's just regained- again, he's thinking it's been hidden for so many reason. But if he searches more... especially with this new job, can he gain more answers? What he wanted to search for so badly?

Possibly.

But he needs to find out more- so he needs to go on.

If it makes it clear he's still going to search, Lady somehow picks up the hint. She smiles, reaching over and pats his head. "Wake up. And get changed. There's a good reason why I like working with you, so get used to having a business partner around."

"That- wait, business partner?"

But she leaves his room, leaving him confused and wondering what the hell she just said. Then he blinks- and her words suddenly coming to him before he chuckles, closing his eyes.

"...business partner? That's an interesting thought."


An hour and two cups of coffee later, they are loading their bags in Morrison's dark red car. Dante has only brought two, Lady brought about five?

"What the hell is all of this?" Dante gestures towards some of the bags. "Are you- is this your entire arsenal!?" Is she kidding!?

"Well, if we're going to have our magic drained by whatever those things are-" And she gestures to her guns- one of them he knows holds her prized gun. "-then why not be prepared?"

Dante groans, really tempted to smack his head against the open trunk door. "This will just make your energy feel worse..."

"Are you putting more weight on my car?" Morrison leans over, cracking an amused grin before nodding at them. "The drive's going to be a good two hours long from here to Red Grave City. So, if there's anything you need before we head out, now's a really good time for any pit stops."

"Argh seriously?" Dante's eye twitches, but Lady sighs, shrugging, warily staring at him. "Oh, all right. But we're not stopping?"

"Well, maybe for gas." Morrison grimaces, looking towards the exit of the city. "But the later we go, the more chances for those things to show up and start wrecking havoc in the city. Choose your poison."

Dante and Lady stare at each other- with some degree of uncomfortable thoughts crossing their minds. A long two hours? They can endure worse. ...actually, they have been through worse. The two hour drive might not be so bad.

Lady glances back at him, "I'm sure it's not that bad."

"Of course. But if I run out of gas, I'm marking it off of your pay." Said contractor rolls his eyes before opening the driver's seat. "Speaking of, the last job's pay has been put into your bills, so don't worry about next month's rent and bills. The remainder's what I'm about to give you for food and other items, so use it well."

In other words, not a lot of spending money. But hey, if it keeps a roof over Dante's head, so be it. (Lady has her own place, so he has no clue how she manages it.)

"All right, but I call shotgun!" Dante calls out, earning Lady's balking before the two of them begin to banter over it- and Morrison shakes his head as he starts the car. "I mean- I can read maps! How bad can this be?"

"We'll see, fifty bucks and dinner says you'll make us get lost on the way." Lady mutters under her breath- and elicits a joyful cry when Morrison puts on the radio- "Ah, that's my favorite station!"

Dante, on the other hand, shoots a long-suffering glare to the other. "Again? All right, crappy pop it is- OW!?"

"Your music tastes are worse than mine on a bad day-"

Dante dramatically gasps, pretending to be offended. "Excuse me!? I'll have you know, Journey is not a bad band!"

"Said the one who kept spamming that one Bangles song over and over again-"

"Oh shut up, Lady, you like it too-"

"Not when played ten times in a row!"

Morrison laughs as they leave the comforts of their city to Fortuna City.


Two hours later, they finally arrived and the first thing that crosses Dante's mind is wow, is Fortuna City ancient. Beautiful? By far, the scenery reminds him of Italy. It has its own flair, but Fortuna City is different- for instance, he swears there are remnants of what he swore were demonic wings on a now headless statue.

"The people who are in charge of this city insist on preserving their architecture and finest structures." Morrison explains and Dante swears he sees what looks to be a cathedral being repaired. "Though within the last couple of years, this city had a certain cult about to conduct their business before a fire broke out- do you remember that?"

"Oh yeah- wait, oh no. Are you talking about that wacky cult Order of the Sword or- something like it?" Dante groans, recalling way too well about that job. Lady too gives him a stare of unease as recollections of that job return. "That... was years ago."

"I don't think we enjoyed that one for a reason." Lady's lips purse into a thin line. "Weren't there kids used as hostages?"

"No, one of them was intended as a sacrifice, the other two were trying to stop it from happening." Dante knows it too well. "Though the kids were interesting- one of them was. And then we saved their lives along with- wait, that woman. I-" And he runs his hands through his long silver hair. "Yeah, now I remembered why we don't talk about it."

Morrison was silent, lighting up his cigarette before offering one to Dante. Lady has already gotten one and lit hers with her own magic- Dante does the same before looking back at the slowly repairing cathedral. The events float back to him, serving him the said reminder.

"Yeah. That's... a fun one to remember." He darkly murmurs, lighting his own cigarette.

He doesn't see a dark blue hawk perched on a nearby lamppost, looking at him before flying off to its owner.

Chapter Text

 

"They attempt to search for the Crimson Prince, but they found nothing. Even in the expanses far and wide, they can never find the lost Prince, stopping at the borderlines of their kingdom. The King and Queen, still strong and resilient, are now upset in their lost son. The Azure Prince, once shy and meek, grows in strength, knowledge. Yet coldness grips his heart, for he is still bearing the loss of his twin, the one he loves.

"And in the years to come, he becomes king, but with the prince of his arrogance, he rules with a ruthless rage. He fathers a son who grew to be a strong, resilient knight, yet he mourns the loss of his twin, the Crimson Prince, the one who will forever be the one that will draw the side he never shows. For he still believes the Crimson Prince will be found and return to his rightful home.

"Then one day, a stranger arrives, but one with an interesting intent."

 


 

Ten years ago, Fortuna City

 

"And it's one ugly sight." Dante is on his bluetooth, talking to Lady. He can still feel the stings from the arcane shots aimed at his arm, but he healed up easily. Damn. Who knew priests and pious assholes have firearms that actually hurt? "I had to literally seal that damn thing up before anything else escaped from it."

"I guess Rock had his suspicions on point, but that didn't mean you had to set the entire structure on fire!" Lady's seething, but Dante rolls his eyes.

Yes, he did set the church on fire with his arcane. And she's pretty ticked, but at least it got one of the two jobs done: take down the cult's base. The other was to stop them from summoning a portal from Hell- which was... pretty much said and done: after he shot the old man, he dashed into what he assumed was a holy room made for someone. Or something, he wasn't too sure.

But he did spy a demon portal, and rightfully, as if its something in tune to his blood, he seals it before taking down more cult members who try to keep it open. The last thing he really needs to hear is that they're trying to keep the portal to Hell or whatever that hellspace is open. There's plenty of that in the world- and most of it was eating up the magic some people used for their daily lives.

That's literally the last thing Dante wanted- more lives in his hands. As if the ones that were blamed (on him) before they realized the truth and tried to apologize for weren't bad enough.

"Come on. You have to admit, we did get everyone else's attention. Some religions are crazy for a reason." That was why he began the, er, last minute impulsive decision to light a single curtain on fire. And it began blazing through the room, then the church and finally to the entire establishment. He's not going to let them get away with this- his fire is too potent to be simply put out. "So, how are those kids you saved?"

"Oh God those poor kids..." He knows how badly that hit Lady and that made her rescue them while Dante handled the hard part. And he knew that old fart was not in the realm of 'normal human', especially after he heard the man cry out for his 'soldiers' to seize Dante. "They're fine. just really happy to get out of here- I wonder what that was all about?"

"Not sure, but I'll let you know one of my thoughts when I get there." Dante hangs up and surveys the damage.

So there's a church on fire and kids were saved. Great.

The kids were a major- no, they were first priority. That and the woman, but the woman was gone. When he and Lady came in, they realized it wasn't just the cult that were present- old fart with the holy robes and all. There were children- a small gathering of them, and they were scared. One of them was wearing something he suspected was a white dress, but her eyes were red and puffy.

And that's then they- he and Lady- decided to crash this party and save them first. Well, more like Lady did. Dante just provided the well necessary distraction and shot the old man first for- well, whatever it was he was about to do.

He hears someone running towards him- and he turns around to see someone exuding more energy to dash up to him. A light, platinum blonde woman runs to him, her blue eyes finally catching up to him, wait, he saw her earlier!. "Sir-"

"Are-" And he freezes, noticing her clothing were stained with the dark brick red. "Shit- are you hurt?!"

The woman shakily breathes. "They- the cult- Sanctus- tried to attack me when I tried to hide, but I barely escaped." Sanctus was the old fart's name? All right, at least he has that in mind. The woman strains to get up, but Dante holds her up, trying to prevent her from straining herself. "The children, are they-"

"They're safe, my friend took them to safety." Dante tightens his hold on the woman- was this the extent this cult was going to take for gaining that much power? "Come on. We have to get you somewhere safe." He doesn't see the woman's expression turn grave, but she allows him to help her.

He and Lady have arrived on a personal request placed in by Rock Goldstein - gunsmith extraordinaire and son of Nell Goldstein: he wants them to look into this Order of the Sword. The reason he was too reluctant to mention until the day of, was that he fears for his niece and her mother. As for his half-brother, he only admits the man's too far gone in his vision to be saved. For that, Dante doesn't know about how rocky their history were. But whatever it was, he and Lady decide to take it on- more for the personal favor than a job. Rock was their friend who Dante knew prior to his mother's death.

"I have to thank you-" The woman's grey eyes look to him with some sort of relief. Confusion initially set in before Dante arches an eyebrow at her. She's staining her voice in an attempt to keep talking- okay, that's a good thing. "-for saving my son. His friends- Credo and Kyrie, they too were orphaned. Nico with them too- she wanted to stop whatever was happening. And if you haven't come when the Order tried to take them away from my hands-"

"Whoa whoa, stop. They tried to take the the kids away?" Dante stills, pausing in his steps to allow the woman to breathe. "This Order. Aside being horror movie fodder for sacrificing kids, what do you know about them?"

The woman looks at him with the strangest glance before she looks back at the now blazing church. "They want to call on their Savior's name and to control him and to rule the world."

Of course. Of course it has to do with world domination and... okay, this is getting too old for the entire 'take over the world with my powers' bullshit. Dante is getting pretty sick of this.

"But they wanted to blood of a pure-hearted person as a sacrifice-" And he stares at the woman, horrified. A sinking feeling is in his guy, but the woman continues, confirming it. "Kyrie- the child- was to be sacrificed but I tried to stop them-!"

Yeah. He had a gut feeling that told him that (the white dress and flower crown? No shit). But he blinks, feeling something seeping through his sleeves- and he pales.

The woman's still bleeding.

"Hang in there, we're taking you to get treated right now." Shit, shit, shit shit- he's cursing in his head. There's a higher chance she's not going to make it- she better not die in his arms. If his foster father taught him anything, it's to do everything he can to save as many lives as he can. This woman better not be one of those lost, or so help him God... "Hold on Miss-"

"It's best if you don't know my name." The woman barely laughs, her eyes still locked on him as he decides screw helping her walk, he'll just carry her. And carry her he does, fast as he can- he can see Lady looking around before yelling for him among the civilians who have just noticed the church's burning.
It's a good thing they were more distracted by that- by the time Dante and the woman reach Lady, he can swear he hears people shouting to quench the fire. 'Good luck with that.' Dante's fire can die down as they need. But for now, they are in his command to destroy the shell, expose what the people must know. Water can only delay it for so long. The entire city of Fortuna needs to understand this cult is a madhouse, doing anything they wanted for- well, resurrecting some demon and harnessing its power.

"Lady! Where's Rock!?" He calls and Rock appears, relief brief in his face before he sees the woman. Then he pales before seeing Dante indicate towards her wound.

"Well, shit." The man quietly grumbles, his tattoos slowly glowing as he musters up his healing arcane. "So she's the one who sheltered the kids before you both came in?"

"Yeah, but they were about to use a kid for a sacrifice." Dante snarls, earning stares of shock from Lady and Rock. "She said that girl on white, Kyrie, was supposed to be chosen for- whatever the crap this order was trying to summon. She got wounded when she tried to escape."

"Fucking hell, Argus, what did you get yourself into...?" Rock hisses under his breath, turning back to the woman, but she softly smiles, her hands now on Rock's wrist. "Ma'am? Let me heal you and get you to a nearby hospital. Our friends here can-"

"There's no saving me. Please, use them for someone else who truly needs it." The woman's sad eyes reach towards them, ending at Dante. For some reason, she was looking at him with an odd emotion that Dante can't pin. But her words made him still, horrified at the thought that- shit, she's really going to do this, huh? "But what I wanted- thank you, for saving these children- may I see them?"

Dante turns back and he tries not to be upset. But Lady glances towards the woman, at Dante, and then at Rock, who slowly indicates to another room to let her know the kids are in there. He feels a gentle hand take ahold of his- it's the woman. Her eyes shine with wet gratitude, but he knows her touch is cold.

"I'm sorry... I know you wanted to save me. Thank you for the thought... however, I would be better off, seeing my true beloved in another world." The woman's soft tone reaches him. "I wanted you to save my son and his friends from irreparable harm. The consequences of what could have happened might be worse than before..."

Dante falls silent, but he gently squeezes the woman's hand.

"My suffering- has been far more than you can imagine. What I had to endure, deal with..." She breathlessly laughs, earning his attention again. "I have one request for you- if you can hear me."

"Sure." He reluctantly nods. He did not want to do this, yet here he was, hearing this dying woman. "Tell it to me- I can try to help you."

The woman nods, gratitude in her eyes. "My son's true father- I heard he had something else happen to him as a child: someone else close was taken away from him- and he retreated far away. I only came to him once- I thought I was in love. But in fact, I too was in deep grief- my beloved died from the hands of Sanctus for defying him. We were both lost, only for that one moment... but I understand his emotions. The boy, my son... has lost so much, yet he doesn't know... please." She takes another shuddering breath, tears coming down her eyes. "Please... help my son. And his father. Find who he has lost- please end his suffering."

Dante stares at her, and then he sighs, other hand on his face. "Miss. ...I don't know if I can do that. I don't even know the kid, nor who his real father is. I'm just a mercenary!"

If he was law enforcement like his foster father was, he could. But no, life dealt a set of different cards for him and things were more difficult. Even if Dante could- given his qualifications, he wouldn't even think about being in that field anymore.

"I know." He looks back at the woman. "That's why I'm requesting my last wish to you, sir..."

"...it's Dante." He quietly responds. He doesn't hear the shuffling behind him nor does he hear Lady call out that this is a private moment. "It's Dante, ma'am."

"Dante?" The woman's breath gasps- before she softly, sadly chuckles. She blinks back more tears. "Oh... how the fates weave their threads..." Dante doesn't understand it, but her smile makes this ordeal more painful for him. He squeezes her hand tighter, worried for her sanity. "Thank you. If it is possible, can you carry out my final wish?"

"I-I will." Dante can't promise this. But the words stick to him, a very large reminder that he must. "I'll- at least I'll try." He really can't promise her anything.

"Thank you." The woman nods in gratitude and Dante lets go of her hand, leaving some of his warmth behind as one of her remaining source of comfort. He doesn't look back to hear the pitter patter of feet running up to her, calling out his mother's name. And he definitely doesn't want to stick around to hear what they talk about- this is too much. He knows Lady and Rock won't pursue him- the lady won't last much longer.

So he decides to go upstairs, open the windows to hear the wailing sirens of the firefighters and ambulances- and waits for the fire to expose the truth about this messy church.

 

 

"It makes me wonder," Lady's quiet remark comes to him and she sees him stamp on her cigarette butt. "Did those kids made it safe?"

He told Lady and Rock the very short version of what the woman told him- and both promise not to tell anyone else about it. And he felt the grief from whoever the woman's child was- the white haired kid. He was sure it was him- the black haired wild child was Nico, who Rock wanted to rescue. The brunettes were siblings. But he couldn't face the white-haired kid without having the child asking questions. So he just avoided most interactions with the kids.

On the last day, the brunette girl- Kyrie- hugged him and muffled out a grateful 'thank you' for saving her life. Her older brother, though stiff, carefully nods in gratitude. The white haired boy wants to say something to Dante, but he can't. So instead, Dante tells the boy was that he's really sorry for not saving his mother's life and pats him on the head, tells him to get stronger one day before seeking him out.

He really doubts the kid remembers him now.

"They better." Dante darkly remarks and puts out his cigarette. Fortuna City was one of the rougher jobs he's taken and definitely doesn't want another reminder of it.

If those kids return, then what? What is he going to say?

He doesn't want to think about it.

"Yeah, Rock told me someone picked three of the four up- someone from a different city who has been searching for the kids. That other one he's still taking care of, but they're safe." Morrison glances over the city, squinting his eyes towards the rebuilding church. "As for- well, you both know the cult's been decimated. I'm pretty sure that's obvious."

Dante slowly nods before tapping the car. He silently places his mask back on and faces them. "So, Morrison. Are we staying here and then heading off to Red Grave City?"

"We are, just waiting for the client to show. But before we drop your things off," Morrison gestures towards the city. "Why not stretch your legs a little? Walk around, take in the new sights of the improved Fortuna City."

"...supposedly." Lady grumbles and Dante tries not to laugh. She brandishes one of her pistols as Dante feels Ebony and Ivory in their holsters- a silent preparation should something go south. "Come on. I think we need to get a better feel for this place if this job takes long."


"If there's any consolation," Dante muses as the two of them walk through the city. They've noticed the more notable sights and landmarks of the city and now they are in the more rural parts where people are running around. "Any traces of that Order are gone."

"That's because the authorities took away the main people responsible." Those who were in the minor rankings confessed a lot of things- some even profane to the arcane that people reeled in horror. "I heard though that Sanctus was taken in by someone else that weren't from our usual authorities."

"Oh?" This, Dante glances over to Lady, was new. "Why haven't we heard about this?"

"Because I think you might've wanted all dealings with that job out of your mind and out of mind."

Dante falls silent before quietly asking, "...I want to know now. It's past the time- so I should be okay."

"If you say so..."

Lady glances to him before presenting him with a news article on her phone. His eyes blink when he reads the headline: Sanctus sentenced with kidnapping, conspiracy charges. "Huh. But not in Fortuna?"

"No. They were doing a lot of their dealings here, which might be on biased ground." If the portal to whatever world was obvious enough, Dante wasn't sure what else was. "But kidnapping? I thought that woman was here in the city to begin with."

"So did I." Lady nods, her lips thinned. "But Rock looked her up- and I know you didn't want to talk about her, so we both did our research. It turns out this woman- do you still want to know her name?"

"No." Better to leave ghosts the way they wanted it to be: unknown. This woman especially even more, her wish still echoing in Dante's head: Please help my son and his father. "But go on." A part of him wanted to ask Lady what brought this up all of the sudden, it's been a decade since they last spoke about this. "I know she mentioned someone else close was killed by the cult."

"That, and she ran away from them. Supposedly she went somewhere in hiding, but then the cult found her under the guise of a job interview. Those kids were picked up by people pretending to know them, but they were drugged." Lady can tell Dante's expression was grim. "Rock knew because his half-brother was the one who kidnapped them and his own child."

"Of course, of course it gets ugly." Dante grouses. He's only met Rock's insane half-brother Argus in person when they brought him in. He realizes his madness through the notes Morrison gave to him after their job: a large series of written records of every monster and power that exists in the world. Argus wanted to pool all of those in, but for a more selfish reason, fueling for world domination.

So he is not surprised when Rock doesn't express sympathy for Argus' arrest and subsequent sentencing. Neither does his child, but Dante slowly suspects this guy wasn't father of the year material. And Arkham earns the top spot for being the worst of them all.

"How long were they trapped?" He quietly asks.

"...not for long. It was about three weeks in when we came here."

"Three weeks?" Wow, that's a surprise. "I thought they would be there longer... but how did they find them was my first question."

Lady stills before she presents him with a picture, and Dante knows too well of this iteration. "Scrying. Argus found her when he was trying to track down his wife and child."

"It makes sense." No use in thinking about that now. How long were they walking? It looks like they're back in the city. "But at least she's in a different, better place."

Lady nods in agreement- to only stop at the front of the city square, something preventing her from coming. "Dante."

Her voice alerts him to pay attention, and he tries not to groan at the sight.

The monsters they encountered before have returned. Snarling, seething, and some attacking civilians as their marks glow an eerie off-white. And their wings buzz, attempting to pick off more victims, not paying attention to anything else except to attack.

"Yeah, okay, that's not going to happen!" Dante instinctively whisks out Ebony and Ivory, Lady her pistols as the two run in, immediately shooting at the said creatures. He can smell the smoking bullets that hit the monsters- whose attentions now turn to him and Lady. But the bullets, normal as they come, do not do a thing.

"Shit." He mutters, fueling his own arcane, humming Ebony and Ivory in tune to his fire. "A repeat of the night before!?"

"It's starting to look like it!" Lady already reloaded her ammo before opening fire- both figuratively and literally. "This is bad- how did it reach Fortuna City already!?"

"I don't know! You tell me that!" More shooting, more screeching from the monsters that slowly die and disintegrate from their enhanced abilities. "How in the- I'm calling Morrison!"

"You do that-" And Lady grasps for- wait, thin air. She groans, recalling something, "Dante, I have to call him! I left Kalina Ann back in the car-"

"Seriously!?" He balks in horror before he groans- she did leave most of her firearms in the trunk. "Oh God, right... this is really good timing. So, it's up to me then?"

"I owe you one!" Lady yells out, attempting to duck for cover as she rapid dials Morrison.

"Right, like I do in money. As if that's going to be a thing." But Dante's sly grin emerges- and he knows what to do. There's multiple amounts of these fuck-offs, and one of him. "But it isn't so bad." He outstretches his hand, silent and with instinct, he feels the heavy hilt of his sword in his hand. He rapidly swings, part of his fire magic bursting from the swipe as it injures the monster- and some of the monsters were hit while some snarl.

And his grin sharply turns to an amused grin, one filled with absolute delight.

Dreams aren't his area of expertise; he doesn't have the time to analyze everything. Fighting, on the other hand, is.

"All right, you nasty looking suckers, let's see Rebellion likes you!"


"These magic sapping demons are here- what now!?" Lady watches Dante take on the said flying monsters with his magic. They seem to be going away, which is a plus.

...the minus side being they're bringing their own reinforcements. Lady narrows her eyes. Dante is powerful in both strength and arcane, but there's so much he can take before he wears down- and it rarely happens. "And where are you? We need to rendezvous and have a new plan!"

This was not in their itinerary. She suspects Morrison didn't know about the monsters arriving in Fortuna City either. Well, shit.

"At this other place- Rock's with me. But I should be able to get over there soon-" There's a loud shout and then Morrison is cursing. "Sorry, I'll be right back, something's taking place here-"

"Morrison!?" But the line got cut off. And Lady hangs her head before preparing her pistols, reloading it. "Crap, so he's with Rock. Gotta relay that back to Dante." Then she looks back and sees Dante's fire blaze through the monsters before joining in. "Dante! Morrison might be in trouble with Rock!"

"So Goldstein's here too?" He sounds extremely relieved to hear that. "Thank God! I needed him to do one last favor for Ebony and Ivory-"

Lady shoots him an annoyed glare. "Is it one of those name branding again!? And is this the time to talk about your 'ladies'!?"

"No!" And he hears the glorious sounds of Lady's pistols shooting fire bullets, accompanied with screeches of pain from the monsters. Demons. Whatever those mooks are. "I want him to make sure my pistols don't get jammed!"

"Oh, don't tell me. Like that last job with Enamel City?" Lady smirks, rapidly taking away the now spent pistol and taking out her other reloaded one.

Dante grimaces, recalling how annoying that went. "Like that, but I'm super glad that shotgun didn't explode- shit, how many of these things are there!?" He's pretty positive he's feeling most of his fire arcane expend. And from the way Lady is attempting to energize her pistols with the slower reaction time, so was her fire arcane.

"Shit." He hisses, retreating Rebellion and taking out both pistols. "We're going to collapse from exhaustion again. What the hell are we going to do now-"

"You look as if you need some assistance."

Both of them stop, hearing an unknown third voice- and Dante swore a man wasn't there with them a minute ago.

Yet, approaching them and now standing next to Dante, there is a man with very black hair, wavy and swept over one side of his face. His skin has black writings and tattoos all over his arms, chest, neck. He wears dark clothing- something akin to a sleeveless jacket, pants, gloves and then Dante realizes this man is wearing sandals.

...and there's a tap that's carefully rhythmic. As if it comes with him.

He still can't help but also think there's something familiar about this man- he just can't put a finger on who-

"I assure you, I am not one of those who you deem odd." The black-clothed man thinly smiles, glancing at him. Dante also realizes how very pale he is- there are some dark circles under his eyes. His black hair sweeps under his right eye- but it's something about it that makes Dante wonder-

The feeling that Dante feels is a blast of cold, but it wasn't ice. Was this a different set of arcane? Whatever this one is, it feels difficult to control. But it feels so familiar-

-Wait. Why does he feel so familiar?

Then he notices the long, metallic cane.

"It's used to help me walk." The man quietly explains, realizing what Dante's staring at. "But for me, it's easy to lift, no big deal."

"That's great," Lady hisses, signalling to Dante the monsters are coming closer, "But we're in the middle of a-"

The strange man lifts up his cane, whispering something, and then Dante and Lady both see the monsters screech before their attention whiplashes to the strange newcomer, anger and dumbed predatory glares in their eyes-

-to only feel something cold, dark pierce their skins as the man lifts his cane, whispering something like a spell.

With a swift wind, a growl of a feral animal suddenly leaps from the icy shadows, slashing its claws at all of its foes, catching up to the inky blue spikes that form a circle. By the time the circle makes it way back to the man, the panther-like shadow has destroyed all of its foes. It leaves massive, deep slashes at its wake, decimating the monsters as if it was fabric.

Dante and Lady can only gape at this sight, even when the dark ice vanishes, the shadows cease to be, and the panther returns to the shadows, its deep piercing white eyes looking at its summoner before closing them, resuming to its temporary slumber.

The man smirks before turning back to the duo. "As you were saying?"

"...shit." Dante was the first to utter. Lady is still surprised at the damages done to the now crumbling monsters that begin to cease into dust. Yes, he was dumbfounded! "You can- what- what arcane was that!?"

"A particular... little element. Shadow magic- the base of one for the other." The man chuckles, noting how shocked Dante looks. "In awe, are you?"

"It's just-" Why the hell does it feel so familiar...? The dream with the child's hand comes back to Dante and he shakes it off. "Nothing, sorry. So, uh- okay, sorry. Maybe, uh, actually, can you help us find a man named Morrison?"

"Dante!" Lady frowns, elbowing him. They both do not register the slow incoming realization clicking in the man's eyes. "I think he mentioned he was with Rock, so they must be inside the inner parts of Fortuna City-"

"Ah, right right! Sorry about that, Lady. Geez, warn a guy before you elbow him, will you?" He pretends to feign being hurt with a chuckle and she rolls her eyes. Yet she grins- there's the Lady he knew. "Okay, sorry! Never mind that-"

"So you two are the ones Morrison talked about. How interesting." The black-haired man chuckles, approaching the two of them, hearing the heavy cane tap on the ground. Then he points his cane at Lady, who blinks- "The Walking Arsenal. And-" Then he glances to Dante with a more... intense glance. "-the Famed Mercenary himself. It's finally good to meet you two in person."

Shock is now the most understated emotion the two feel right now.

"What the?" Lady whispers and that's what else Dante was thinking in his mind.

"How did you-" And Dante stills, narrowing his eyes at the stranger who approaches him. There's only one way he knows their identities. "Hey... Are you that client Morrison talked about?"

"Indeed I am." The man nods, coming close to inspect the two. Lady, he nods at. But to Dante-

-it's as if he's looking over him. Something registers to him when his gaze meets his-

It's like he's being looked over by a very familiar hit that Dante can't place his hand on...

...but what was it!?

"Who are you?" Dante asks again, and this time, he can't shake that feeling off.

"'I have no name; I am but two days old.'" A- wait a sec, he's heard of that line before- The man's soft laugh ripples through that thought. "I jest. You can call me 'V'." The man presents his hand, an indication for Dante to take it. "It's nice to meet you..." He pauses for their names.

"This is Lady." Said woman nods, waving with a cautious look on her face. Then he gestures to himself, "I'm Dante. But I'm going on a limb and guess you already knew that via Morrison?"

V's smile was not one of surprise- but rather, sharp interest. It's as if he knew their names, yet decided to bite back on announcing it.

It's as if he wanted to make sure we state our names from our own mouths...

He makes V's hand and shakes it, "Nice to meet you-"

 

...and suddenly, he hears, a hesitation, yet trembling sliver of hope in the unknown, low, hoarse voice-

And then, "Is it... truly you?"

 

-he gasps, letting go of V's hand. He feels slight heavy flashing and thrumming in his mind, and then something really nostalgic and intimate kicks in. But why, oh god WHY does this man's touch feel so familiar, but not so at the same time?

He looks like he's in his late twenties, yet he's older than that. And nobody else is with him, except for Lady, who looks at him. And then he looks at V. V, who for some reason, feels very familiar. That voice that he just heard still resonates in his mind; he has not heard it before, nor does he know someone who possess that kind of tone.

But where has he heard it? He knows he's heard it before- somewhere, different, changed-

"Dante, you okay?" Lady asks and he blinks back to reality. If V notices, he too looks worried and carefully approaches Dante with trepidation. Then she quietly murmurs to only his ears, "That's the second time this happened. Are you sure you're okay?" She doesn't notice V stiffening but Dante doesn't even think of it.

"I'm... god, I don't know, but it's better than the first time." At least it wasn't as painful as yesterday. "I feel- argh, I don't know what it is, but it feels like I should know something this time around..."

But why can't he?

He can barely stand. Shit, this slow burning headache might be worse than he thought.

"Hey, hey, don't make me kick you." Lady gently pats his back. "Breathe. We're in Fortuna City. We're in present day. You're not dreaming, okay?"

He nods, breathing deep once. Twice.

"...yeah. Sorry for worrying you, Lady." He grins and she smiles back. Then he straightens himself and clears his throat. "I'm sorry about that-"

"Did I do something that harmed you?" V asks, concerned. He carefully approaches Dante again, worry in his eyes. "You seem to be in some sort of pain."

"I'm fine. I've gotten used to worse." Much worse, but his arcane will pave it out. Like before, like now, as it will ever be. And Dante grins at the man, attempting to salvage whatever was lost from that moment earlier. "But anyway, back to business."

Dante decides to dive in and take the risk anyway. He'll pay the consequences should they even come. This job comes with high hell or what the fuck ever. He'll have to deal with it.

...why is his head still swimming?

"It's nice to meet you too, V." He barely croaks.

And then he stumbles forward.

He doesn't see the dim blue swirl in V's eyes before his vision goes out- and the last thing he hears are cries of shock from Lady, from V.

Then, rippling through the darkness, the unknown, yet low voice returns, this time whispering oh so close to his ear-

 

"...is it truly you, my brother...?"

Chapter Text

 

 

"The stranger's request was simple.' Give me shelter, for I desire nothing more but to stave off the cold for the night.'

"The Azure King- formerly the Azure Prince- just scoffs. Such things will not be allowed to strangers- he would have if his twin would have told him to let the stranger in, sheltering them from such horrendous conditions. But he isn't in the mind of the Crimson Prince- no, he was much less forgiving, more brutal, cold-hearted. 'As if I would allow you to do such thing. I will not let you step afoot in here- your intentions are muddled, for I have no desire to allow one in.'

"Yet the King's son was more forgiving- when he sees his father off, he runs towards the stranger. 'Please, forgive my father. He does not possess the kindness his lost love has- I will allow you to stay for the night. But only in secrecy- I do not want my father to rile in his anger.'

"The stranger nods, so they let him in- but only for a moment before the King sees this. Before he does anything to impulsively disown his son, the stranger suddenly steps forward- and reveals herself in her true form- a sorceress of high power.
"'For you, rashly desiring nothing but your own selfish worth and mad in your thoughts, you shall be what you are. Mirroring in your heart- you shall be what you've slowly become. For only the one who can truly change you- is the one you can never find yourself!'

"The Azure King suddenly changes into a demon, fury and anger consuming his heart, transforming him to that of a monster. Claws, demonic form make his body. Cold ice pierces through the room, and suddenly he roars, fury hidden in his roar and eyes, power surging through him from sources unknown. And he attempts to kill the stranger, but his son defends her, taking her out as ice suddenly encases the kingdom, forcing the inhabitants to their cold slumber.

"The son panics, turning to the stranger- but she too looks aghast, her power now robbed. 'What has happened!? To you, to my father- to my home!?'

"'I did not foresee this, for I only came in to make your father understand his actions, cruel as they are, are heartless. But to the highest extent of my powers- his new form has robbed me of this, and now I have become a human.'

"'There is a reason he is like this.' The son responds. 'He's lost his twin, the only one who can draw him out of his shadows. How can we break this curse?'

"'This curse will not be broken by such simple matter.' The woman whispers. 'If this is a way for me to regain my abilities, I can help you find the lost one. But for now, run. We must find someone who can break through this curse and calm your father's demonic form.'

"And find him they shall, even as they hear the demon's roar pierce through the skies of the dark, moonless night."

 


 

Dante isn't sure where he is, but he's standing on what looks like rubble.

At first, he runs a bit forward until he sees upon a familiar scene-

"Shit... what the hell happened here?" The first figure- a familiar man in the very dark blue police uniform- asks, horror evident in his voice. There are firefighters taking down the huge damages- some with a crowbar, some drowning the fire with water. "Did someone call-"

The second figure finishes talking on their radio. "Chief's on his way.. Someone reported an explosion on this road... looks like another accident."

"But one like this one? ...no survivors?"

"Look around, but I really doubt anyone survived this."

Dante gasps, seeing two officers carefully approach the scene. One of them he recognizes so well, the other was his partner. He slowly approaches them, but they don't see him. In fact, he realizes this is a much different perspective on the accident.

The day he met his foster father, Desmond. 

"Why am I here?" Dante quietly asks. There's no response, so he knows it's a dream. He's heard of his father's side of the incident many times before- as if it was the story of hope he's wanted to hear.

He looks over to see his foster father look around the scene, concern and worry mar his face before he hears a series of coughs. And Dante sees him dash towards the rubble of the fallen black car, kneel down- and yell, "Wait- there's a boy! I can see him- hey, hey, He's alive!"

It's him- as the eight year old crushed between the car and the road. Dante's neck prickles with relief, yet something overwhelms him that wasn't that and it suddenly feels cold-

There's that voice again, hoarse, rough, low that cuts through his feelings of relief. Who is this? And why is Dante hearing him?? "Is this another delusion?"

Dante stills, suddenly turning around to see someone he doesn't know approach the scene. But the person is clouded by shadows, wisps of blue glossed by harsh black smoke. The unknown person doesn't notice him. Why can't he make it out-

Then he sees the police man turn, yelling, "Robbins! Anyone!? Someone help me lift this car out of the way- I found a survivor-!"
The shadow figure in question slowly walks over and Dante suddenly wants to yank this person away from the dream. But he can't- he can't move. What the hell? Isn't this his dream? "What is this...?"

The second officer hears Officer Redmund shout, then she gasps, "A survivor!? Dispatcher to operator-"

"Hey, hey kid! Can you hear me!?"

And suddenly, Dante feels the surging pain return- no, he's no longer still, he's now back as his eight year old self, clutching on Desmond's hand with dear life. And for fuck's sake OH GOD IT HURTS SO BAD! He frantically nods, pain suddenly needling his nerves, recalling this dream well as Desmond reassures, "Look, it's going to be okay, we can get you out of here! Hold onto my hand- stay with me, okay? Stay with me."

The hand still feels warm- but now something feels off. Different- as if they're now being watched. And Dante knows- that strange shadow figure slowly approaches Desmond. Dante whimpers, holding onto Desmond's hand tighter. He can hear his younger voice crack with fear, his eyes now glued to the strange figure slowly approaching them, threatening, looming. It's still a dream, right? Desmond doesn't know Dante yet- "It'll be okay, all right? You'll get out of here, alive..."

"Please don't leave." Dante shakily whispers, holding onto that warmth tighter. He doesn't notice how much his fire magic slowly surges from his hand, how the shadow figure suddenly stills, its attention now caught on something else-

-on him?

"-is it- no, what is this foolishness?"

Then Desmond turns to another firefighter, not noticing Dante's fire acting in fear. "Where are the others!? Did you call for help?"

"Please don't leave me..." Dante's whimpers are louder. His fire magic is slowly enveloping him, as if attempting to soothe his fears to instead fuel them. The cold dark shadows prickles closer until it slowly reaches the rubble.

The relieved firefighter shows up, heaved from stress and relief. The dream places him back where he should be. For a moment, the shadow vanishes, Dante feels his hand clutched around Desmond's, and he sees the other person approaching them. "The ambulance is on its way- oh, the poor child..."

"Child?" And then Dante feels it again- slow, careful, prickling shadows that feel like ice. As if the cooling air is surrounding him now, attempting to study him, but no, Dante wants the warmth, signs of life, the warmth of Desmond's hand, anything to warm him from the cold that's gracing his skin-

"Good, that's good." Desmond nods, relieved and clearly not seeing the strange shadow approach them. The Desmond in this dream doesn't notice anything at all. It's a dream, this is a dream, he's dreaming about that day this is bad this isbadbadbadbad- "Can- Can you hear me?"

"I can!" Dante cries out, but that's not how the dream goes. He's frantic, wanting to wake up now. But he can't- why? "I can hear you!"

And then the shadow figure stiffens. It's him and the figure- Dante at his eight year old, the dark figure's stare now on him. The air stills.  Dante hopes this is the end of it.

Then the voice hitches to akin of shock- shock!? "That voice..."

'...what?'

This figure- does he know him-

The radio crackles and the white space swoops back to the car crash, burnt asphalt, metal regaining their place as the pain returns to him, threatening to crush Dante again, "-requesting backup, on the way, I repeat-"

Desmond's hand holds onto his tighter- the dream takes hold of him again and Dante is panicking. "Hold onto me kid, we'll get you out of this mess of a wreck- I promise, we'll get you to a safe place- Are you able to speak?"

The shadowed man is silently looking- what is this stranger about to do!?

"I CAN!" Dante screams, tears suddenly prickling his eyes. This was not what happened here- this isn't good, this is slowly becoming a nightmare-

The shadowed man's eyes- if he can call those slits of white and blue eyes- widen in realization from what??  "...this can't be- but- why-"

Desmond heaves in relief- but Dante knows this wasn't how it happened. He would have nodded frantically, croaking out a rough affirmative. But he's healed, feeling the pain again, and he suddenly doesn't feel eight years old anymore. "Okay, good, good... what's your name? So that I can help you find anyone who knows you while you heal-"

"It's Dante!" The name that was emblazoned on his necklace, he was last staring at the silver necklace with the two dogtags before they found him. He's still eight, scared, and wants to be awake from this terrible feeling. Something is wrong with this dream and he wants to wake up. A sound, anything- ANYTHING- "Help me! Please help me!"

"That's... no, it IS possible to..." He hears the shadow waver.

'Please don't leave me. Please don't, don't leave me, I'm scared-' He squeezes his eyes shut.

"This is-"

'Let me out, please let me awake, let me wake up-'

"...are you-"

"HELP ME!"

 

He gasps, fear seizing his heart, but he knows his fire arcane stirs him awake. Nothing's on fire. 

But the place he's in looks completely different.

It smells a bit clean, but he knows because it's a different room and Dante now slowly comes to recognize it. The semi tan walls, the lumpy mattress that still felt nice, and the blue curtains that overlooks most of Fortuna City- oh yeah, this is definitely familiar.

"Rock's guest room." He wheezes, managing to prop himself on his elbow, feeling even more dazed from waking up. "How did I get here?"

"Your friend Lady and I managed to carry you here with whatever energy we had left."

Dante sits up, hearing the low, calm voice that can only belong to their newcomer, who is sitting on the bed that's across his own. "V?"

Shit, did he just collapse in front of their client!? All right, now that is embarrassing.

"So you are truly awake." The dark-haired man hums, tilting his head to get a better look at Dante's current state. "You were out for quite some time."

"Yeah, well..."

There's a chuckle that made Dante silently groan. Apparently he was wiped. More than enough for V and Lady to haul his sorry ass to this place. So there's a good chance Morrison isn't happy to hear about this. God and this happened the day before too... this might diminish his chances to do anything fun, whatever that was supposed to be.

"I can tell you are not used to sharing a room with others." V chuckles, gently closing his tan book and Dante tries to clear his throat in an attempt to not fluster out of humiliation. He faces Dante with a concerned glance. "Shall I awake the others? You were knocked out the entire night."

"Shit. I didn't... oh God, it happened again." Dante groans, hands on his face and he knows V is curious now. "Sorry. It's just- well, I hope it doesn't happen again."

"Your collapsing spells?"

"No... no, not those." He tries to shake the dreams away, but the ever lingering touch that grazed his hand remains, from dream to reality.

How? How is it possible for something like this to transfer from dreams to real life?

Forget it, he'll have to ask Rock for his insight on dreams and all of that fantastical bullshit later. Right now, there's a more pressing need that's nagging in Dante's mind and it's the mission they should have known more about. He clears his throat, clearing up all haziness and sleepy spells that threaten to take him back. "Can you wake the others? I feel like I should have been there when you both found Morrison."

"Of course." V nods, gently lifting his cane so he can stand. Then he glances back at Dante, a slightly concerned look on his face. "If you need someone to talk to about this-"

Yeah, yeah. He's heard this from Lady before. Morrison too- they both know how severe it's been before. It's happened once and it made him recall that part of the car accident- when Dante woke up in severe pain and burning, scorched asphalt and metal. He waves his hands nonchalantly, muttering, "I'll let you guys know if it gets to me, it's been done before.."

There's a pause and Dante blinks, noticing V doesn't budge to go to the closed door. Instead, he gently makes his way to Dante's bed and carefully studies him. He frowns a bit, his dark blue eyes narrowing as he inspects the merc.

"What?" Dante asks, feeling a bit uncomfortable.

"You... are not open as I thought." V quietly responds. "But for a minute, I thought you were..." He trails off before he shakes his head. Dante could have sword he sees a hint of sadness cross him, but why would someone like V be like this? They barely know each other. But it's as if V knew Dante already...

...ah never mind, he'll just have to be more worried about Morrison and- well, fuck, there's Rock to deal with on top of a potentially irked Lady.

This is going to be fun.

"It's fine, but if I need something, I'll let you know." Dante waves his hand, finally deciding to wake up from his bed. "But can you let them know I'm taking a shower? Like a five minute one?"

And V nods, a still smile on his face before heading out of the room, cane tapping in tandum with his steps. "Sure. But be careful, the floors are a bit slippery."

"A- wait, what? Why should I be afraid of that?"


Lady prides herself in being punctual at times, and prepared for anything.

So Dante collapsing for the second time this week from another one of his spells wasn't something she was ready for. Let alone in a different city. He's been having more of those lately, she's silently thought. If more of these take place, maybe it's better for him to rest...

Morrison was not delighted to hear about it, considering what mess he and Rock went though last night. Though to be honest, Rock did have a relative to catch up and that landed into quite a lovely mess. ...and as of now, Morrison is dealing with someone who did something last night and encountered with Rock. And he's outside with said people- well, better let Dante know that too.

"Though I should've expected something like that coming..." Lady quietly murmurs, drinking on her coffee as Rock glances up. "Sorry, I'm just- I hope Dante's okay."

"I'm sure he's just sleepin'. You know, he is resilient." The older man chuckles, colorful tattoos all over his arms as he sets a plate of food. "When he does come down along with your new client, you'll catch him up with what Morrison has told you?"

"Yeah, it's just..." She carefully takes a toast before nibbling on it. "...I didn't think that things would come back like this." Not after last night.

"The events of...?" The gunsmith looks at her in confusion- before they hear a loud yelp and someone stumbling on the floor upstairs. Rock heavily sighs, shaking his head as Lady groans. "Well, sounds like Dante's finally awake. Maybe I should've warned him about the bathroom floor."

"I'm not going up there, he can help himself up." Lady murmurs, "Back to subject. It's of the mission in Fortuna- the one with the crazy cult?"

Rock's face morphs to realization and he sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Ah. Right. The Order of the Sword. That. I'm..." He lets out a heavier groan. "...not looking forward to seeing Dante's reaction when he meets... well, you know." That earns her silent groaning- this will not be fun. "On that note, you mentioned he wanted me to look at Ebony and Ivory again?"

"Said something about a jam." Lady knows better than to pry into Dante's room and take his pistols. In fact, she's the only select smarter ones who knows how not to make her friend pissed off. The only one who did hold up Ebony was Patty and that was when she was possessed by a demon. Dante was fine with that, but at the same time, trying to save the kid's life. Anyway, back to reality. "Though you know what he really wants you to do since I don't think his pistols will get jammed again."

"Aside another branding thing for his pistols?" Rock cackles, seeing Lady's unimpressed stare. "Look, you would do the same for Kalina Ann."

"...fair." She starts eating her scrambled eggs when the tell-tale taps of a metallic cane approach them. "Oh, speaking of guests-"

"Morning, good sir!" Rock nods, seeing V enter in before gesturing to his breakfast. "Have you eaten yet?"

"No, but Dante is awake." The black-haired man responds back, taking his seat. "Where is Morrison?"

"Meeting with someone. He's juts outside." Lady responds and V hums, gently picking at his own plate of food. "What's wrong? You not hungry or anything?"

"I normally don't eat." The mysterious man quietly responds, causing Lady to glance up at Rock, who shrugs. What does this guy thrive on then? "However, knowing how long we potentially need to be awake in order for us to traverse to Red Grave City, there isn't a chance we would stop for some rest along the way, is there?"

"Nope. Using your Arcane can go so long before they run out- it isn't a good idea to rely just solely on that." She knew- Dante was in that rut once and man did he need a serious kicking in the brain; that was years ago, but a different story. Lady pricks her fork into the scrambled eggs. She hears some creaks coming down the stairs and she smirks, seeing Rock back in the kitchen to get the last plate ready. "Unlike a certain someone I know, Rock's cooking is pretty good! Don't you think so, Dante?"

Said man appears and he has a towel around his neck, white hair slightly damp, his new shirt, pants, and boots on while carrying his jacket. His holsters are on, so she knows he's ready. "Ha ha ha. You're just irritated I served you and Rock pizza that one morning. By the way, Rock, did you change the bathroom floors or something?"

"They needed a touch up, so... eh, I did a little housework." Rock smirks, hearing Lady silently laughing. "Can't say it felt any better. Why?"

"Nothing." Dante rolls his eyes, but he mouths a 'thank you' to V, who chuckles in response. "I'm feeling fine, thanks for asking for my safety."

"Says the one who slipped on the bathroom floor." Lady rolls her eyes as Rock snickers, serving Dante his breakfast. "Going back to your shitty eating habits- it's pizza. How are you not tired of it? With all of the grease and cheese- it's not even healthy eating it three times a week, Dante!"

"Eh, well, I've also been too lazy to grab groceries at my own place, so there's that." Dante points his fork at her direction before stabbing it into the omelet. Then he gestures to V, "Seriously, thanks for making sure I was okay."

"It's of no problem. I thought you would need the advance warning." V nods, reluctantly beginning to eat his food. "Though I do have to question if this is something you are too used to."

"What, slipping around and being a clumsy ass?" Dante chuckles and that even makes the other frown. Geez, not a joker, is he?

"No, your... slightly lackadaisical routine." V's humorless and Dante blinks, hearing a midge of concern. "Do you often eat unhealthy?"

"Oh, the routine Dante's developed for the last decades or so?" Lady smirks, earning her friend's glare as Rock joins them, setting his own plate on the table. "Eh, I can't say it's a thing because I'm not his roommate."

"Nor mine." Rock drawls, sipping on his coffee. "But it's your routine. You build it up and stick to it. Unless something disrupts it, then you'll have to either get used to it or move along."

That makes V glance back at Dante, a curious stare back at him.

"Well, it's... like a familiar song. It works for me, I like it, so I'm used to it. Though I do cook time to time. It's just with the jobs, my lack of a life... it's just the way I roll." Dante pauses before looking around the area. "Say, where's Morrison?"

Lady places her work down, done with her meal. "He's outside. Talking to someone- he did notice you were out last night. Though... something did happen." She sees the frown appearing at this and Lady isn't sure if Dante enjoys that response.

"Aw, well, I'll get the details out from him soon." Though Dante's worried look says otherwise. Lady sighs, glancing at him as she knows fully well what's bothering him. "What?"

"He was worried too, you know. So know that isn't just me you would be talking to about whatever you collapsed from." Lady notices from her side that V's also staring at Dante, wanting answers that she knows her friend refuses to give. "But at least you can tell Morrison when- at least- you need a break."

Which, if she knows Dante well, is... severely unlikely.

"I'll keep that in mind. Though me, taking a break? That's not going to happen." Said white-haired man softly chuckles. "Unless like- I don't know, someone kidnaps me outta thin air or something, that's really unlikely."

"You may never know." And Rock sets his mug down, pointing at Dante. "You- if I recall, need your pistols looked over before you head out. I already checked on Lady's last night- hers is up and ready to charge."

"Ah! That's right-" Dante whips out his lovely black and white guns, a fond smile crossing them before he hands both to Rock, handles out. "Careful with the ladies. Make sure they're prepared for combat- they didn't jam."

"Good, wouldn't want to let these masterpieces explode and waste away." Rock nods, taking the pistols before setting them to the side. "What else aside the usual routine you want me to look at?"

Well. Lady blinks, looking at Rock and then at Dante. Then she and V share a surprised glance. This is strange.

Dante instead stands, walks over to his other bag and takes out what looks like a neatly stacked package of bound papers and notebooks. He hands the heavier item to Rock, who stands up and takes it in his hands, surprise written on his face. And Lady recognizes them, allowing her comrade to explain. V, on the other hand, just takes a look before reading his book.

"They were found from the basement ruins of that church while they were cleaning the rubble for rebuilding." Dante notes how surprised Rock looks. "Morrison gave them to me, saying that these used to be from your shit half-asshole of a brother. I thought it might be of use to you, but I just didn't have the chance to deliver them in person."

"Argus' notes..." Rock murmurs, carefully sitting back down. "Thank you. Though, I might be giving these away to someone else who needs good use of them." He laughs, seeing Dante's shocked stare. "What? At my age, I need to be taking care of my ma's business now! I know I used to help you and Lady with the monster killing and straying arcane ports. As top to shape my arcane is, someone's gotta look at the guns."

"I know." Dante's look tells Lady he's mulling- thinking about his past once more. "It's just... well, it's Argus' notes."

"Yeah, as much of a fucking prick he is," Rock's face softens a bit. "He is meticulous. Like his daughter turned out to be, even if they aren't cut from the same cloth. Their interests, on the other hand- are different." He pauses, glancing at him. "Have I ever told you what happened to Nico and her friends, by the way?"

Dante slowly shakes his head- isn't so sure if he wants to hear this now. "Can we- well, Morrison told Lady about the mission, or what V wanted us to do." As if on cue, both Lady and V glance at each other- though one more of surprise than the other.

"How much did you tell Morrison?" She asks.

"I want to hear what he told you first." V firmly responds and she shrugs, glancing back at Dante.

"Your call, Lady." So handing her the task of explaining things to their client? All right then, she'll be throwing him to the wolves first thing when they head to Red Grave City...

"All right, so Morrison told me the gist of what we're going to do in Red Grave City." At least the name didn't give Dante any wincing feelings to his head. That's a check mark for Lady so she continues. "Those monsters we fought are attacking people there. From what he knew, there's a place in the city that's forming these monsters out of the blue. Our goal is to destroy the tower- their main hub."

A tower? Dante looks confused.

"It rose up one day from Red Grave, overwhelming its citizens and trapping those within its vicinity that it came from." V quietly elaborates, seeing the baffled stare on Dante's face. "If that is what you were wondering about the origins of the 'tower'."

"Gotcha." Dante's eyes narrow, paying closer attention.

Lady continues, "So there are little survivors in the city- if we go in and find nobody's there, we can go on. If there are people there, we have to get them out. If we find them, that is." She knows it's one of Dante's rules: help those who can't help themselves.

"A... okay, I'm okay with that." Dante bubbles in relief. "So, what exactly are we doing? Taking down the tower?"

"The tower- wait, are we seriously fighting against the tower? A structure??" Lady asks, now getting confused. Even Dante can't wrap his mind around- wait, is this job a serious thing? Is Morrison messing around with them!? And how does V fit in this?

He murmurs, attempting to clarify it. "We're going to fight against... something that manufactures these monsters? Demon like bugs?? I'm fine with that, but," He points his fork at V. "How did you come in this image? That's what I want to know."

"I anticipated that. No, you aren't going to fight the structure. That is stationary." V's smirk turns rather thin, concerned. "I have people trapped in there. There are people imprisoned in there."

So... oh God. No wonder V wanted them to come earlier. This doesn't assuage Dante at the least bit.

"But your condition was reasonable- that matter can wait for one more day if needed." V continues, leaning a bit forward. "If anything, the last I heard of that tower in Red Grave, it was in a static state; nothing to bother it."

"In- so no signs or activity?" Rock finally asks, confusion written on his face. "So, those monsters comin' out from it. What's their relation to this thing?"

"It gives the tower life. Power. The more victims it takes, the more lives are taken for the sake of fueling the entity who controls it." V looks away and Dante wonders if V truly regrets something. "I didn't anticipate how far its roots grew until I escaped along with the last few survivors. Nor did I anticipate the amount of lives taken at its expense..."

Dante pales, not saying anything except for silence. He gently places his utensil down, appetite gone and instead feels horrible. "Shit. How-"

He pauses before starting over. "Did anyone else do anything before asking for us?"

"Other mercs tried to take the tower down. Those Morrison didn't ask." Lady narrows her eyes, looking down at her phone. "Few barely escaped... most didn't. Those who lived- well, they were terrified. They didn't want to enter again. The government tried sending their forces to deal with it, but... you don't have to know what happened to most of those people."

More lives were taken, more victims claimed. And Dante suspects the military have sent those most talented in the arcane to deal with it.

Shit. What the hell happened in Red Grave City?

"Why us?" He turns back to V, whose eyes shift back to him. "What made you think of us?" How have you heard of us?

V warily chuckles, "As for how I found you and Miss Lady- There are stories about your feats, what you have done in the past, to change many lives without your understanding... even what took place here- you saved so many."

Ah, so V did hear what happened in Fortuna City years ago. Well, damn then that means he must have known about the other jobs, some Dante refuses to talk about to this day. Only Lady, Rock, and Morrison know and they did not say a word outside their circle.

"Perhaps a part of me wanted to witness your abilities in action- in both your physical and arcane." V's eyes narrow, pointedly interested. "Your actions last night proved my reasoning correct... you utilize the fire, do you not?"

"So does Lady."

"But yours... has a difference. It's unique." He hums. "As if it was made with light- to contrast well with someone else's." Sizing him up after a somber moment should not work. For some reason, V is purposefully prodding at him, as if he is trying to poke at a powerful being just to get its attention.

Lady silently groans, Rock just pats her shoulder in an attempt to calm her annoyance.

"It's not a good idea to provoke a beast at his worst." Dante narrows his eyes. What's V up to? "Is there another reason for this?"

"Ah, I did not mention this to Morrison, but now that you both are here- there is... one more threat you should know about." The dark-haired man's face shifts from his wary amusement to serious concern. "It's more about what is inside the tower that concerns me, not the structure."

"Wait, there's more than just monsters and victims?" This, Dante does not like. He shares a stare with Lady, who perked up with incoming dread. This doesn't sound good. Not at all. The horrible gut feeling sinks in deep as V nods.

Dante recalls part of him once told Lady with a laughing grin before they took down an asshole arcane user named Mundus (years ago, before their job at Fortuna City, while Lady was getting the better hang of being a mercenary), who threatened to steal one of the strongholds of the Arcane has stored. All for world domination, he boomed. To take down the one enemy he had- and Dante doesn't give a shit as he blew a firebomb at the man's face.

"There can be something worse out there than this bullshit Mundus has built up!" He's cackles, amused at how horrified Lady looks. "I mean, he had a goddamn giant bird for an ally. What does that say about this asshole?"

"Be careful what you wish for. I'm sure there is." Lady groans, worry marring her face. But his light-hearted attitude makes her lax a bit as she carefully adjusts her arms. "But if-"

"Then I'll properly know when to really shut up and not say anything insulting." Dante smirks, facing the arcane user who is sputtering loud curses back at him. "I mean, again, it could've been so much worse!"

And oh this feeling tells him this might be absolutely worse than Mundus. He can practically hear the Lady from the past deadpanning 'I told you so' to his face. Hello hindsight, we meet again.

"There's a particular large being up there, taken over the tower, commanding it as his own fortress." V quietly responds, eyes still on Dante as if he's the only one he's talking to. Lady and Rock are at the background, quiet as well, yet attentive. "A rather... powerful foe with strong arcane of his own."

"What the...?" Rock whispers, eyes drawn back to Argus' notes. "Something- wait, like a dragon?"

There's a pause- but Lady and Dante stare at him with the most incredulous stare.

"A. Dragon? As in one of those fire-breathing beasts that can literally decimate an arcane user with one bite?" Dante snarks back.

Lady's face covers her head in exasperation. "Please tell me this isn't the first thing that came to mind, Rock."

Said gunsmith glares back at them. They tend to joke about all of this prior to actually going into the mission site. "Oh, I know they don't exist-"

"He's correct, there is one." V quickly responds, but it sounds bitter. "And I want you to take him down for me."

Dante's not sure whether to laugh because he's heard the second part several times before, or to groan in misery and horror because wait, WHAT!?

Rock's right, no dragon has been heard of in this world. There's only monsters and demons and gargantuan titans made of steel, rock, or a combination of both he's taken on. Dante has also taken on the asshole of all summoners, sorcerers who desired more power, scholars who try too hard yet mutated in the worst of all ways, crazy cult leaders who desire to take over the world.

Hell, he's taken on Mundus, the silver-tongued charming man who has harbored a rather horrible arcane and his true demonic form, crammed up for years before he deemed it good to take over the world. (It was from- well, one can guess: a job. And their client Morrison  brought in was more than relieved to see Mundus gone- he was grateful beyond belief.) And Dante made sure he stayed gone- Mundus is a honest threat and he sealed him up for good measure.

The dragon thing- well, it's a joke between him, Lady, Rock, and Morrison It started off with a legitimate question, only winding up being something else entirely (Basilisks and dragons are not the same). And ever since there's a question of a legitimate threat, Rock's question usually comes to mind and they poke fun at the possibility of it before dismissing it- again, dragons... aren't real.

But did he hear this right? There's an actual, living breathing dragon?

This... can't be good. For someone to finally see one- shiiiiit... "Okay, V. Humor me this." Dante's eyes narrow and he's really suspicious about everything he's hearing. Of the job, of the monsters that drain the arcane- of V. "What's the name of this dragon we're fighting? If it really does exist."

V was about to say the being's name-

-when the door to the dining room open and Morrison appears, suit, hat and all.

"Morrison!" Dante heaves in relief, all tense atmosphere vanishing when he sees his carrier stride in. "Look, I'm sorry about last night. It happened again-"

"I know, I know. Look, Lady and V told me about it, so I'm relieved you're still alive and walking." Morrison chuckles before he smirks, nodding at the two and at Rock, who greet back. "Dante, Lady. I got some interesting news for the both of you."

"It better be a good one." Lady crosses her arms. "V here was just telling us about the mission."

"Ah, so he told you everything: possible little surviving city, a tower that spawns those hellspawns, and a large beast?" Said man arches an eyebrow. "Good! Saves me the trouble of having to reexplain everything to a certain someone I know who falls asleep too often-"

"Hey!" Dante frowns, but it earns Lady's giggles while Rock snorts in laughter. V shoots him an apologetic smile and Dante can't help but sigh, shaking his head. "Well- at least they helped. Say, Lady mentioned you and Rock had an issue last night-"

"I was getting to that." Morrison hums, gesturing at the door. "You see, Rock was helping me get some things ready when we nearly got ambushed by some of those said demons. But luckily for you all, someone else helped us get rid of them while Rock and I were waiting on you three-"

"Someone else?" Dante echoes, now getting confused. "Hold on. Morrison, who are you talking about?"

"Ah, you'll be able to meet him. Apparently- Rock, he's a friend from someone that's from your side of the family." And Morrison slowly opens the door, but Rock's eyes light with interest. "Come on in, Dante's finally awake!"

"Uh..." Lady warily turns to her comrade. "Who is...?"

"I don't know." Dante whispers back before he turns to Rock-

"Hey. Don't look at me." Said man, on the other hand, looks amused as hell and now Dante has a feeling he should be scared.

"Don't worry." V chuckles and Dante is certain their client is just trying to reassure Dante of whatever fears he has. "I'm sure whoever is coming in might know you well."

"Let's hope so." They hear footsteps and Dante turns towards the door-

A white haired teenager storms in, seeing Morrison, V, Rock, Lady, in the room and stops at Dante. And Dante also stills because- oh no.
I recognize this white-haired kid.

"You." The teenager's voice growls, eyes narrowing to hone in on Dante. "So you came back after ten years. Ten fucking years and not once you told me about what my mom's last words were!?"

"Uh-" Oh now Dante's completely fucked. He stands up, attempting to stand back as Lady does the same, her gun out and lines flaring with a threatening orange, pointed at the boy. He gulps out of fear. Did someone tell him? "Okay. Look. I- I had a reason for that-"

"Bullshit." The boy's eyes narrow, sparks slowly flying off him- wait, this kid has arcane in his blood!? And- ah hell, kid even has a sword- wait, did it just rev!? It cuts off whoever is trying to speak sense into him. "Dante, right?"

How in the world-!?

"Yeah, I thought so." The kid's smirk is dangerous. Cocking up his head as if he wants to begin a fight- oh he wants a fight!? Here?? NOW!?

Is this the person Morrison mentioned about saving their lives!?

"Here's what going to happen: I'm going to beat the ever loving crap out of you- then I'm going to make you talk!"

So much for a calm morning.

Chapter Text

 

"The son sought shelter within another kingdom, an ally of his home. And they slowly begin to plan their way to find the missing Prince- the one who could possibly end this nightmare.

"Yet, as days pass, word rapidly spreads of a terrifying demon, inked in blue, powers frigid as ice, taking hold of a powerful kingdom, making their denizens slumber in eternal rest. Those from other kingdoms- warring and greedy- sent their best to defeat the Demon. They do not know it is the Azure King's cursed form- but that is naught to him.

"He defeats them all and decimates them: champions, warriors, chosen ones... everyone has fallen.

"Only his son knows how to defeat his father's cursed form: should they find any semblance of the Crimson Prince, they can perhaps defeat the demon and save their kingdom. Only he knows about how close the twin brother was to his father- and he silently hopes it works. The woman, once a fairy of power, decides to aid him. Out of all, she said, he showed her kindness and this is her repayment.

"'There must be an item the missing man once held in order to start your search.' She says.

' "I have it.' And he has one. The ruby red necklace is the only item the Crimson Prince left behind that fateful day: his father held onto it for treasured reasons. And now the son has it, for he fears his father would have destroyed it out of grief. It was a source of comfort, wanting it to be there in person for him. He's seen his father cradle the item in his hand and now he has it- but for a different reason. 'What do we do with this?'

"'We allow this to guide us, for there is magic locked in this amulet.' The woman flicks the amulet and it slowly hums with warming fire. One that the son finds fascinating, warming, familiar. It emits a feint line aiming to the north. 'We follow the path this guides us- it should lead us to its rightful true owner.'

"'Then we shall go.' The son firmly nods. And they set off on their journey."

 


 

For a moment, Nero thought he was truly going to be killed.

In front of his friends, he tries to be strong. He sorely wants to save everyone. His mother, who wailed and tried so hard to keep their wills in tact; in front of the girl he really likes, who was now garbed in the prettiest white dress, but her eyes are red from knowing what was going to happen to her; in front of his two friends- one Kyrie's brother, who holds tight with anger while the other girl tries not to talk back- she's a league of her own.

He really... really doesn't like this group of strange people, who tried to coddle them and say they are the 'chosen ones'. And he really doesn't like the way they stare at him, expecting something else from him when he is forced to hide it. They claim to 'save people', Nero sees them as weirdos.

There's a reason why Father wanted to hide his arm in a cast. And it's the same reason Kyrie and Credo stayed- they know of it, they want to help him. And it drives him, silently wanting to take the down with however much he could.

But no, he can't. He's too weak, his power isn't enough. He's fought, kicked, screamed his lungs out, silently hoping his Father will hear him, his Grandfather comes to rescue him- anything to happen, anyone to save them-

-and then there's a shot and the people around them gasp, horrified to see the awful old man fall to the ground.

He looks up in surprise, wondering if his prayers have been answered. And they were, but it's someone he doesn't know.

It's a white-haired man in red. And he looks just like Father- is it him?

No, it isn't. He's definitely not his Father. Especially when he smirks and starts to fight with so much speed. Father wouldn't fight like that- he's much faster. But more predictable- this man isn't.

The man fights with such strength, impulsive courage that makes him shocked- and then another person runs up to join the man. He can barely hear them among the shouts and screams, the robed men trying to snatch the kids, but he, Nico, and Credo begin to fight by the way they could: kicking, screaming, biting. He knows they are evil- Nico even has things ready and Kyrie rushes towards them, tightly hugging her brother for help. There's absolutely no way they'll stay with these evil people!

Then he finds himself face to face with a black-haired woman, looking rather shocked at the men running away. She's already taken down one of the evil men who was trying to kill them. Good.

"Come on!" The woman cries out, gathering him, Kyrie, Credo, and Nico, who are all suddenly huddling to her. She's safe, he has thought. "Dante will take care of them- hurry!"

His name is Dante? Where has he heard of this name before?

"Got it!" Credo was the first to grab Nico, who tries to cry out something, but he scoops her up. He looks at him and they both nod- especially since they see Kyrie in the woman's arms, sniffling and crying in relief. She's gripping on the woman's white jacket tight, not wanting to go back. "What about-"

"Dante will get your guardian, just follow me and try not to get caught!" The lady scampers to the exit and they barely made it before the woman lands Kyrie down. When the men attempt to grab her, the woman takes out- guns!?

He was about to shout for the woman to be careful, but she gets them. The men gasp, crying out something about 'Arcane user!?' before she takes out a really large gun, setting it on her shoulder.

Arcane user? Is that what he is too? Also how can she carry that!?

"Want to see something I bet you'll never see again?" The woman grins before firing what he realized are mini rockets. It destroys the exit, the men scrambling before yelling at each other to take care of the one who took down their leader. He pales, realizing they mean the man who looks like his Dad. Is he going to be killed!?

"Cool!" Nico gasps. "Where'd ya get that!?"

"Really!?" Nero and Credo both ask.

"Oh, it's mine. But I know him- Dante will be fine." The woman quietly responds, but he's not sure.  She turns to them and picks up Kyrie again. "Come on. I know a safe spot for us to go- we'll hide there until Dante comes."

Dante, Dante, Dante...

...that sounds really familiar- why does it sound familiar?

"His name is Dante?" He finally asks, feeling the tingling sensation of his arm rushing. He's excited to hear this name for some reason. "Do you think he'll be safe?"

"Oh, he will." The woman ushers them to a black car. "Shut the door and lock them. Get your seatbelts on- hurry, before they come back!"

"Got it, ma'am!" Nico and Credo run to the back seat, him scrambling to take the middle as the woman allows Kyrie to take the front. And before any of the other weirdos come back to kidnap them, the woman buckles her seatbelt, turn on the car, make sure they're secured, and drives away, fast.

He's not sure if he should be this excited, but here he is. A couple weeks ago, he and his friends were in school before a scary man takes them and knocks them out. A few days ago, he was so angry he wanted to bite and punch and scream at these evil people for trying to kidnap Kyrie and making her cry. His mom was upset, tries to comfort them, but they have caught her too. And now, they're rescued- him, Kyrie, Credo, Nico, and his mom.

"Hey, miss?" He decides to ask and the woman's eyes meet his via the mirror. "What do you and Mister Dante do?"

"My name's not 'miss': I'm Lady. And we fight evil things." The woman smiles, turning to a street and barely passing the yellow light. "He and I take care of the worst ones, the most evil beings of them all. Why?"

"I was just asking."

He really can't wait to tell his Father who saved him. Lady and Dante, right? People who fight monsters and demons... so there are such things. "Hey, miss?" He asks again, ignoring the way

Credo hisses at him to shut up and be quiet. "What?"

"Don't ask too much!" Credo frowns. "You might make her mad."

"Oooooo Nero's in trouble, Nero's in trouble!" Nico sings and he hears Kyrie slowly giggling. At least Kyrie is feeling better, but was Credo trying to embarrass him!?

"Shut up, you dummy! What!?" But the woman- Lady, laughs when she hears this. "Are you mad at me?"

"No! No, I'm not, don't worry." Lady smiles, even patting Kyrie, who has stopped crying and just clutched on her seatbelt. "It's not that- I'm just worried about my friend. And what he's about to do-" As if things should not be on cue, she stops before she groans, looking behind her. There's nobody behind her, but- "Oh what the- DANTE! Ughhhhhh! That was not supposed to be- ohmyGOD, why did he do that!?"

"Do... what?" Nero blinks, Credo, Nico, and Kyrie peering to where Lady was staring and their eyes widen.

The church- the supposed to be kind church filled with supposedly kind people (no, the church is evil and so are the evil people in there)- is on fire. And he gasps, silently feeling the massive arcane magic that ripples from it. It's deadly on sight. But for him, this fire is flickering with a warmth only he knows of, wants to grab and embrace, like a son would to a maternal being.

He... definitely recognizes this. It's like Grandmother Eva's fire. Only this one blazes with so much might- he really wants to know.

"Dante! What the-" Lady's voice breaks through and then she grabs something, takes out her phone, and immediately seethes, "Okay, what was that all about!?"

And he finally hears the man's voice: warm, emotional, comforting. "So you finally got out of there? That's a relief."

"Yeah, I know. But that doesn't explain-"

"They were trying to set up a portal to the Underworld." His voice turns concerning, serious and it changes Lady's face. Normally Nero wouldn't listen to adults talking. Grandmother Eva told him it was bad to overhear things he shouldn't. But this makes him want to. "That so-called leader isn't human either- he was slowly becoming one of those demonic-like beings that wanted an Arcane well."

"Oh God." Lady whispers, most of her ire gone. "So- when Morrison said his thoughts were that this Order was a cult-"

"It's a cult." And then there's a sigh, "You see? This is why religion and I don't mix."

"Yeah, I can tell."

"And it's one ugly sight. I literally had to seal that damn thing up before anything else escaped  from it."

Lady groans. "I guess Rock had his suspicions on point-" Nico tries to blurt out in excitement hearing Rock's name, but Credo slaps his hand over her mouth. Nero tries not to laugh, but Kyrie stares at him in confusion. "-but that didn't mean you had to set the entire structure on fire!"

Oh, so Mister Dante set the evil church on fire, but Nero can't?? (He couldn't. His lightening arcane can't. It wasn't awakened at the time- not to their fullest potential. But a part of him was still annoyed by that.)

"Come on." There's a laugh and Nero wants to hear more- this man is the complete opposite of his cold Father. "You have to admit, we did get everyone else's attention. Some religions are crazy for a reason." Then with concern, "So, how are the kids you saved?"

Nero firmly decides he wants to ask Dante more about things- one still standing out: Why does he look like my Dad? Are they related? Can they meet Father so he can thank him??

That doesn't come. Not after he saved his mother, not the days after. The man avoids talking to him and Nero is so confused. He's lost, but even more so when he finally sees his mother, who looks tired, exhausted, but smiles in her most comforting way; even when she is near her end. But Nero knows well enough... that she's dying. She doesn't want to be healed- she's been hurt so much that Father had once expressed regret for not having done more. But his mother loves another- and he knows that much.

So it's understandable when Nero silently weeps and it's his friends who are hugging him- Kyrie and Credo. Nico apologizes, but Nero knows she's lost her mother too. So they have that in common now.

It's... rather brutal, but Nero silently thinks his mother is watching him from the skies. He's already known what sadness and grief is like: the space that is clearly missing in his family. The woman did try her best to help, but Nero already know what it feels like.

And in the last day of Lady and Dante's stay, Dante has only looked at him and Nero suddenly has the urge to hug his leg and not let go. But Kyrie, despite being the youngest one, runs up to him and tackles him to a hug, crying out a 'thank you' and trying to make him stay longer- but he can't.

But instead, Dante looks sad and Nero doesn't want him to be. He's upset when his mom died, but seeing Dante upset made Nero feel worse.

For both of them.

"I'm sorry, kid." He barely whispers. "I didn't save your mom. I wanted to, but..." Then he looks at the bandaged arm and then Nero feels his hold tighten.

Comfort. Warmth. Healing... care. But he's sad and Nero wants to hug him to take the sadness away. Grandmother Eva said so. But it doesn't help Father's sadness go away- he wouldn't let anyone near him. Not even Grandfather, Grandmother, nor him. He knows his mother's dead- and she was smiling, whispering and telling him she love him with all of her heart, help lots of people, make them be better.

He wants to help Mister Dante.

Then Dante says the words Nero silently swears to for ten years. "Get strong. Find me- and I'll let you know what she said, okay?"

And Nero silently holds onto this- one of the many reasons he gets stronger.

Protecting Kyrie, the love of his life, is the first and foremost reason. Second being that he doesn't want anyone else taken from his family again- he's seen the stilled emotions in his father's eyes. He's lost someone so special and Nero wants to be the one who brings the person back. Third being he'll be strong- Credo fights alongside him while Nico swears she'll help with their weapons.

The chaos that lead to how his home is proved such of how under-powered Nero really is, but he doesn't give up.

And last, he wants to meet Dante again. Ask him what his mother said, why he looked like him with so much pity.

...and why he looks so much like his own father.

Maybe Dante can help him.

 

Ten years later and Dante is dreading this.

The kid- the white haired boy he hoped forgot him- is now an eighteen year old teen and is probably out to beat the ever loving shit out of him. Well, fuck, is it too late for him to plan out his last rites and words? Especially since that kid has-

"Nero!" And suddenly, the teen gets tackled by someone embracing him from behind. He drops his sword and it lands on the floor with a clunk. He turns around to see a brunette girl hugging him, pleading, "Please don't! You've already caused enough trouble as it is, so please don't hurt anyone!"

The tense silence gets cut off with Rock blinking- he and Lady take a look at each other before sharing a look at Morrison- who shrugs. Then Lady's trying her best not to laugh at how baffled the boy looks. Dante tries so so hard not to inject his own humor in here.

"K-Kyrie!? What are you-"

"You were about to go in and punch someone again, weren't you?" The brunette girl's voice barely eek through and this makes the boy sputter indignantly. She looks up at him with a stern glare. "Please tell me you weren't."

Dante, on the other hand, warily stares at them before trying so hard not to laugh. What a coincidence; the events ten years ago are now replaced with their older selves- and it's different. The kid flusters and he recognizes the girl- Kyrie- and she's grown to be mature and caring.

V, on the other hand, is still. Like he isn't moving, but something made him freeze. Dante makes a mental note to ask him later- does V know this kid? It certainly looks like it.

"Kyrie..." The kid Nero whispers. "But we just got here-"

"That's the problem, you impulsive twat." A third voice calls forth and a taller man with brunette hair and brown eyes stares at Nero. "You don't think this though. Had you not considered they were in the middle of a conversation?"

"Credo- Uh-" And now it's this kid- Nero, right? The other, Credo- yeah, the taller brunette kid at the time. Okay, so... they are here. Shit. "I... haven't considered that- Kyrie, can you- I was in-"

The brunette girl fiercely shakes her head, not letting go and Nero's anger goes away. Good, but now Dante has a better idea of what this kid is. Then she looks up and her face beams to that of relief when she sees Dante's baffled face. "Ah! Mister Dante! I knew it- so it was you!"

She actually remembers him!?

"Uh huh?" He barely gets the chance to finish that when he sees her walk towards him- and she bows to him. "You-"

"-the girl who you saved ten years ago." The girl stands up and Dante immediately realies the eyes and hair are of similar shade- her smile hasn't changed a single bit. "Kyrie. Do you remember me?"

Now he can't lie about this anymore. Not when he finally realized the girl he's saved years ago stands before him- with the others he's rescued. "Yeah. I remember." Dante slowly nods, still processing of what the fuck is happening. "I'm he- I'm sorry, what's going on here?"

"The people who helped me and Rock last night? Here they are." Morrison grins and Dante does not like this at all. Lady holds back her gasp, but Rock leans back in his seat, watching this scene with interest. V, on the other hand- uhhh... "Nero's the one who helped Rock and me last night from the other demons while you and Lady met your client."

Nero just shoots a glare at Dante, but Dante just sighs, warily staring at his 'boss'. "Morrison, the kid's trying to kill me in the middle of breakfast. If this is the way he greets people, I think someone outta teach the kid some manners."

This makes the brunette girl and man stare at Nero- one more judging than the other and Dante is positive it wasn't from the brunette man because he looks shocked. If Nero had anything to say, he held it in when he slowly turns around to face them.

"He was?" The brunette man Credo blinks before glaring at Nero. The kid stiffens. "Nero..."

"It's okay, we've had worse." Lady pipes in and Dante begrudgingly agrees. "It's not like any hordes are coming in and decimating any malls anytime soon in the crack of dawn."

"What!?" The three stare at them in shock, but Dante ignores them.

"Anything better than dealing with the stupid monsters who just want to have fun destroying shit." And pull pranks, decimate furniture, potentially dealing with the collateral. Yeah, no thanks, he and Lady refuse to have a repeat of the mall incident two Christmases ago.

"Lady has a point. At least you both aren't paying for that shopping center incident from that one time. Neither am I, but well, business is business!" Morrison hums before he nods. "I'll see you kids outside, if you need me- I already had breakfast."

"Great, from where!?" Dante calls out, but their carrier left, leaving them in the dining room. And then he warily glances at the kid. "...so-"

"Nero." And the brunette man gently bumps his fist against Nero's head, causing him to wince. Then he bows to them. "My apologizes- my friend Nero is impatient. I'm Credo, by the way."

"Yeah, I remember you." Credo was the older one- the one who was holding onto Kyrie when they brought the kids to the house. He was also the most polite out of all of them- Dante knows since he was the only one who didn't pry. "You're Kyrie's older brother."

"That's correct." The man's lips tilt to a ghost of a smile. Unlike the brat, this one's polite. Thank goodness for manners. "Do you-"

"Yeah. I remember you all." Dante barely smiles- this was not what he was expecting this damn early in the morning. "We saved your lives once."

"From an Order that could have gotten away with it, had you two not intervened." Rock has decided to give them extra chairs for them to sit- only Nero opts to stand while Credo and Kyrie take their seats. And Dante's noticed V has decided to tune them out- with his book. What is he reading from that book of his? Never mind, this is more important. "And... well, we haven't forgotten you or Miss Lady ever since."

"Aw! Really?" Lady can't help but smile. "It was just a favor for a friend."

"But it wasn't as simple as that, was it?" Kyrie looks worried, her eyes glancing at Dante. And Dante silently thinks she knows- if Nero knows, so does she. "If there's any way for us to help, then let us know."

By talking about it? Dante sighs, looking at his hands. "Look, it... got more complicated than you thought. But all I can say is... we did the best we can- and I'm glad all of you kids got out safe. Otherwise-" There would have been blood on my hands and I would not like that at all. "It's like a typical job. The usual, that's all."

Except that it wasn't and Lady knows that- so does Rock as they both glance at each other before looking at Dante, silently worried. (And if Dante observed better, V was also listening, his hand tightly gripping on his book.)

"I see." Kyrie's worry doesn't vanish away- instead she sighs. He knows Nero is glaring at him, but Dante ignores it in favor for talking to Kyrie and her brother. "But- if you do anything, Mister Dante, can you at least let us know? We still do owe you for the help many years later."

"Uh... sure, I guess?" Dante isn't sure in- wait, this isn't what he's used to at all. "But how exactly do you want to pay us back for... well, ten years ago? Lady and I don't exactly have invoices for kids."

"Hey, I don't do that for an IOU." Lady frowns. "You all were kids back then. There's no way we could have let you pay for the job- it was just a favor."

"...you mean from what we went though." Nero darkly grumbles, narrowing his eyes as he picks up his heavy blade-

"Ah! There you are, you stupid brat! Didn't I tell you not to destroy any more of my babies!?"

The white-haired groans, hearing a loud voice stop whatever thoughts were going to invade, but it leaves Kyrie giggling- and Credo giving him a side-eye of judgement. And Dante swears he knows this voice- "Oh for the- will you stop interrupting me, Nico!? You didn't come here just to see your half-uncle!"

Oh so now its a semi family reunion!?

"Can I leave?" Dante hisses out of sheer horror, but Lady glares at him, silently daring him to. V is still silent, processing something and Dante doesn't want to ask. Just how did this turn into a zoo of chaos? They were just talking about a mission not too long ago!

"Nah, but now I can beat you up for nearly breaking Red Queen- I heard that, by the way!" The corn-braided woman cackles, skipping over the fallen sword and approaching a beaming Rock. "Rock!"

"Kiddo!" Rock chuckles, embracing her when she bear-hugs him. "Got a gift for you you need to see later."

"Ah, so this is Nico ten years later?" Lady grins, arms crossed and Dante shoots a withering stare at her. "I didn't think you'd mentor her so well, Rock."

"The things I do for my family." Rock chuckles, but then Nico whirls to gasp, gushing with admiration upon seeing the two mercs. Nero groans, face-palming as Kyrie and Credo try not to stifle in laughter. V, on the other hand, doesn't look up from his book, which is... odd. Still. "Dante, Lady, I believe you know her."

"For gun repairs? I do, only through phone." Lady nods and Nico nods in turn.

"Barely." Dante only nods once before feeling his hand clasp. He turns to see admiration in the mechanic's eyes. "Uh, so you're Nico-"

"You! The infamous Dante? In person??" (Nero mouths the words 'infamous?' to Credo, who just shrugs.) "Man, I was shocked when Rock here told me he knew you." Nico is flustering over her words. "But to meet you again after you saved all of our skins? Man! Now I gotta make somethin' just to thank you!" She chuckles, saluting herself as a greeting. "If you forgot, I'm Nicoletta Goldstein. Nell's granddaughter."

"Yeah, don't worry, I know you." Of both- Nico because Rock can't stop talking about her. And Nell- Her name brings back a hint of good memories: an elder woman bantering with Dante back and forth while repairing his guns, talking to some of his friends who attempt to tell Dante to please respect Nell. "I know her too." It's how he and Rock also met- though not in the best circumstances.

Everything revolves around circumstances, doesn't it? The past loves to haunt him like this...
"Well, not that it should matter, but we're here!" Nico beams, turning back to Nero. "I mean, it took us a while to track down this Morrison character-"

"Whoa, wait. Hold up for a sec." Lady stills, staring back at the four youths who suddenly bombarded into the dining room. It's not spacious, but enough to hold a few more. Yet Dante suspects this is someone Morrison didn't know about- or just didn't plan to see- and how all eyes are now on him. "You all tracked Morrison?"

This was not expected. V, they understand (he's their client). But these kids?

"Yeah. We had to." Nero cryptically responds, eyes narrowing as a bit of his ire returns.

Nico clears her throat before tugging at Rock's sleeve, "So, uh-"

"Yeah, lemme show the kiddo to her quarters before..." And the gumsmith cheerfully waves at them before escorting his adopted niece along with the bundles of paper Dante suspects will be hers now.

Smooth escape, Rock, I'll be more than delighted to remind you of past missions that did involve you weaseling away.

"Hey, waitasec-" Dante blinks, realizing that he forgot to get his pistols when he hears someone- Nero. He's cleared his throat. Shit, what now?

"So... Dante."

Crap.

"Okay, look, I need to get this out of the way so you don't try to punch me." Let alone being stabbed with Rebellion- yeah that's happened before and he hated it. Lady was baffled when she sees him approach him, bloodied and injured (he owed Nevan and Ifrit for healing him so quickly), but it did enlighten more of his arcane powers. It didn't help it took place where Arkham was housed, so there.

"Uh huh, try me." Nero arches an eyebrow, crossing his arms and Dante mentally tacks on the sticky note reading 'BRAT' with this kid.

"I'm so sorry for not saving your mom's life- she asked me not to!"

Nero slowly nods, picking up his sword again with- whoa. Wait, wait, how did Dante not see his tattooed arm!? It has heavily riddled with shades of red and blue, signs heavily scribed on the kid's skin. And it's glowing. The sword also begins to lowly hum and Dante pales, faintly recognizing that this is an arcane he's probably not familiar with. But that's not the deal here-

"Yeah." And Nero lets out a deep sigh, looking at his sword. "I know. She told me."

...wait, what?

She- he and Lady share a baffled stare. Dante sputters- this was not what he was expecting at all! He would expect the kid to scream and kick at him, but for him to say that!? Isn't that sort of cruel for him to brush off his mother's words in that 'could care less' manner!? "So, then why-"

"What did she tell you was her 'last wish'?" Nero asks and Dante stills. Not this. Anything but this. "She told me to help you with that- but you left before I got the chance to ask. So. Dante. Now that I got stronger and found you, what was it?"

"Uh-" Now- he's going to talk about this now? Dante looks frantically to Lady, but she helplessly shrugs, also silently not sure what to say. Rock- maybe it was a good thing he left the room. "I'm- er- look, kid-"

"Nero, was it?" The room slowly plunges into still air and V slowly stands from his chair, closing his book. And his eyes glare at the young boy, sounding unusually ire. V's voice did not sound welcoming. And said boy frowns, staring at their client back.

"And who the fuck are you?" Nero flatly asks.

"V." Is it Dante or did he notice how murderous V looks? This... can't be good. "I suggest, if you would, leave."

To any other normal human, this would be a very good time to heed V's words. Especially since Dante saw his shadow arcane at work- he doesn't want to warn anyone, but it's vicious. But no, noting that the kid might have a streak of a stubborn bull and was more than delighted to beat the ever loving crap out of Dante not too long ago (before Kyrie stopped him and Dante really wants to thank her for that), this seems highly unlikely. Since the kid reminds Dante of himself as a bratty twenty-something year old who acted like he gives who gave two cents shit about anything-

-wait.

Why does Nero remind Dante so much of his younger self?

Is Nero-

"Fuck no, like I would leave by your command." Nero snorts, rolling his eyes before turning back to Dante. Dante's eyes shift to catch Nero and said kid begins again. "Dante-"

"I wasn't done talking." V's voice turns into a very strained anger- like a parent talking to a rebellious child. He lifts his metallic cane, pointing to Nero, who now looks affronted at having to listen to V again. "I'll ask you once more." He narrows his eyes and Dante stills-

-they were glowing blue. That dark, brilliant blue and Dante is so sure he's seen this blue before, but where did he-

 

-that he sees the dark blue eyes face his before they soften with fondness, worry as he approaches closer-

 

V states once again and the thought breaks from Dante's mind. But his mind is slowly buzzing again. What the- my head-

"Leave. Or else."

Lady's arcane stirs, silently preparing in case something goes wrong. Kyrie cautiously walks towards her friend, attempting to hold Nero off from a fight by a simple touch to his arm. Credo, on the other hand, slowly strides towards the open door that leads to the front and makes his escape- good, at least there's a potential survivor!

Dante's gaze shifts from Nero, to V, to Nero again, to V.

He really just woke up and only wanted a debriefing for a job a possible few cities away. Instead, he's in a possbily escalating situation and two people are literally about to kill each other- just because one was about to tell Dante something important while the other wants answers Dante doesn't want to give at this moment. And there are innocent people- how many times does this have to happen!? Is it so bad just for one simple debriefing without it going south?

(As Dante's luck presents itself from the many years he's in this profession? ...no.)

"Or else what?" Nero narrows his eyes, glaring back at V. "I don't know who you are, so no, I have business to do with Dante over here and it's a serious one!"

V's eyes narrow and it now glows that blue- and Dante can swear his shadow abilities are kicking in. Oh no. No, no, nonono this is bad, this is going to be so bad-

"Nero..." Kyrie murmurs, her eyes on V now and she's looking at him with confusion, slow-consuming shock in her voice. "Wait. This man- Is that- isn't he-?"

"Oh kid. If you wanted to fight, you really should have waited until I came in." Another voice swiftly cuts in and everyone turns to the source. "But I'm guessing you got impatient and ran in?"
From the way Nero stills- and how the air cuts off with one of jarring relief- their apparent fifth guest was a sight to behold. ...for anyone else, that is.

But for Dante, he can't help but stare- because it's not her graceful beauty that caught it. It's definitely not her outfit- strapped with a black corset, jeans, and heels that can easily meld into a statement piece. And it's most definitely not her long blonde hair, which she brushes back with a haughty swipe, a sharp smirk on her face. It's the woman in general... and Dante's mind slowly pings with that ever-dreading white noise he's tried to hold back when he saw the blue flash from V's eyes.

"S-Sorry." Nero mumbles, a humiliated stare replacing his pissy mood. "I- well-"

"You rushed in when you heard his name-" The blonde woman chuckles, eyes amusingly glancing to the brunette man, "So Credo came to get me in case you started to destroy any furniture- which you didn't-"

"You did what?" Credo seethes before looking to see the adults, who are either in shock or silence- well, V's the only one in silence. Nero, on the other hand, starts to look sheepish at how ticked off Credo sounds. "I- look, I'm sorry about all of this. Is there any way we can make it up that doesn't involve angering my friend?"

"Well," Lady clears her throat, finally finding her voice before she huffs, crossing her arms. "For one, you can just, oh, I don't know, let us finish our breakfast and we'll be good to go when we join you outside."

"I suspected as much." The blonde woman's glare is still pointed at Nero, who squirms.

Dante holds back a wince, straining to keep composure as his hand tightens on his chair. "Y-Yeah- I mean, if you don't mind-"

"Wait, where's Nico?" The woman asks, starting to look around.

It's Lady who answers- quite bitingly, since- ah hell, Lady's in a bad mood now. He can literally feel her arcane swirl with snippy annoyance. "With Rock. They're setting up our other rooms-"

"And there's more company? Nero!"

"...well, we tried to stop him." Kyrie just sighs and Nero beings to fluster with some incoherent words. "At least, until-"

Shit, shit shit, what the hell's happening with me now... Dante tries to bend over, attempting to sit back down and at least place his head on the table or something. Anything to get rid of that godawful incoming slight buzzing sound-

"Dante?"

He blinks a bit, turning around to feel a rather cool hand to his shoulder- "V? When did you-"When did he-

"Are you all right?" V quietly asks, narrowing his eyes at the other scene that is unfolding before them. "Come, we need to finish the earlier conversation in a better setting."

Dante slowly nods, feeling a bit light-headed as he gently tries to ungrip the chair- to only stumble and it now catches all of their attention- never mind that-

If anyone else notices it, he's wincing. The blonde woman, why, why why is she familiar to him!? How can she know him when he doesn't??

"I-I don't feel so good-" His arcane is stirring, but not for the right reasons as it feels disconcerted. "Lady-"

"Shit, Dante!"

And Lady notices as she attempts to dash to him, only to feel V's hands tightening their grip. It doesn't help- in fact, it's making his head feel worse. And then he feels Lady's arcane trying to calm his, but it doesn't work this time.

"What happened!?" He can barely hear her ask in alarm. "When- it just happened earlier-"

Whatever other noises are around him, he can't hear. But he now knows the kid is shouting, his friends are too, and then he hears someone walking towards him, V attempting to ask something and Lady responds back-

"It just-" Dante gulps, trying to get his mind back, but the swirling is happening again, why oh WHY does this keep happening!? He barely lifts his head up to look at the woman, straining to meet her shocked face as she rushes towards him, something like recognition crossing her face when she sees him. "Who- who are you?"

"Dante..." She knows him!? The woman's expression fades to worry. Then she stills before she sighs, quietly murmuring something like 'Of course, it's...' before turning back to him, concern spiking her voice. "Listen to me. Dante. Can you hear me?"

He barely shakes his head and now the room is swimming heavily. "Just- my head-" He nearly stumbles to the ground, trying to grab something for stability and instead crumples on the floor, new voices swirling around his mind-

 

"-ish, I think he doesn't want to-"

"-worry too much! Okay?"

"-nte, get back, you shouldn't do this-"

"-I'll show you who's the boss-"

"-told you it was dangerous-"

"-there. Are you feeling better, Dante?"

 

"...Don't hurt yourself, you fool! ...you've just woken up..."

 

He feels something else brush his head. It's a cooler feeling, one of stillness, yet unlike his now out of control fire- was it V?

...no. It isn't from V, yet it feels like-

"Dante!" Lady cuts through and he feels her arcane trying to reconnect with his. Fire with- yeah, he suddenly feels her fire arcane again and his eyes fly open. "Dante, can you- can you hear me? Are you okay!?"

He blinks, a surge of energy rushing back and the buzz fades away. Did he- that other voice just now...

-he's the only one who heard it, right? He heard it last night. And then in his dream this morning- what the heck's going on?

And he realizes he's not alone- they're still in the same room. He notices Lady gasping in relief, V holding onto him with a stern, concerned look with his arms around his shoulders, an attempt to hold him up; and the blonde woman kneeling down, her arms glowing as her hands touch the sides of his head-

-glowing? This woman uses light arcane like Rock?

And then he feels something comforting replace her hands and it's... from Kyrie. And she finishes her whisper before looking at him.

"You-"

"My powers are only to heal... but I can only go for so much." Kyrie shyly smiles. "Are you feeling better?"

"...Yeah." Dante nods, feeling all of the muddled fog vanish away. "Thanks. ...I... suppose I owe you one now."

"You saved my life before. This is something, at least, I can do in return." Kyrie shakes her head as she stands and returns to Nero, who looks unsure of what to do. Credo, on the other hand, looks towards the front door before grumbling something about taking care of one other ordeal and leaves.

"You're all right." The woman smiles in utter relief. "You're better- how's your head?"

"...better." Dante responds, his voice no longer straining with pain. And his body isn't feeling the nausea anymore. He's still shocked. Trying to deal with the warm, nostalgic wave of healing light that has been embedded with his mind-

-nostalgic?

 

"Haha- stop!" He giggles and he he tries so hard not to laugh further as the blonde girl with the beaming blue eyes continues to tickle him. "S-Stop- okay, you win, you can have the toy! Just stop tickling me!!"

"See?" And the girl grins, posing triumphantly as she stands up, but not before she grabs his hand and lifts him. "Though we can share the bear- you like him too, don't you?"

Dante smiles as he hands the black teddy bear to her. "Yeah! I'd like that black one- and the white one?"

"Duh. What do you think?"

Dante grins- he's practically giddy. "Do you wanna go to the park and play on the swings?"

"Oooh, I like that!" Then she frowns. "But what about-"

"He's too busy reading." He rolls his eyes, glaring at the other, who flatly glares at him from his book. "Apparently, I'm distracting him from his precious reading time." And he feels annoyed, hurt that he doesn't play as much anymore. But whatever, he has a new playmate now!

"Huh. Okay..." She looks back at Dante, at the other, then she nods. "Okay! Let's go. You better swing me really high, Dante!"

Dante widely grins. "Awesome! You're the best, Trish!"

 

"Trish?" His lips slip out the name as if he finally hears it for the first time-

He hears a gasp. And then he looks at the blonde woman- and she's smiling. Genuinely relieved, happy-

-he knows her. It's small, but he knows her.

"Dante." She happily laughs. "My name. You know my... Do you... finally know me?"

"A playmate?" He meekly asks, trying to sort through the newer, yet fragmented memories that comes back to him. "...someone I'm close to?" Playmate, friend, ally-

"Dante- not just that. I'm your cousin!" Trish, the blonde woman with the healing light arcane, chuckles, sadness still in her eyes. "But... you don't remember, do you? What happened to you years ago? When you were a kid?"

Dante blinks, trying to rack through his mind- "...I used to live in Red Grave City. I was in a car accident... and I was the only survivor of it. Why? What else should I remember?"

And her joyful expression changes that to a somber pain.

"Dante." Trish murmurs, "You were kidnapped for ransom. There was a problem when we tried to get you back..."

Dante's body stills, something sinking in his gut.

"...the people who kidnapped you- they were about to kill you. You were about to die that night."

Chapter Text

 

"The two travel to towns, to bustling halls, castles, other allies who allow them rest and recovery as they continue to follow the red trail. It takes days, weeks to look through the area, yet the necklace persists in its glow- its true owner still alive. The necklace guides the way and they are on their path to find the missing man. The more they venture, the further they are from the vicinity of familiar territory.

"The Son silently grows stronger in power, yet restless in his thoughts of how far the curse has spread. His abilities have grown, his tactics swift. But his mind can only return to his home, his family.

"His fame of saving many lives through his heroic deeds spread, but that is only because of his status as a far away prince; he only wants to be known for his deeds, as he hopes it will make his family proud. And he wants to help break this curse.

"And one day, he and the Woman receives a lead- but from the most unlikely sources he encountered.

"There was a powerful sorcerer who has plotted to ruin the lives of many for his own- he wanted power to use for his own gain and rule over the world. The only thing remaining was a true maiden's sacrifice. The Son instead destroys the Sorcerer while the Woman tended to the Maiden's safety, ensuing the lives of many were saved.

"'Thank you, young man, for saving my life!" The Maiden bows to him. 'For I am forever grateful to you. How shall my brother and I thank you?'

"'I need no material things, only information." The Son responds. "Beyond here- what waits for us should we venture further?'

"'A city that has many shadows.' The Maiden gravely responds. 'For it is filled with many enemies- all but one.'

"'But one?'

"'There is a man who once came here.' The Maiden nods, 'Wearing red, carrying a sword. He once fended us from a horrible monster- fierce in his abilities, yet humble in his ways. He has been said to be the only reason why the heavens didn't decimate the city; The Man in Red saves those who have been cursed. And he lives in that very city.'

 


 

There's silence, but it's one filled with horrified realization-

I was supposed to die that night!?

He hears Lady gasp in shock, and sees Trish bows her head in regret. V is silent, his arm on Dante's shoulder tightens. Kyrie looks to her brother- she's probably known this, given that she and Credo must have known. But the oddest reaction, he's noted was from the kid. Nero looks upset. ...as if he really wasn't hoping for this news to come out.

This is also not something he should have heard so stupid early in the morning. Also- coming from the fact he's now just met the woman who is proclaiming to be related to him by blood (My cousin? Wait... wait, what?). So many questions are now forming in his mind, but Dante knows how little time he has, especially since this isn't the exact reason he stepped foot in Fortuna City.

But good god this makes him want to search for more answers- kidnapped!? About to die!?

"I was kidnapped!?" Dante cries out, all feeling blanched away in favor for this. "But why!? I'm nobody special! I'm the son of a police officer-" Who adopted him, raised him like his own child, made him a part of their family- Desmond and Melissa with his sister Lila who love him all the same, no matter how different he looked from them. After another incident, Grue took him in, taught him the moves he knows to defend himself and Nell was the grandmother who helped him with choosing his weapons. And then Dante was left alone and was forced to defend for himself-

"Of course." There's a sadness in her eyes. "But... that's you after the incident. You're... someone very important." Trish quietly responds. "To another group of people. Do you not know who they are?"

Dante slowly shakes his head. He still has no clue... "I mean- there's Lady. Morrison. Rock and his adopted niece. Patty. Nevan, Ifrit, their friends..." Then with a more quiet tone, "...Desmond and Melissa and Lila. Benson. ...Grue and Jessica. ...Nell. Those... are the people that I know of." Only Lady and Morrison knew of his painful dealings after the accident... of those he has lost while gaining few yet close friends who help him in whatever cases they can. And it still aches him, knowing some of them are forever gone. But some are still in touch, no matter how much distance he's placed in them, those related or directly in contact with him will always find him.

But it wasn't the ones Trish knows of. Seeing her face and the quiet sadness that appears made it clear that she can silently sympathize, but not mourn. "I don't know the other group you speak of. But... no, it's just as I suspected."

"Huh?"

"You know, for those who are beyond comprehending what you're talking about," Lady's eyes glare at Trish and Dante tries to pretend he didn't the snide from his friend. "Care to clarify what you're vaguely trying to say?"

Trish looks at her, a curious glance before she smirks, ice blue narrowed in interest. "Why I will, Miss-"

"Lady. And yes, that is my name, before you even dare judge." The black-haired gunswoman glares at her before turning to Dante. "Come on, can you move?"

"Y-Yeah, I can stand." Dante scrambles to get up- though V's arm isn't letting up, he silently appreciates the support. This is not going to be fun; having to deal with Lady's angry side is- well, just as literal as it sounds: dealing with a fire-breathing individual who can do more than shoot with a smile. One pretty perfect hole to the head, too.

This is not going to be delightful.

"As I was about to say," Trish hums, eyes flitting back to Dante. "My suspicions about my cousin are correct- although I wished it wasn't." She sighs, arms crossed. "You don't have any memories of us when we were kids, do you?"

He swears he hears someone curse something under his breath, but he isn't sure who it came from.

Dante blinks- before he mumbles, "It might not look like it, but it's... slowly coming back." He holds his hand, trying to prevent any more sudden reactions. He's just healed and there's no way he wants to endure another faint spell for the third time this week. "But not in the way you'd like. It's... small. Not in large doses. I'm still working it out though." He tries to shoot her a reassuring smile, only to earn a faint one from Trish in return.

"At least you know who I am." The blonde woman quietly murmurs. "You even knew the kids... but you still don't know everyone else. Not even him either..."

(V is one who grows the most silent at this, his hand now clutching at Dante's jacket for a silent thought that he's now here.)

"Everyone else? Him??" He echoes in confusion, knotting his eyebrows. "What do you mean-"

"I'm done talking about this, Trish." Nero suddenly cuts in, looking angy by the minute. "Sorry. It's- look, it's too hard for me to even think about. But I have my own dealings with Dante before he runs off again-"

"What!?" And now his fire arcane flares back- running away again!? What sort of idea is this kid having about him!? "Listen, kid-"

"It's Nero."

"I just gave you a nickname, you fucking brat!" He elects to ignore the stifled laughter escaping Lady. Trish just smirks in amusement as Kyrie heavily sighs. Nero, on the other hand, looks extremely offended. "I just- did you not just-"

"Nero." V's voice cuts though and Nero glares back at him again. But Dante realizes V doesn't sound murderous as before- just annoyed. "If you even dare challenge him to whatever ridiculous notion of a desired fight, it will have to wait."

The white-haired kid frowns. "Huh. Sure. Give me a good convincing reason and maybe I'll think about it-"

"We got a job to do and it's pretty much one of those 'ticking time bombs'." Whatever Trish was about to tell him can... wait. He just needs to get his bearings in order. For now. Dante decides to screw it, he might as well give it to the kid straight. "So... if you please. I can deal with your problem later, but this one is more pressing."

Nero was about to protest- but one look from Kyrie makes his shoulders slump in defeat. "Fine. But at least tell me- where are you guys headed? I heard your friend Morrison talk about going somewhere."

"And why's that?" He doesn't like the direction this is headed.

"Well," And Nero leans forward, using the back of the chair as support. "You did say for me to seek you out when I get stronger. And I think I am. So I can probably take you on- arcane and all. That and I have my own reasons to seek you and Morrison out."

Dante glances to Lady, who bows her head in exasperated defeat. Then he grumbles, "...Red Grave City. Hope you're ready to-"

"Red Grave City!? You're heading there?" Nero stills. Kyrie looks at them with shock- and so does Trish.

...wait.

"Hang on." Lady also notices this- but V remains silent. "Are you guys from-"

"We just came from there." Trish sounds terrified. "We barely made it out without those things attacking us. Why are you going there?"

This might either be the best or worst luck right now- it's good to assess the damage; the worst being that there's people who are either scarred or injured from this. Whatever the case is, Dante and Lady need to know.

"So you and V came from the same area?" Dante asks, turning to the other man. "So, do you-"

"No." V quickly responds, facing to the trio standing before them. "I don't know them. Trish, Nero and Kyrie? ...I would not judge so quick."

"Same here. I barely know this guy and he was about to kill me not too long ago!" Nero scoffs, but Kyrie is strangely silent- she's looking at the man with confusion before facing the floor. Even Trish looks at V with a look of strange interest. "Kyrie?"

"Nothing! Just... thinking about something. Something..." The brunette frowns before she glances to the mercenaries. "Mister Dante, Miss Lady, are you both planning to go there and destroy those things?"

Those things- the monsters that are invading the city. Destroying it from the inside- is that what she's asking about? "Yeah, Lady and I are. I don't know about Rock, though." Dante frowns, silently recalling Rock mentioning that he's not coming along with them this time. "Which... is going to be a bummer, we need someone to take care of our arms when they're damaged or destroyed."

"Knowing you? Yeah, that's a possibility." Lady snorts, crossing her arms as she glances at him. "But you're right... this is going to be an issue-"

"Not really." Rock has returned and Dante glares at him. "Oh, so you're wondering-"

"Well, the words 'where are you' crossed my mind minutes ago." The white-haired mercenary's eye twitches. "But I'm guessing since Nico isn't with you-"

"Oh, Nico's just getting whatever supplies she's goin' to take. Repairs, tools, last minute touch-ups." Rock's smile was- wait. And Dante and Lady shoot each other a horrified stare, but Rock's smile is still in place. "So, you know how I said I need to stay here in Fortuna?"

"We're taking Nico with us." Lady sounds scared. And they both share a look at each other- wait, this wasn't part of their plan! "Rock! She's- she's not adept in the arcane!"

"I know that." The smile slips off from Rock's face and he looks concerned. Oh, so the asshole planned this!? "She's been talking to me about what's been happenin' in Red Grave- yeah, she's checked it out. Told me all of the nasty details that took place- so I thought she might be the better tour guide than I would to accompany the both of you."

There's a beat.

Or two.

Then Dante sputters out of absolute horror, "What!?"

"Another... person to accompany you?" V frowns, noticing how horrified Dante looks. "Is this normal?"

"Normally, but it's-"

"I mean, I'm not all about the arcane dealings like my uncle is. But I do know how to deal with those monsters, demons if they come." Said woman of the moment joins them, looking all prepared to club a monster with her tools. She even has donned the leather gloves and Dante can't help but think she's more than just a gunsmith. ...as if she knew this was coming. "But eh, being couped up with a brat like Nero and Kyrie made me realize how to compensate for that!"

"With-" And Dante turns to face the other two- with Credo entering in the room with Morrison joining with them. And Trish decides to step back, though nodding to- what is going on here? "..Morrison? What is... Is there a chance in plans?"

Said carrier sighs, taking off his hat for respect, but also because he knows this conversation goes. "Yeah. But in the end, it's not just you who has to make that decision." He glances at V, who just glances at him back. "Besides us, our client here has the final say about this."

Oh. No wonder V asked.

Dante and Lady glance to each other- then at the others before Lady grimaces, "...and by that, I'm guessing... Nico's not the only one coming."

Morrison shakes his head and Dante realizes who else-

"I'm coming, whether you or V like it or not." Nero states, narrowing his eyes. "It isn't just for going back. You and I are not done talking, Dante."

Dante can only groan in utter exasperation, covering his face with his hand. What he doesn't see are Trish and Kyrie staring at him- and Credo glaring at Nero while the other mouths 'what!?' (Because having a full retrospect is such a bitch that loves to bite him back in the ass.) And V falls silent, not saying anything else but close his eyes, trying to rethink his initial plan.


"This turned into a zoo."

Morrison doesn't need to look to hear Lady walk up to him, wearing a grimace on her face. "Same thought here. You need a light?"

"Badly." Lady grumbles, deftly picking a cigarette as she lights it, her irritation serving as the lighter as it lights up on its own. "What in the actual hell, Morrison? Nobody told me or Dante about these band of people showing up. And they're from Red Grave City, out of all the places!"

"To be fair, we didn't either." That being him and Rock. "But they did save our lives last night. The least we can do in turn is to hear them out. They told us what's happening, mentioned they were trying to find us for some other favor. Turns out you two were the very ones they were looking for."

"That doesn't mean it's fair to spring this on us last minute, Morrison." The third person joins them and it's Dante- all prepared to head out, but his expression says otherwise. He picks up the cigarette Morrison hands him and lights it. "...then I meet someone who... a part of my family. The real one. Says she's my cousin. Now that's a surprise I didn't expect."

Ah, so he's going to mention the other elephant in the room.

"You mean that Trish lady? Walking around like the boss she thinks she could be." Lady can't help but grumble with a degree of annoyance. One that makes Dante look at her with genuine surprise. Morrison just stares before he shakes his head. "What?"

"You don't like her." Dante smirks. "Your arcane wanted to scorch her at the moment she arrived."

Morrison chuckles. "I forget you and Dante are like comrades who watch out for each other- even in this one."

"Yeah. Well," Lady huffs, blowing out some of the cigarette smoke. "She's part of- I don't know, God knows what family you somehow came from. What's next, you finding out that you're related to that white-haired Nero kid?"

Now there's a laugh. "Come on! Does it really look like I belong with that type of family? That kid has the temper of a drama queen and I don't think I had that." Dante can see the cracks of Lady's annoyance chip away- Morrison cackles at the thought. "All joking aside, what do I tell her? That I really have no clue how I suddenly recalled her name? Or that she's that family member I was looking for? ...let alone ask her why did it suddenly feel like I'm legitimately out of the loop for years?"

The last part was said with such bitterness that it received their attention.

"You know," Morrison calmly states, used to this. Dante has been bitter so many times, for different reasons. Death seems to be a common theme for Dante, it seems like. "You did say to me on the day I asked, you've been taking on these jobs to find your biological family."

"And I did! ...I am." Dante sighs, burning through the cigarette quickly as it comes. "But why does it feel like I'm getting nowhere?"

Said man hums, "That depends on the questions you're having. I think you just an answer, but not the one that satisfies you."

"There's too many." Dante scowls, tossing the cigarette to the ground and grinds it with his heel. He takes another and lights it- only three a day and he knows it's better than getting drunk twenty-four seven. But is it enough? "Morrison, you know me well. Should I ask the woman Trish about all of my mess?"

"It depends on what answers you're looking for." The well-dressed man glances to Lady, who lets out a hum as her response. "You know, there's a saying about leaving mysteries the way they are."

Dante lets out a scoff. "I wish. But I can't. If this is my only lead, where else do I go? Red Grave's infested and... if I don't find anything when I get there, what then?"

"That," And Morrison stands, clapping on Dante's shoulders, "Is completely up to you and you alone. As much as I want to guide you, I think you're the one who can ultimately make your own choice."

"...huh. That's... actually helpful." No, not really, that left me with more questions. Dante decides to sit where Morrison was before, next to Lady as she takes out her partially burned cigarette. "Rock wants to have a talk with you before we start planning."

"Of course." And Morrison turns to head inside. Along the way, they can hear the cane tapping and Morrison talks to their client. It makes Dante adjust his head a bit in an attempt to listen, but Lady thwaps him on the arm.

"Ow! Lady, what the hell!?"

"Not a thing for you to eavesdrop. You're not the type." Though her voice comes out a bit clipped and Dante sighs. "What? You're making that silent judgey face again."

He knows- he can feel her arcane stir up with cranky embers. "You're still ticked off about this Trish woman."

"So what if I am?" Lady frowns, making Dante glance at her. "I mean, it's not like you know her well either." Her voice, on the other hand, sounds like she's irked at how suddenly gentle Trish was to her friend, despite the two of them knowing each other longer.

"That doesn't mean you're going to be thrown to the side, all because my cousin found me." Dante gets it. He understands her pains of being left alone- Dante and Morrison are the only two she knows as her close family. And he still considers her as one of the more important people in his life. "Lady, come on. Stop pouting. I know you're irritated, but that's not a good look on you. You're still a sister to me, and we both know that. That's why you don't shoot me in the face as often as anyone else. Or at least, you don't."

"I don't know, maybe I just want to sulk for once." She gently puts out her cigarette, but Dante spies the gracing smile on her face. The sullen look disappears though in place of a embittered one.

"Well.... don't." Dante smiles, taking his cigarette away and realizing he's also burning through it too. Damn, is he that nervous? He takes out his third (last, hopefully his last) one before lighting it. "You don't look attractive that way."

"Oh, so now you pepper me compliments." But Lady smiles back and this makes him dance a mental dance of victory- a pissed off Lady is much worse than a horde of demons on a bad day. "...but what do you want to do? Ask her about what you missed? She knows you as a kid."

The mercenary pauses before he sighs, blowing off another series of smokes along the way. "I don't know. I would, I would really want to. But right now, I just see movies of myself as a kid, playing around with a younger girl and this other kid I don't know about. The only one I still know is the accident." The one that jump-started his path of justice, his desire to help those who couldn't... "I mean, should I? I've been searching for years. Why am I nervous when I finally found a lead?"

He feels a fist gently bump his back. "That depends. You heard Morrison. What do you want to do?"

Dante falls silent, wanting to bury his head back in his pillow in bed back home and forget about this. Lady was the second person who knows why he takes these asinine jobs when no other could- hell, he was the only one who took the Mundus job and Nevan's request to rescue her friend since nobody else would do such thing. And even when he thinks he'll come across a dead end, she did tell him that there will be a lead someday, that he'll be closer to it than he thinks.

...and now there is one- in the form of Trish. Someone who he really wasn't expecting to show up with the group of kids he's rescued ten years ago- and from the very city they are to come in and save.

"This entire thing is filled with coincidences, but what the hell do I know? I'm just someone who wants answers, not more questions." Dante groans, running his hand through his hair. "I want to ask her about me when I was a kid, who I was back then before the incident. ...why was I kidnapped and was about to die?"

"That, I don't know. But knowing you," Lady's lips thin with concern. "You're not the type to leave this alone."

He shakes his head. "The day I was in that car accident... Desmond told me I was with other people I wasn't familiar with. And when the station ordered some DNA testing, there was nothing connecting me to them. He told me when I was thirteen. I kept asking around and finally he and Melissa told me everything."

"Then ask. Maybe what Trish told you was true." Lady glances at him. "At least, you should start there and figure out what happened before the accident."

"And how I lost my memories." Dante feels his teeth grit the cigarette. "I think there's a good chance I'm going to have to meet my real family, but I don't know about them. Who they are, what they look like, are they like me or different? Do they have the arcane or am I the only one who has it? Hearing about the state of Red Grave City, the place I lived as a kid, isn't doing anything to make me feel better."

"Dante. What do you want to do when you find out the answers to your questions?" His eyes shift to Lady. "What if the answers aren't what you wanted to hear?"

"Then..." He pauses. Then he closes his eyes, breathing in and out before grumbling, "...I have no choice but to accept it, huh? As much of a bitch reality is, it's something I've lived with for decades. Things might not what they seem to be, but you know what?" His lips shift to his typical sly smirk, cigarette still in hand. "I think I can live with it. I'm not going to be satisfied, but it'll be enough for me to know that there's an answer."

Lady's fist rams in his back for a bit, even more so when she stands and brushes the dust from her legs. "Then you might as well accept the fact I'm still sticking around. I mean, we have a job to do. And we're both here, so we might as well continue."

"Heh. And you know how I feel." He chuckles, seeing her lips mirror his smirk. "Going back in? Don't shoot anyone, Lady."

"Ha! Morrison will dock my pay if I resort to that." So no killing from her? Good. "But I will keep an eye on Trish- I don't know why, but she's giving me the chills." He snickers, earning her frown. "What?"

"What kind of chills? I know you had a thing for a particular type, but I didn't think you'd be that interested-" Though Dante laughs, feeling her fists beat his back with childish annoyance. "Okay, okay, I'll stop! I give, I give! Stop hitting me!"

"You better!" Lady huffs, red dusting her face as she glares at him. "As if your love life is any better! Or a very obvious lack of one-"

"Shut up!" He sees her stick her tongue out- before they both laugh. She stands, winks, and grins to walk back in. "Get better, okay? Your arcane's stirring more than usual and I don't think Rock will appreciate it if you catch something on fire in his place."

"Yeah, yeah, I got it. No burning." And Dante turns back- and notices he's burned through his third cigarette. He can feel his arcane stir, but not in the way he's expecting. Usually he feels calm right about now. But no, he isn't. "Damn. Should I?"

"You keep a horrid habit." He nearly jumps out of his seat, but he heaves in relief when V approaches him before sitting next to him. He leans on his cane, especially since he turns to Dante, a volume of concern marring his face. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah! Yeah, I'm fine." Dante chuckles, waving his hand a bit to help get rid of whatever cigarette stench remains. "Sorry. It's just- I try to calm myself and drinking myself while I'm on the job is not an option."

"Hmn." V hums, shaking his head at the cigarette offered to him. "You reek of nicotine."

"Better than booze. It's just a way to ease myself when I'm not fighting." And no way is he planning to drink and swing a sword around.

"I see." V leans forward a bit, eyes narrowing a bit. "Are you still interested in learning the name of the dragon or has that part escaped your interest?"

Dante stills before he sighs. "I should, it bothers me. But a part of me doesn't want to know."

"Oh? How come?"

"The element of surprise, V. I enjoy it more than you realize." He thinly smiles, looking at the view of Fortuna City. "It forces me to think on my feet. I don't like it when things get repetitive and boring."

"Like your daily routine?"

"That's different. It changes because of the jobs."

The two fall silent and then V muses, "Is something else bothering you? You feel nervous."

"Do I?"

"I can sense it. The arcane within you," The other man leans a bit closer. "It stirs, skittish. Are you all right?"

Damn, it shows. Dante falls silent. Then he sighs, leaning back on the steps. "You must've heard Trish talk about it earlier. I was... well, I mean, you don't have to listen-"

"It's fine. In fact," V glances at him with a strange tilt- he's smiling? "I wouldn't mind if you talked about it. ...it's odd, we have just met, yet I feel at most comfortable with you. Lady, not so much; your friend has a frightening arcane. The others are unknown to me."

"What about Nero?"

V shakes his head. "A bothersome individual. It nerves me to know he has a connection to you. With his arcane and all..."

His lightening? It's not a big deal. What happened back there should be the question I want to ask. Dante wants to say that he's saved his life ten years ago, but he keeps it quiet. Whatever he and Nero have to deal with can wait. "Yeah, Lady is not exactly the kinder type." Dante can sense the other's shadow arcane gently beside his own- waiting. Yet it casually approaches him with ease, something Dante can't explain. What is it about V that makes him think he's familiar? "But you know, she and I get along."

"How so?"

"We're both mercs. Working together, being the only person she hasn't shot in the head yet. I mean, she's great- wonderful girl. She's rough, but kind. I mean, I trust her with my life." It's true. They both have each other's backs- and they've been through thick and thin for the jobs they've taken. "She has a rough childhood while mine..."

"Yours?"

"...well." The white-haired man ponders, deciding to flip it on V. "Let me ask you something. You said you're from Red Grave City. What was it like when you lived there?"

V grows still, silently thinking about the question before he laughs. Dante blinks, hearing it sound incredulous as the other turns back to him. "My apologizes-! It is a rather amusing question, hearing it from you. Why do you ask?"

"Well, it's just-" Dante can't help but smile back. "Maybe we might've encountered each other in the city before. I don't know, it's just a silly question. But as that woman Trish says, I have little memories when I was a kid. And I did come from that city. That, I know for sure."

The other man glances at him. Then, "...well. It was... a busy city. I tend to go there from time to time, but it was rare. My... memories of it, however, I remember clear. I had a typical childhood- one that I silently treasure. There was someone who was very important to me; he was there everyday, cheering me up even though I didn't ask for it. Despite the many times I asked for his silence, this person will cheer me up his chattering, his poor attempts of ruining so many things that were once mine. He would ask for my attention, and I would give it to him, even if it deterred from my desired activities.

"Yet I was very fond of him... He and I were inseparable- even if we differed on some aspects. You can say we were halves of a whole. And I always thought that nothing would separate us." There's a faint, fond smile that appears on his face. "Not even our parents, no matter how much they've tried."

"What happened?" Dante quietly asks. He wasn't expecting to be interested in this, yet here he is. "If you don't mind me asking. You don't have to say it-"

"Oh, no. It's all right, you have the right to know. " Huh, all right... "I snapped at him one day. His antics were driving me mad when I only wanted one day to myself. And he was offended and got upset- and he ran off. A few hours later, I felt horrible. But when I tried to look for him, he was gone. Taken- whisked away and never to be seen again. I wanted to find him with all of my power, but given that I was young, that was not to be the case.

"That day- no, I can't forget that day. I lost the most important person to me. The one who I thought would never be taken..." V takes a deep breath, gripping his cane. His arcane silently lashes in trembling fury, but Dante kept his distance. "There is not a single day in which I regret saying those hurtful words to him. I wished I could have taken it all back, then things would not happened in this way. ...if I could have, I could have told him to stay. I told him it was dangerous to go out there, that I didn't want him to leave...!"

For some reason, those words made Dante's heart pang with sadness. It's as if something in him was silent, taking those words in and affecting him more than it should. But why?

Dante just silently chalks it up to being affected by everything else. He glances over to V, who still grips his cane, trying to silently lock up his own suffering and regret. Then he silently grimaces, mentally wondering if this is going to be a good idea, given that his arcane is frightening as hell-

"V?" Dante asks, his hand gently reaching to pat V's shoulders and he sees the other man gasp and turn- to only see the other's hand barely on his arm. "Uh. Sorry-"

"No! No. I'm... I'm sorry. I should not have... My apologizes." And V lets out a morose chuckle, closing his eyes as he leans his head against the cane. It eases their tense hold and relaxes. "Forgive me. There's so much I have kept inside. To have them escape now would embarrass me in front of someone like you is something I am not proud of."

"Hey! Hey, look," Dante gently pats his shoulder. "It sounds like you miss him, whoever he is. But you know, you can get back in touch with this person. So it's not like he's gone forever. And the other thing is- you're human! There's no way you can hold onto whatever you had forever. It's not healthy. If you want, you can just let me know what you're going through. Just talk about it to me, okay?"

A look of absolute shock crosses the other's face, his eyes widening. V murmurs, "Are... you trying to cheer me up? Despite us knowing each other for what I can now assume to be a few hours?"

"My specialty." Dante smiles. This is how Lady felt back then, and Dante allows her to bounce off and rant however much she desires. Patty opened up to both of them after Dante told her to at least take it easy and live as her age- no need to be nature. And to Morrison, on their drinks out and the other cackles, allowing him to hear him rant about the idiots who run the mercenary business. There are more people Dante has helped with words alone- and he's seen them improve. And it makes him relieved to know they are getting better. "I try."

"Despite... Dante, I am not who you think I am."

"Well, I've had worse." This job might, but this doesn't have a certain moronic bastard named Mundus. Thank God too- Dante would have been delighted to kick Mundus's ass one more time and made sure he stayed far away for good. "Whatever you hide might tamer than you think. And for your friend- I think he misses you too. It sounds like you really miss him. I hope you get to meet him again and tell him how you feel, all of these years later. Who knows? If you still think of him, that is."

V's lips tilt to a mysterious smile, eyes on Dante. "I still do. Not everyday goes by and I would try to find him on my own. Yet... heh, I might have found him."

"I hope you do. Though about earlier- I feel you." Dante chuckles, recalling his own situations with Lila. "Living in a family with a sibling is rough, but loving. I... well, I used to know how it feels. On both ends. I miss that. ...though I wished things would have gotten better for the people who adopted me."

There's a silence and V quietly asks, "...did something happen?"

"A group of people thought my foster family were responsible for causing a mess in the town I was living in. Desmond and Melissa helped me, telling me to be safe. Lila defended me the best way she could. ...and I was the one who wanted to help them stop whatever stupid thing was about to destroy the town."

Dante pauses, closing his eyes. The memories of that night return, albeit slow and careful: Lila bravely defended Dante, even knowing she'll die in the process should she continue to shield him. Desmond and Melissa swearing Dante to leave out the town alive- to only hear gunshots and then they tell him not to come out until it's safe. By that time, Dante knows who really caused it- he sensed something powerful and evil on its way. He tells them he'll take care of it- and by the time he realizes the demon is about to attack his rioters, his family laid in their pool of blood; dead with gunshots to the head.

The real person who tried to pin the blame on him was exposed when the demon heeded to the traitor's words, and people finally understand what was happening. The demon was dead by Dante's fire arcane, his own sword silently screaming his rage when he forced the madman to kneel and surrender. The sheriff of the town was horrified by the events- for he was the only other human who knew of their innocence and tried to sway their opinions away. Dante, however, knows better. Most of the town will try to make it so he's responsible. In return for the decision to never return to his home, the sheriff helps him leave, silence as his apology before shaking his hand in respect. He knows the old man left the town- and he can't blame him.

"...someone tried to apologize for the entire town. On their behalf, he said." Dante muses. "I told them to apologize to Desmond, Melissa, and Lila themselves. I don't know if they did... but I still visit their graves. They're the first family I had after the incident." Grue, Jessica, Tiki, and Nesty are the second- and then there's Nell...

...he's lost so much.

V falls silent, probably seeing the dark look on his face. Then he quietly murmurs, "...I'm sorry."

"It's fine. I'm too used to talking about it. Nothing new." Dante grumbles, running his hand through his hair. "...but nothing good happens to people when I'm around."

"Yet I'm here, aren't I?" He looks up to look at V. "You can talk to me should you need to vent out your emotions."

Dante blinks before he chuckles. "Using my advice as yours now? Sure. I need an outlet once in a while. I think Lady's tired of hearing me talk about the same crap over and over again." The two chuckle, though Dante's hand is off V's shoulder. "Sorry-"

"Don't be." And he feels a cooler hand touch his. "It's comforting. I needed it."

The white-haired man softly smiles. This is new. "...I'm glad I can help with that, too."

"...as for Red Grave City, I have no plans after this ordeal is over." V calmly explains and it catches Dante off-guard. "In fact... I would like to ask you for a favor, if it's fine."

"All right, I'm listening."

"I'm fine with you bringing them with you."

Nero and the- wait, why?

V's smile is thin, rather worried. "That boy... is filled with pride. Or rather, has an arrogance that should be reexamined. His allies should remind him of it, but having you around makes him more confident in his abilities- I would think he makes a great ally in addition to you and Lady."

"What about Trish?" Dante can deal with her in a moment. Or later today- he decides he'll ask her about what he was like as a kid.

"...she can come. If she isn't a detriment. But that's not my favor." V then glances to him. "Dante. ...if you could, not only can you defeat that behemoth that's slowly taking control over Red Grave City, but take me to him."

Dante stares at V, mouth slightly open before asking, "Why? Shouldn't you be more careful about your own life?"

"I have a few things to say to that thing. And I need to say it before it's too late." V's lips thin. "In addition to taking down this beast, I need you to act as my bodyguard."

He stares at the black-clad man. Is he crazy!? Then he huffs, knowing suddenly his job turns into a more difficult one. "...fine. But this means you owe me extra for this."

"That's not of a problem."

"Good." And Dante stands, holding out his hand for V to take ahold of- and he feels it again. The slight cool touch... "Then be prepared for chaos. I'm not known to be quiet."

V chuckles, eyes narrowing with amused interest. "I have already known that- I'm only here as your client."

"That's fine with me."

Footsteps approach them and Dante sees Lady peer out- and Trish also approaches, arms crossed as she glances at him. She looks at him with a concerned look on her face- and Lady approaches him with news playing on her phone. "This just came in. I was looking through and- well, I thought you should look."

Dante gingerly takes her phone, the videofeed playing live as he adjusts the volume, allowing V to hear what's happening.

"-where we take you live from Red Grave City, where there are multiple reports of people being attacked by something burrowing from underground. The government has just sent in their military, where officials have reported activity coming from the Albus Tower. There are more of these reported demons emerging from the tower as-" There is a pause, the video feed of people being preyed on by the roots showing. "We're now receiving this: whoever is in Red Grave City must leave, for there are some experts who have just observed these activities now confirmed that the roots are sucking both blood and arcane-"

"Shit." Dante's heard enough. And from the looks on mostly everyone's faces- including the kids, who have just appeared to hear this, it's clear as to what needs to happen. "...we need to head out now."

Chapter Text

 

"'There are rumors that surround this mysterious Man in Red,' The Woman has heard of this Man in Red before. 'He is the one who destroys any curse, anything that tries to destroy him gets equal just in return. While helpful he is, he is rather elusive in his motives. Some say he aids those who truly deserve it; some say he destroys for the sake of things.'

"'How can we find The Man in Red?' The Son asks the Maiden. Perhaps this man can help release his father of his curse.

"The Maiden responds,  'I know of him to frequent the next city over. My brother and I have been there a few times- he is not hard to find. Getting him to come with you, on the other hand, will be difficult.'

"'Then take us there.' The Son declares. 'I already have an offer that will certainly interest him.'

"'I will come with you.' The Maiden firmly states. 'For you have saved our lives- and we are grateful for that. At least we can help you with your own turmoil.'

"And they gather their things and head off to the city, hoping to find the Man in Red. The necklace begins to glow brighter, its true owner near.

 


 

Riding in the car with Morrison was one thing.

Being in this godforsaken large ass trailer (a Winnebago?) is another matter-

-especially since Dante grimaces at the series of bumps they have just ran through, forcing him to grip onto the edge of whatever this is. He nearly belts out a string of curses when there's a slight skip- did they almost run into a pothole!?

"Sorry!" Nico's voice floats through and Dante suddenly feels a bit nauseous. "The roads here ain't so great- you'll just have to deal!"

"Your driving- oh God I'm still never used to it-!" Nero curses out. "Watch out next time, you crazy driver!"

"Hey, I got used to your bitchy little driving once and ohhhh man, how the hell did you learn how to drive again!? Kyrie, any ideas?"

He can hear Kyrie gently laugh, "No, I'm sorry-"

"You crazy- Are you implying I'm worse than you!?"

"Well, Kyrie seems to agree with me here!"

"WHAT!?" Nero squawks, making Dante silently feel a tremor of humored ire from the kid.

There's laughter and even Dante tries so hard not to snicker at this banter. V lets out a derisive scoff as he resumes back to his book. The same exact one? What book is he reading, anyway?

"It's fine!" Lady shouts back before she stares at Dante. "You don't look so hot."

"Thanks for the obvious." Dante groans. The motion sickness might be getting to him and it's something the arcane can't solve. "I'm not used to this. God I feel sick."

"Bathroom's to your left." Trish is casually leaning against the other chair and Dante is not sure how to respond- except for groaning and leaning his head back against the make-shift bed that's in the rear. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, just... peachy. I'll keep that in mind." Dante grumbles. "I'm sorry Lady, but this is much worse than your driving-"

"Hey! At least I get to the place where we need to be! You get us lost, you direction challenged ass." The gunswoman frowns, ignoring Dante's protest over that insult. "I didn't think Rock taught her how to drive like this!" Dante was about to retort back when they hear Trish chuckle- and Lady's irked glare turns to her. "What are you laughing at?"

"Oh, it's nothing. Just thinking of how similar things were back then versus now." Trish's smile grows a bit wider, "And no, Rock Goldstein didn't teach her how to drive."

"Then who-"

"I did and I regret it." Credo manages to hold onto his footing, approaching to the others who occupy the space in the back. He looks a bit ill. "How are you holding up? Normally we would have gotten something a bit better. But seeing as how this was the only vehicle in stock when she expressed a desire to have a 'mobile workshop', this is the only way we can get around."

"Fantastic." Dante groans. The nausea is getting to him and he lies on what he surmises is the only bed in this trailer. "Sorry, but I don't- how far are we until we reach Red Grave?"

"A couple of miles. I'd give about an hour or so- it was an extremely long ride." Credo's lips stretch back to a thin worried line as he meets Trish's concerned glance. "But if you need to rest, you are more than welcome to do so."

"I'm sure he'll need it." Lady sighs, looking at her work partner in concern. Then she looks back at the direction of Fortuna City. "Are we okay with leaving Morrison and Rock waiting for us?"

"Mister Goldstein did mention he has other things to be preoccupied with." V doesn't look up from his book, but he responds to it as if he was a part of their conversation. "And your friend Morrison mentions that he will attempt to stop anyone else from approaching Red Grave City. So for now, I believe it is best for them to stay here."

Dante lets out a grunt. Good. No more lives to be destroyed by whatever is in there.

"Why bring your sister Kyrie though?" Lady quietly asks. "I thought she isn't connected with any weapons."

"She isn't, but my sister is the most proficient in healing and others matters of the light arcane- some not in Miss Trish's combating techniques." Credo huffs, crossing his arms. He's concerned, even if he doesn't want to express it. "If I would have it my way, I could have made her stay and wait with the other two. But from the looks of things, most of the arcane dealings are with fighting; there are chances we can get severely injured. So there is no healer if Miss Trish was to utilize her abilities in combat."

"Well, she learned from the best. I think those two suit well, you supplementing the missing areas." Trish shrugs, earning Credo's wary stare. "But that's not my worry. My concern is that of what to do when we arrive there. There are government checkpoints and they will not let us in without some sort of official documentation."

"That's not an issue for me and Dante." This earns the other's stares, but Lady smirks. "We'll just say all of you are with us and they'll let us in. The perks of being mercenaries- he and I worked with some select high officials before on some jobs after we defeated some annoying assholes who threatened their lives. Morrison knew them- if we need to let them know, then he'll give us a good word in."

This elicits relief in Credo before he gestures to the front. "I'll let the other know in case it comes up."

Lady nods and Dante lets out another grunt of approval, flopping back on the floppy mattress as the other man leaves.

"I would like to know those tales sometime." The blonde woman casually looks at Lady in interest. "Perhaps if things take their time, you can interest us with a tale or two, Lady." V arches an eyebrow, glancing at the blonde woman, but she doesn't meet back. "I'm in the mood for some entertainment."

"Yeah, sure." The only response she receives is Lady narrowing her bi-chromatic eyes before she glances to Dante- to only find him asleep on the bed. She huffs, crossing her arms before staring back at the woman. "I was going to ask Dante if he's okay with me telling me some of these since half of them were the jobs he's took."

"I'm sure my cousin won't mind." Trish quietly murmurs and it irks Lady a bit. V, on the other hand, falls silent as he returns to his book. "So, seeing as how your client is more entertained by his novel than anything, and the kids are handling the drive and more inclined to keep updates than our state..."

Lady silently groans before she mutters, "...fine. But they're going to be pretty boring."

"Hm. Try me." Trish leans forward, eyes narrowing with piqued interest. "Until Cousin Dante wakes up and someone else has an entertainment of their own, you are the only source of my entertainment."

The black-haired woman lets out a small tick before she sighs. "All right, your highness." She doesn't how miffed Trish looks at her anointed nickname. "I guess I'll satisfy two things then. There's a job I can tell, but it's about how Dante and I met. If you are still interested."

"Oh?" This, Trish silently admitted, was one she wasn't expecting. But a part of her did want to know how is it the two of them get along so well; and how Dante managed to know people who aren't part of his family. "How did it start?"

Lady decides to stretch her legs and she leans back against the wall. "It actually began with Dante... and he took a job from someone he once helped. Have you heard of the recently appointed Arcane Council?" She sees Trish slowly nod. "Hm, so there's a woman he once knew named Nevan..."

 

"-ante, Dante!"

It's Trish. Though she looks way younger- her blonde hair has been tamed into two pigtails and she's wearing a white shirt with a pink and black skirt. And then he blinks, realizing where he is- he's in that same living room, only brighter, filling with warm sunlight.

"Yeah?" He carefully asks. Another dream?

"I'm boooored."

Ah. No. This is something else- and he realizes what's going on.

Another new memory.

"Well," He huffs, crossing his arms and he knows he's wearing just a plain T-shirt and shorts. "Do something then. Why do you have to come to me?"

"Because you know where the nearest playground is?" The girl flatly responds, borderline pouting. "Come ooooon! I know you're bored too! Just sitting in the living room and drawing isn't exactly fun!"

Dante groans. When he wakes up, he's definitely telling Trish she needs to find a hobby to personally invest in that doesn't involve annoying him. But instead he looks around. "Where's Mom?"

Mom? Who does his mother look like? Dante knows it isn't Melissa...

"Out with Aunt Bea. And they said we can play around while not causing lots of trouble." Trish huffs. "That's what she told me before they left."

"Yeah, yeah, fiiiiiine. We can go to the playground that's near home." He tries to not roll his eyes- but a part of him is sighing in relief when he hears her cheer with delight. He knew the other memory came back- he did call her his playmate. Someone that he was more interested in playing around with than-

-than...

...who did he compare her to that day, anyway?

"Wanna see if I can ask him to come with us?" Dante blinks when he sees Trish look at him, all ready to go. "I mean, he's been sitting in his room all day."

Wait who?

But he just nods before telling her, "Wait, I'm coming to- well, you know. See if he's okay and all."

Trish rolls her eyes, a grin on her face. "All because you scribbled all over his notebooks with your name all over them and told on you?"

"H-Hey! That was months ago!" What!? He did such thing!? Since when??

But Trish laughs and opens the door to another room- and Dante sees the other boy, the one that looks like him. His hair is slicked back, eyes glued to a book and Dante knows he's seen the way he reads before. From who?

"Hey, ......!" Again with the name blotting. "Wanna come to the playground with us? Dante and I are coming. What about you?"

"No thanks." The other boy's voice sounds uninterested. "I already went outside and it's too hot out."

"What? It is not hot out! You just want to stay here and read books all day! You only went to the bookstore and bought your stuff!" Trish huffs, crossing her arms. "You're just annoyed that Dante likes me better than you all because we both like to run around and play while you sit there, reading your books!"

The boy lowers his book and glares- glares? He hates her- uh, okay then. So that's already established.

Dante gulps, not liking the way the boy is glaring daggers at his cousin. He gently tugs her shirt, just out of sheer fear of... what? What is he scared of? "Uh, Trish, I think we should go before it gets dark."

Trish blinks before she rolls her eyes. "I know. Looks like your stupid older twin doesn't want to join us. Lemme go find my purse and we'll go!"

"Y-Yeah! Sure, I'll wait." And Dante turns, but his mind is still reeling- twin?

Twin... brother? And he's the younger one?

...so he's the twin of someone else? Could this explain the resemblance?

"Hey, Dante?"

And he turns around to see the older boy approach him- and he finally realizes that he does resemble Dante... only in the age his memory is piecing together back with. But it's a bit foggy. Why? "You're just going to the playground, right?"

"Yeah." Dante nods before he mutters, "Look, don't get mad at Trish, okay? She and I are just gonna to the park and play around for an hour or two before we come back. And besides! We've done this before, so don't worry too much. Okay?"

"Before?" There's a pause before he hears a huff. "All right. ...be careful. I don't want to see you hurt."

"I'll try not to." Though Dante can't make any promises- his child self can't wait to have fun around the playground, talk to the other kids, and maybe get some ice cream. His present self that's experiencing this, on the other hand, has a silent dreading feeling this might not be that simple of a request to follow. (If any roughhousing in his school playground was an indication....)

And the next thing he knows, he's slammed on the ground and Dante groans, feeling these aches and bruises and- wait, where did those come from!? Then he hears some gasps surrounding him, but then one kid cracks with glee and he sits up (Without so much- oh, wait. He's reliving this memory and he's a kid, so his arcane didn't wake up- oh shit!) to glare at a blonde-haired boy who pounds his fist to his hand.

Trish, on the other hand, looks angry, but holds back some of the other kids who look frightened. "Dante, get back, you shouldn't do this, you really shouldn't keep going-"

Oh, so he was fighting? How did it fast-forward to here!?

"Psh, yeah, right!" The other boy crows, daunting him to run off. "Says the one who called me an idiot- those other kids are babies!" Those 'other kids', the ones Trish are standing next to, are either quiet or trying not to talk back in fears that they'll be beaten up like Dante looks.

"What!?" And now Dante has a better idea of what's happening. Were those kids being bullied!? Oh screw this! "You know what!? I'll show you who's the boss of this park! This isn't your park, dummy!"

Yes, he has the bravado of an idiot kid who should know better than to stop a bully from picking on others who are weaker than him. He's the hero of the weaker kids- there are those who still think he's such. A part of him knew later than to let karma take over- such as the life of people so much later. But him then-

-just how reckless was he!? Yeah, he has a lot to ask of Trish now.

And he hears the 'oohs' and gasps of the other kids- yeah, there's going to be a fight now. Well, there went his childish dignity.

"Oh, really?" The other boy glares at him. "Ever since you guys moved in and started to share my side of the park with the others-" Was this going to be a turf war!? What the heck was this, a miniature gang stand-off!? "-I'm getting tired of having little space to myself!"

"Then why not just get along and play with us?" Dante sounds exasperated. This is really stupid to solve. "I mean, you could've just asked instead of picking on the others."

And this must have been the nail to the head- the boy stills, flustered as if he's trying to not defend that before he roars, tackling Dante to the ground and starts to punch him. And Dante has silently congratulated himself- he has held his arms to fend off the boy from punching his face. He hears the shouts of his name being uttered, most of them drowned with the kids changing "Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight-" and the other boy attempting to pummel his arms with his puny hands-

-to only hear the boy cry out, the weight of his body off from his own, and then the kids fall silent.

"What are you doing to my brother?"

Dante opens his eyes, barely moving his arms to see his older twin glare at the bully. And from the way his voice sounded, it was as if he had the better authority over them...

...wait, did his older twin have that? So why couldn't Dante? Was there something different he didn't know about?

"Did you forget, Dante?"

And Dante suddenly feels jerked back and he sees his present self look at the scene before him. There's him as a child, looking up to see his older twin- whoever he is- and Trish with the other kids, reacting in their own way. He realizes he's looking at something akin to a life-sized diorama. He turns around, thinking for a minute the low voice was coming from behind him-

-but it isn't. But he knows it's from the shadow man with the blue eyes, the one Dante saw when he relieved his car accident in yet another dream. And now he silently swears this man is watching him.

"Who are you?" He dares to ask. "What the hell are you doing in my dreams?" There's his present voice. Dante feels the likeness of sand and gravel against his boots- the dream feels life-like...

"...you forgot, then." The voice returns, but there's a tinge of sadness. "Of us, of who you are-"

"Okay, no, I didn't! My name's Dante, you asshole!" Dante feels annoyed- a part of him wants to go back and find out what happened in the end of this incident. "I know I'm from Red Grave City." Where he and a group of people are about to take on a large ass Dragon that he swears to god is the real thing. "And I've just learned- from my cousin who I've just met- that I was kidnapped and was nearly about to die when I got into a car accident! Happy!? I will really punch you for asking me this!"

There's a silence that only lasts for a second-

-then he hears a rather dry chuckle that makes his eye twitch. "Oh you son of a-"

"As amusing as it was to hear all of those enlightening things you said," The voice cuts in. "That is not what I was referring to. Surely, you know by now of your true immediate relation."

"That I had a twin brother?" Dante is still reeling from that. "That I'm the younger brother of a twin I barely know about? Yeah, explain that to me. Then I'll be able to figure more things out from there- and why my dreams aren't so... so-"

"Fragmented? Sparse? ...that your moments only come in bursts when someone mentions a name or of significance? Your memories, brother, are returning. If your first dream is of an indication, this means I am finally seeing parts of your memories, moments that I am slowly receiving answers to."

Dante swears he hears someone walking to him. But he can't move. "How do you know what?"

There's a very low, amused chuckle that makes him shiver. "I just know, Dante. We're halves of a whole. My younger twin." Dante stills, stiffening when he feels a touch grace down his back- intimate, gentle. "...my other half. My beloved. ...all of this, mine."

"Creep." He grumbles, taking a step away, pretty certain this is not the way to convince someone. He crosses his arms, trying not to show that the simple touch affected him. Holy shit. He shivers, subconsciously clutching on his dog tags. "Just a dream, Dante, this is just a dream. You're sleeping in the car, passed out and trying to get some rest. You'll wake up soon-"

"Yet I can hear you loud and clear." The voice is amused. The touch lingers to his shoulder. "We share the same dream, Dante. A connection has already been formed before- it's regaining itself again."

"The hell- never mind." Dante scowls."What are you so proud of? You barely know me except that I'm your twin brother and you're the older one. All I know about you is that you like staying inside and refuse to go out to explore."

"While this is true, that's only applied to me as a child. I know about you, brother." Oh God, how!? "Despite how I live, I do listen to the outside world. Despite my fears as a child, I did venture out. ...I did leave my home, I'll have you know. I did not plan to be isolated forever." 

"You sure about that?" Dante tries not to show how suddenly slowly scared he got. "...what do you know? You sound like a stalker."

He suddenly feels a bit cold- anger resonates in the man's voice."I am not a stalker. I don't stoop to this low to capture your attention. What sort of person do you take me for?" 

Of course this prat's offended. Dante rolls his eyes."I don't know, you tell me what you know." 

"I know most of your accomplishments. What you have done, your deeds, your most accomplished jobs as a mercenary, what you have done for the arcane... despite you trying to mask your true identity, stories tell of your deeds. I did not, as you are frightened of, stalk you. I only did research and asked around. To those who you saved- you sound like a hero, what you've always wanted when we first moved to Red Grave City. I should be proud of you, Dante. At the same time, I envy those who know you better than me."

"Oh great. Even better." Dante sarcastically quips. "If I ever meet you in person, I will find a way to punch your smug face in just for all of that before I decide to torch whatever clothing you have and make you regret saying all of that."

"Oh?" There's interest in the man's voice. "Is this an invitation to fight you? To see how much you have grown, little brother?"

"Ha ha ha, no." Dante flatly responds. "Impress me first and then we'll see."

There's a low chuckle and suddenly he feels a murmur literally next to his ear, "I wonder, then, if that pride of yours can stand up to my own. To see how our blades clash, if your power is just as good as mine. Your fire to my arcane, your light to my shadow; you are indeed my opposite. Yet we compliment each other, don't you agree?"

He turns and again, nobody is there. There's something this guy - his brother, right? He's not telling him something."Then why don't I see you? Why is it I can hear you?"

"Do you want to know? What I have done? Do you truly want to see me then?"

Dante falls silent. Then he grumbles, "That doesn't mean anything. I just- oh god, what am I doing...? I'm talking to myself, that's what I'm doing. " He closes his eyes and thinks again. His hand grabs the dogtags for safety. He murmurs to himself, "My name is Dante. I'm a car accident survivor. I'm a mercenary. I came from Red Grave City. I have a cousin who knows me. I was a victim of a kidnapping scheme of some sort. I had a twin brother-"

"What foolishness are you spouting? There is no 'had'!" Dante barely jumps from his spot, turning around again to find no one. Again. He heaves with annoyed relief at this, but the voice resonates in him. "I am still alive, yet in a different form. It was hell trying to find you, but here we are. I have finally found you."

Dante narrows his eyes, silently wondering how.

"Yet you have no recollection of me." The voice returns to its slight cold, indifferent tone. He swears the person is staring at him, striding back and forth to observe him from behind. "That is the more troubling matter. I thought you would know of your other half, Dante. Names are a valuable thing, do you not recall it?"

"Sure, I'm named after a poet who wrote tales about being in Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven just to spite the church. Spare me. And about the other half thing?  You in a different form? What...? My head's about to burst." Dante quietly murmurs, taking another look at the scene of children; of him as a child, of the other who pried off the bully off him, and of Trish, who is trying to run towards them. "Then why don't I know your name? At least tell me that- or better yet, why not have me look at you? Then I can really tell if you're my twin brother or not. Maybe something will finally click and make me know what I lost. If what Trish told me was right."

There's silence- and then he sees the scene before him shift to back at the place he slowly begins to understand was his home in Red Grave City. And he notices his younger self being bandaged by the other boy- Trish, it seems, was talking to another woman who has longer blonde hair-

-blonde hair?

"What the-" Dante can't help but stare at the blonde woman the younger Trish is talking to. He feels a slight pang to his heart, aching to see her again, but why? He approaches closer to her, inspects her. She isn't meant to be treated like a statue, but he can't help but wonder... "Who is she? She... looks hell of a lot like Trish."

"Our mother, Dante. She and Trish are similar- Trish comes from her side of the family."

At least that explains something.

"Why are you showing me this?" Dante carefully asks- and then he realizes the scene is now playing out before him. He slowly walks around, tries to hold onto something- to only notice the objects ghost around his fingers. "...this is what happened the rest of the day, right? After I got beat up??"

Silence only greets him and Dante lets out a frustrated groan, closing his eyes-

-to only feel himself in pain and he looks down, realizing that he's bandaged up and oh OW OW OW! And then he glares to see the other boy mend to his injuries, a bloodied alcohol wipe in his hands.

So he's replaying this for himself. Great.

"-and Dante defended the kid before asking the other guy to apologize to him, but the other wouldn't-" Yeah, Trish is replaying the events to his mother and the other woman who he silently guesses was her mother (his aunt). Dante was about to shout back when he feels a stinging pain shoot through him- he yowls in pain.

"Owwwwowowowowoowwthathurts!" He grits his teeth, trying not to cry in pain.

"Then hold still." He tries not to scream, knowing that it's his older twin who is bandaging him. He barely has a scratch on him! What the hell- "It's your fault for getting beat up."

"Shut up." Dante attempts to muffle that, knowing that the women and Trish can hear. "...I didn't ask for your help."

There's a quiet huff coming from the other boy. "Even if you didn't, I would still come."

"Why?" He decides to ask. He clearly heard him say earlier his older twin is far better off reading books than being outside. "I thought you didn't want to go outside."

"That's because I told you it was dangerous going out." His twin brother mutters and Dante winces, feeling him yank the bandages to fit a bit tighter. "But you don't listen. You used to, though."

He rolls his eyes. "That was before you got boring and told me to leave you to your books. You even threatened to destroy my favorite action figure if I stopped ruining your things. Then you went out and bought your own things. You got boring." He did think those things? Geez, and here he thought he was the model older brother to Lila and Lady later in life.

"And then you found someone else to play with instead of me." Dante notices how tightly annoyed the other boy sounds. "That's not fair, Dante. What if I wanted to come along to the park with you?"

"Well-" And Dante slowly recalled parts of the other dream he had. He knows his older twin has more things to be proud of while Dante is the impulsive twat that enjoys the action. "-it didn't look like it. You just wanted to stay in and read all day. And I didn't want to ruin any more of your things since you would tell. Dad would kill me if you showed him another notebook I've wrecked."

"...I know."

"So why?"

"Because I want to be with you." And then he feels the last of the bandages tighten before there's a hum of relief. "-there. Are you feeling better, Dante?"

"No." He's just gotten beat up and probably being grounded for the next few days for beating up someone who honestly deserves it. And now he'll most likely get some scolding from his mother and being banned from doing whatever he wants to do for the next week or so. "You told Mom, didn't you?"

"I had to." The other sighs. Then Dante feels his brother hold his hand- again with the slightly cold feeling? Wait, that feels- "I just want you to be safe."

As reassuring as it felt, Dante's still slighted from the idea of being couped up for a while.

"Yeah well," Dante huffs, turning away for a minute. "Still doesn't make up for the fact I might be grounded for the entire of next week. 'm gonna be aching and sore before I'm forced to apologize to the dummy who picks on other kids in front of his mom and dad. You should be glad I'm not angry at you."

"But you are. You're still mad at me." He tries not to how upset his twin is. 

"...no." Dante refuses to admit it because yes, he's sorta pissed off-

-before he feels someone hug him and kiss his cheek. "...I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?"

For a minute, Dante realizes that simple gesture made him feel better. But he instead sighs, allowing his brother to continue hugging him and groans, giving in to appeasing his older twin. "Fiiiiine, I was mad at you. Not anymore. ...though you better promise to help me while I'm grounded. Doing some practice work is gonna suck..."

"I will. If you don't ruin any more of my notebooks." And Dante looks to him- and sees his blue eyes meet back to his. "I mean, we are supposed to be together, right? We can get through this."

"Yeah. Though you should be nicer to Trish-" He giggles, hearing the other groan. "What?? She's our cousin, you know!"

"I just don't like to share my favorite things." He hears the boy mumble. His hug is tighter around Dante. "We're twins. We should be inseparable. Why do you always want to go out when I don't?"

"Because it's fun!" And Dante grins, turning to the other boy. "And plus, if I wanna be like Mom and Dad, then you should come out too! Maybe we'll play swords again before we moved here! And you can make friends like I did!"

"Fine, but I'm not doing the last part. You're here and that's all I care about." There's a pause- and then he sees his older twin gently smile. His eyes narrow with that thought. "...promise about the sword playing though?"

"Yeah! I promise!"

Yet the last thing he hears was not of his younger self, nor of the boy in this memory.

"...but I didn't keep it. I paid the price for my own folly, for I have done something wrong. Forgive me, Dante..."

"What did you do wrong then?" Dante hears himself murmur, his eyes closing again-

 

And he wakes up, sitting up just in time to hear Lady say, "...and then he says, 'I got nothing for you, Lady. Sorry.' And the name- well, it stuck since it sounded so right. It even strengthened it. And I owe him for that."

"Hence why your name is like the way it is. I didn't think..." Trish trails off, her arcane stirring with curiosity. "...but for your arcane to unlock after he said it?"

"Oh, no. No way that happened." Lady shakes her head. "No, I was talking about how much it made me realize how strong I need to get. But not just to beat up any more demons. No, to get over my sorry self and stop mourning for a man who killed my mother. It... felt like a new start."

Trish hums in thought, eyes straying towards the floor for a minute.

Dante mumbles, "And here I thought you weren't going to tell people how I suddenly became a motivational speaker, Lady."

"Oh, I'm sorry about that." Yet he knows his friend isn't at all sorry for it. In fact, she was grinning and he wants to flop back and flip her off. "I didn't know you were sensitive to hear people talking good things about you."

"Ha ha." But they both know he is.

Trish's chuckles snap Dante awake. "Oh, look who finally woke up from his cat nap."

"Nap?" Dante bleary asks- it felt as if he took a three hour sleep. At least the nausea went away. But the touches on his back, his shoulder lingers... "How long was I out for?"

"A good hour. I don't know if we're in Red Grave City yet." Lady glances over to him. "Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah all of the dizziness went away. It's just..." He glances around and finds V asleep. "...him too, huh? I wasn't the only one sleeping."

Trish blinks, leaning over then she sighs. "Oh. V fell asleep a few minutes after you did. Why?"

"...I just had..." Dante trails off before muttering, "Another memory came back."

This makes Trish sit straight and Lady's focus on him now. "What was it?" She quietly asks. "Was it like the accident when you first recovered that?"

Dante sighs, trying to brush his hand away from his face. He doesn't hear footsteps approaching to the rear of the trailer, deciding to listen in. "...no. It's- like I was part of something and then I was jerked off from it, watching it from far. I had two of those. One was when I moved into Red Grave City and I was looking at the city."

The ones with the bright lights, shining in their pillars of steel and his kid self looks at it with wonder and awe. His high voice chirps with excitement to venture forth, creating new landmarks for himself to explore later.

"And the other?" Trish quietly asks. "Did you know of the other?"

"Yeah." Dante nods. "I was in the playground with you and some bully beat me up."

"Ohhhh..." The blonde woman smirks. "I remember that. You were being so loud and obnoxious then. Even got beat up by smart-mouthing a lot of kids who didn't like it when they were pointed by how wrong they are. But you were the heart of the kids- they all gravitated to you. Even more so to the point where you were friends with some."

"He was?" Lady grins and he silently dreads to hear her question. "Oh, tell me more! Was he the popular kind? Or was he the 'pay attention to me' kind?"

"Did you really have to ask?" Dante seethes, feeling his ears grow warm.

"Well, you aren't exactly the party animal." Lady's smile was getting more feral like. This, Dante knows, promises no good things. "You did say you wanted to avoid most social gatherings at all costs because it was getting too damn awkward. If I recall-"

And he knows where in the loving hell this was headed. "Oh no. Ohhhhh hell no, you are not about to bring up that gathering five years ago-"

"A gathering?" Trish's smile grows even wider. "No no! Please, tell me, what happened to my poor awkward cousin that's making him like this?"

Dante glares at her, "Are you serious!? Oh my God no-" But it's too late. He hears Lady cackling and he groans, his hand covering his face with absolute embarrassment. "I'm going to get back at you for this, both of you!"

"I'll make it short and sweet just to soften the blow, but I think your cousin deserves to know how much of an utter goofball you really are." Lady smugly grins as Trish laughs. "So, it was after we helped out on a mission with some rich woman who had her house haunted-"

"A haunted house?" Trish gasps. "Ohhhh! What happened then?"

Dante decides to tune them out- to only notice that Nero has been standing there the entire time, keeping his balance with the driving. And he's silently holding his laughter in. Probably from what he's heard- and Dante huffs, "Just standing there isn't going to help you get anyone's attention, brat."

"It's Nero." Though there's a severe lack of a bite to his words as Nero walks over to sit on the bed. Trish has decided to pay attention to Lady's chattering, and it looks like Nero has also found a way to tune them out too. "Credo told me Nico's driving made you look ill. I had to see for myself."

Dante feels really sorry for the kids now. "She's still driving? And your friend taught her how to drive like a manic? I'm not sure if this is a good thing for any future trips you'll be having." And she honestly drives like Lady. Not that he'll say it in front of her lest he'll gain her wrath for the rest of the day.

"I know. I should've warned the both of you about that." The white-haired kid huffs, glancing at Dante. "Look, about earlier- I have to apologize."

"For your friend and his sister's sake?"

Nero groans. "That. ...and so Nico would stop threatening me to do me in with her wrench. She's apparently a fan of your heroic deeds, whatever those are. Kyrie still believes you're her hero. I'm more annoyed about that than what the mechanic wants to do." There's a huffy pout in the last part, but this makes Dante's mind click.

Ah, so he has a soft spot for Kyrie...

"I just beat demons, monsters, and help the arcane council with whatever outside bullshit they need." All of those are true. And Dante mentally keeps that other part in mind- the kid's jealous of him. Well, well, this might make his job a bit more fun. "Looks like I built up a rep I didn't ask for."

That catches Nero's attention. "That you didn't- you didn't want to be a mercenary?"

"My past is a fog. Whatever semblance of how I came to be might have you wishing you'd never ask." Not that the stupid shadowed man would care- if he is watching from wherever the hell he is. Dante decides to mentally ask how the hell he notices these things if he meets him another dream. "But I did want to be someone else part of the law. Wanting to help those who really need it."

"Uh huh, what was that going to be?" Nero arches an eyebrow in interest. "You're definitely not a firefighter; your arcane is completely against that. You did torch a cult's hideout years ago." He wickedly smirks. "Nice, by the way. I would have gotten into massive trouble if I did that."

So he knew I burned the church in Fortuna City. Great, thanks Lady. What else did you let these brats know ten years ago? "A police officer." His response comes out subdued. "But things didn't work out that way. It wasn't the ideal position for me, given what I went through. So I decided the next best thing- being a merc. Even if it was a pain in the ass, it's decent." Steady might push it. The work, though, makes his arcane and energy burn with power and made him stronger- it made him see there are ways to go about the law without having to literally be involved enforcing it. "Back then, I thought it was fine. Now? Not so much. I think there are lessons I've learned that made me glad I didn't take that path." Laws are sometimes meant to be broken. He isn't content to be constrained, chained to anything that forces him to stand by and do nothing.

"So someone who can do good in the end?" Nero clarifies and Dante looks at the kid. "It's not a bad thing, to keep being a hero. It sounds nice."

"Yeah, it does, once in a while. But I take my liberties however I please. I did this not just to help others." Also being a hero is boring. It's not all glittering knights in shining armor. Take that, whoever my twin is.

The white-haired teen falls silent before blurting, "What did my mom say to you on the day she died?"

Dante blinks, looks at the kid, but he can see the silent pleading in his eyes. "Nero-"

"It's been bothering me that you still haven't mentioned it. But I have to know." His blue eyes face against Dante's and he silently swears for a moment the child has an unusual semblance to someone he should know. "Please. I'm not fighting with you or arguing- just please tell me."

Well, there's no dancing around it now.

"...she told me to help you." He manages to say it without recalling his pain- for not saving her when he should have. The guilt returns to him full-force. "And your father- whoever that is. To end their suffering and to find who you both have lost. I'm... paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it."

The kid pales.

...that is not the reaction Dante was expecting at all.

"Kid?"

"You've gotta be kidding, right?" Nero asks, trying not to panic. "My mom- asked me to... oh my god. Shit, how the hell did...?"

"Nero??" Dante tries again, this time his hand trying to grab his shoulders-

-and Nero blinks, looks back up at Dante with a distressed look. "I'm- shit. I didn't... Oh my God, I should have something sooner." He takes a deep breath before taking a sharp, deep breath. There's a slight curse that escapes him and Dante frowns- and he feels sparking from the kid's arcane. He can sense it- Nero's highly stressed and upset? It's a bit off-kilter, but if the kid doesn't calm down soon-

"Hey hey hey hey, Nero." Dante manages to try and lower his voice as much as he can- the ladies are still talking. "Look at me- look." And he does and tries not to notice how furious Nero rubs his eyes. The kid's- why is he upset? "I'm... really honest to God sorry about not saving your mom's life. I wanted to. But she refused when Rock and I tried to heal her. And that made me feel like shit. I wanted to really save her and return her to take care of you."

"I know..." Nero's voice comes out muffled. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I'm telling you the reason because I felt horrible." Guilt still eats away at him for not saving so many others that could have been. And he now realizes, and it slowly sinks in, that there's a good chance he's lost most of his now fully realized immediate family. "That I didn't save a family member who has tried to save you and had to sacrifice their lives just to see their kid living. ...and that no matter how hard you tried to atone for whatever crap mistakes you made, there's no way I could go back and really save the lives of those who really care. ...of those who I might never see again. No matter how much I searched and looked for answers to questions that might not be answered."

He doesn't register how silent the van suddenly is. Or how fully awake one of them suddenly got, looks at him with silent concern and worry as he tries to pretend to go back to sleep.

"...I guess that explained something." Nero's voice cuts through- it sounds rough, subdued even more, but he finally understood. "Or some things. But that doesn't mean you can stop hoping."

Dante blinks, looking at Nero with confusion, but the kid looks back at him, determined. "Huh?"

"You told me to get stronger, and I did." Nero continues. "You even saved Kyrie, Credo, and Nico and they decided to help me ever since- we owe it to you. All of us got better thanks to what you and Lady have done." There's a smile slitting at his face. "I owe you big."

"Don't sweat it. I mean- if it motivated you, then that's all I need to know." Spying Nero's smile appearing, Dante chuckles, looking down at his hands. Then he looks up, and immediately notices how Lady and Trish are looking at them. "...what?"

"Is it just me?" Lady's eyes shift to Nero, Dante, and then to the two again. "...or am I finally noticing how similar you both look to each other?"

"That is... well." Trish's eyes narrow, silent delight present in her face as she glances at them. "I have to admit, it is a bit uncanny. What do you think, Nero? Does he look like someone else you know?"

Nero silently gulps.

"As in-" Dante blinks, staring back at her with the most clueless stare, but the two fall silent. "Wait, Lady, what are you talking about?"

"I've just noticed it too." And they glance over to see Kyrie approaching them- along with Credo, who also looks curious. "I- forgive me for asking, Mister Dante, but aside Miss Trish, do you have any other family that you know of?"

The mercenary falls silent before he sighs, bowing his head. "...not that I know of. I know my adopted family and those who took care of me after. Why?"

"Huh." Credo glances over to Nero. "...Miss Lady's right. You two- have you seen a mirror, Dante?"

"A- wait, why?" He hears himself about to ask, but then the car jerks to a slow careful stop that it makes everyone glance to the front. "Hey, why'd the car stop?"

"Hey, uh, sorry to interrupt whatever it is you all are in the middle of talking about." Nico's footsteps stumbles through and the mechanic appears, looking confused. "But I know earlier Credo's mentioned something about a government and how either one of you needs to talk with them about letting us in? I think we're about to enter into one."

The air changes into a terse one and they all understand why: they're in the vicinity of Red Grave City.

Dante frowns, his mind shifting gears to his job-oriented one. He nods to Lady, who stands up before cracking her neck. When he stands up, he notices V stirring awake- and he barely smiles. "Good timing. ...we're here."

"At Red Grave City then." V quietly responds, standing as they notice the vicinity of Red Grave City. And in its centre is a tower, but one surrounded with unusual, abnormally nature-like features surrounding its steel skeleton.

"Back home." Dante darkly grumbles, eyes narrowing. This is not the place he's envisioned- not the same place he's seen in his dreams.

So Morrison's right- Red Grave City is covered but what he wants to know is how it came to be-

Just what exactly happened here?

"Welcome home, cousin." Trish quietly responds- the lack of warmth evident. "It's been about three decades. ...how does it feel?"

Like I really need to step up my game and save my home-city from being destroyed.

Chapter Text

 

"They reach the city, ask around for the Man in Red. They dare not reveal the true nature of their reasons, but only with intent on locating him. The necklace the Son holds glows ever so bright, the path relighting its path, but he doesn't see.

"Many tell of false leads on how to find the Man in Red. But only one does hold true.

"The innkeeper says. 'Aye, he stays here- he is very much real. Shall I let him know he has a request?'

"The Son stills- shocked. The Maiden and Woman also look surprised. 'He is here? May I talk to him?'

"'Aye, but getting him to agree is not a simple task.' The innkeeper shakes his head. 'He only wants a favor in return- may it be in a form of a payment.'

"'We do not have any money to give, but only a simple request. Would that be enough?' The Maiden asks, only to see the innkeeper shake his head.

"'I have one.' But the Son is too hesitant to give the necklace away. 'But it is the only valuable item I have.' And he shows the glowing necklace to the man. 'May this interest him?'

"Upon seeing this, the innkeeper tells him and their company to wait. And then he returns- with not one, but two people. There is a companion, wearing a black cloak and weapons at her disposal. And the other is the Man in Red.

"'May I help you?' The Man in Red asks, looking at the Son and the Maiden with vague interest. 'Is there anything you need me to assist you with?'

"'Yes, I have a job for you, good sir.' And the Son presents his necklace- but he stops when he notices one certain detail.

"The path of the necklace points to The Man in Red. But why would this necklace point to him? There is nobody else the necklace can recognize unless it is of the missing Crimson Prince.

"'And what would that job be?' The Man in Red inquires. 'Is this necklace part of it?'

"'Yes... and no.' The Son slowly shakes his head, 'I am someone from a kingdom far from here that is under a curse. I need your help to get rid of it. This necklace- as much as I abhor the thought- is your payment.' But why is it still glowing? He wonders. Could it be? That this man is...

"...no, it can't be. But how?"

 


 

 

If there is one thing that tickles the back of Dante's mind, it's of how similar he and Nero looks. Why did Trish say that other part though? Was it about his twin that he found out from his dreams? And how does Nero fit into all of this?

While Lady is chatting with the officials who are guarding the entrance of Red Grave City with Credo in tow, Dante decides now is the better time to look in the mirror- while waiting for Morrison's response (he's texted the older man to let him know about the blockades to Red Grave City and how is it that some government officials are still here without getting themselves killed). And he frowns, seeing that he's still cloaked in the magic that makes him look younger than he is.

Time to... eh, it's not like much will change when I take this magic off. He closes his eyes, allowing that thin veil of magic to dissipate and reveal his real features.

He frowns, feeling his stubble with his hand. His hair is longer than it needs to be, and he has some dark circles under his eyes. He looks more tired than he shows. It's not like much of his features have changed- he only feels a bit older thanks to his age. He grimaces, making a silent note to find a razor in his belongings and shave. That and there are so much features the arcane can hide. Being thirty something sucks sometimes. Maybe Lady and I can bitch about this later when things aren't this shitty...

"So you use your arcane to make yourself look younger? I didn't know you can do such thing."

He nearly jolts from his spot, turning around to see V leaning over the door to the bathroom. And said man has this look of interest, silently observing Dante. Dante, on the other hand, wheezes with shocked relief. "What the- V! You scared the ever loving crap out of me!"

"My apologizes." But he isn't sorry at all, Dante's eye twitches a bit at the lack of apologizes in his voice. "Everyone else is looking around the area, but you were the only one who is still in here."

"It's- well, I was waiting for Morrison to reply back." And Dante is not ready yet. He's not sure what awaits him out there, so he really is... stalling. "Sorry, I was looking for something and I wanted to wait."

"By looking at your appearance?" V is trying not to laugh and this makes Dante's ire flare a bit, his arcane stir with annoyance. "I wonder, are you always this self-conscious?"

Dante sighs, bowing his head as his hands grip the smaller sink. "Sort of. Do I look this bad?" The stubble, the slight dark circles, longer hair?

V chuckles and Dante swears he can hear something deeper than interest curl in the man."On the contrary, you look the same when we first met." Dante glares at him, unconvinced. "It's the truth. Why would I tell lies to someone I trust?"

"Because I don't know, there's something called white lies." And those tend to build more into a rock filled with more lies that's too fast to stop when it rolls down the hill. He lets the little magic envelop him again, allowing his more refined appearance to take over. Dark circles gone, his stubble disappearing- yeah, he's going to shave before he heads off into war. "It doesn't affect my arcane when I use it to pretty myself, you know? Lady does the same. It might not look like it, but I can see some arcane users do the same. I've gotten used to for years."

V hums with thought, even as Dante manages to leave the cramped bathroom (he spied a shower in there and Dante has to wonder how the hell this Winnebago fit five people and carried them to Fortuna City without driving them all insane). "Do you often use it to cloak yourself or change your appearance?"

"My arcane?" He turns to V in confusion before he shakes his head. "Nah. Concealment's in a much different arcane and I don't bother learning it. I imagine for shadow arcane it's pretty easy to use, right? Hiding yourself like that must come pretty easy. Same question to you- do you use it to conceal your appearance?"

Seeing as how rare shadow arcane users are, too.

There was a second of a strange expression passing the other man's face. Then V smirks, eyes narrowing. "...that depends on what I use my arcane for. It's primarily for attacks, but nothing in the realm of pettiness. If I wanted to use any concealment, then I must plan for it."

Right, how vague. "You can say that, but I think it's a bit useful for some. Well, your shadows- familiar? They look interesting." Dante feels his phone buzz before he takes it out, looking over to read what Morrison has sent him. He forwards the message to Lady (because he knows she's still talking to whoever thinks she's bullshitting her story and Morrison has ties above in the Arcane Council that the government doesn't even dare approach without promises of internal political war) before glancing back at V. "I think I saw you summon one- a black panther?"

"Do you mean Shadow?" V arches an eyebrow, mildly interested. "Would you like to meet him?"

"...named appropriately, but why not?" Dante tries not to laugh as he sits on the open steps of the trailer. He breathes in the cool air. "I think we have time to kill before we head in."

"So you say..." V snaps his fingers and suddenly the mercenary hears a low growl. He sees the inky black panther approach him, wisps of shadow surrounding his form-

-wait. Where he seen this type of form before?

"Shadow." And the growl stops, forcing the panther to look at its master. "Be nice. Dante is my ally- do not approach him like the others."

Ha? Dante blinks, looking back at the panther who turns to look at him with a silent, steely glance.

"...what do you mean, 'like the others'?" But V remains silent as the panther takes a few padding steps closer, perches on the steps where Dante sits. "....so if I take out my hand and try to pet it, Shadow won't bite my hand off?"

"Of course not!" V starts to laugh. "Why on earth would he do that?"

"In the years I've seen those adorable German Shepherds, Huskies, and Doberman, some of them are nice. But most of them would love to bite my hand off." Dante scowls, not wanting to admit he has a soft spot for pets. He gently takes off his left glove off- no need to get this dirtied before he carefully presents it in front of the panther. "I don't know why, maybe it's my arcane that scares them away?"

"I don't think it's that." V hums, eyes still on the mercenary. "Your arcane draws people in when you least expect it."

"Yeah, right, all I bring is disaster and hell after I get to know someone more." Dante quietly grouses, really sure the panther will bite his hand, even as he sniffs it. He is surprised when Shadow lick his hand. And even more so when the panther lets out a purr, brushing its head against said hand. Dante stares at it with confusion-

"He likes you." V sits on the edge of the couch that meets the door. "Shadow is not nice to everyone. You must be very exception."

"That's great, probably because you told him to." Dante chuckles, slowly petting the panther's fur- even for a familiar, it feels extremely real. All too real- and Dante silently wonders if it's possible to materialize a cat out of pure arcane. He can feel the low content purrs from the animal as he continues to gently stroke its dark fur. "Man, just like a loyal cat... Is this the only familiar you have?"

V shakes his head and stands again. "Speaking of- thank you for reminding me I need Griffon to run an errand."

"Griffon?" Wait, that name- isn't that the name of Mundus' flappy underling? "Is it-"

"Another familiar. Though it looks like you've heard of the name before." V glances down to Dante with mild interest. "Did it strike a chord in you?"

"N-No! Just-" What the hell? Is it the same thing that nearly drilled its awful looking beak in me? I hope to God it isn't! Dante tries not to say anything about that job. Nor will he talk about the shittiest dealings he had to handle while he, Lady, and Rock had to deal with fucking Mundus. Okay, he shouldn't be a baby about this. Maybe- maybe this Griffon looks different than the one he's known. "Can you show me what he looks like?"

This makes the other man look at Dante, caught off-guard by this request before he nods. "Sure. ...but will you tell me how this name came to make you like this?"

"Another time." Dante is having no plans to talk about it, not when there's another job waiting for them. "It's something I'm not ready to talk about- given the circumstances."

He hears a sigh of reluctance. "Very well." He hears another snap before V calls out, "Griffon! I need you for an errand."

Dante silently expects for whatever this familar is to silently obey V's command, especially when he comes out looking like a giant blue hawk. He is not like the Griffon he saw who obeyed Mundus at all- even the ivory crown adorning its head looks different-

"Errggh! So now you decide to wake me up after what I thought was a nice nap!?"

Dante blinks, his mouth open in- Wait, familiars don't talk. They never talk! How can this one talk!?

Even more so when he hears footsteps and it's Nero approaching with Kyrie, looking worried. "Hey, Dante, what are- whoa." The two stop when they look up at the flapping bird that now decides to land on V's outstretched arm. "Is that- that's not a normal bird."

"That's because I'm not!" The bird ruffles its feathers in annoyance, glaring at Dante. "Also, who's this? I've never seen them before!"

"You really do not look familiar." Nero frowns, eyes warily staring at the familiar before glancing at the panther who turns to glare at him. "...nor is this one."

V sighs, feeling annoyed, but Dante is brimming with absolute amusement. So is Nero. Kyrie just tilts her head, looking at the hawk. "I didn't know familiars can talk." She murmurs, gently attempting to place her hands at the panther's fur. It growls in low warning, but Dante's huffing laugh makes it look at him, allowing Kyrie to gently grace the fur.

"Be nice, Shadow.” Dante quietly murmurs and for some reason, the panther listens to him before cautiously glancing at Kyrie. Then it purrs when she strokes its fur. “I think he likes you too.”

“He’s like a needy dog, isn’t he?” Said brunette giggles.

“Really? But apparently the chicken talks." Dante's fighting to keep his laugh down. "Holy crap. That's amazing!"

"Yeah, no shit, Shirley! I have a name and it isn't 'Chicken'!" The bird nearly flaps its wings. "And didn't people tell you chickens don't fly!? I can! And I can carry V when he doesn't feel like walking around!"

V groans, hand on face to cover his incoming embarrassment.

"Uh huh. Sure." Nero's gleefully amused, carefully approaching it. But the kid is absolutely delighted to prod at something not so dangerous. "So, Mister Cluck Cluck-"

"Cluck-cluck!? It's Griffon! Geez, you'd think kids like you would have more respect for their elders these days!" Griffon's feather ruffles, earning Nero's stifled laughter and Kyrie's giggles. Dante just chuckles, going back to scratching under Shadow's jaw (and earns a content purr), not minding at all when Kyrie strokes its sides. "Oh come on, how the hell does Shadow get more love than me!?"

"Because you're literally a talking chicken." Dante snickers and even V allows a small, amused chuckle to escape. Wait until Lady and Trish see this.

Griffon, on the other hand, is trying very hard not to curse Dante out. "You too!? And no, don't you dare ask if I taste like chicken! I'm a familiar, you brat!"

"We all know, don't worry, we won't say anything else to bruise whatever pride you have remaining. ...chicken." Nero snickers and Griffon squawks with offense, glaring at him.

"Griffon." V closes his eyes in an attempt to ebb away any nagging thoughts before looking back at his familiar. "They're Nero and the girl is Kyrie. They're also from Red Grave City. The one who I brought over is Dante."

"Oh? Ohhhh, so you're that Dante, huh?" Griffon peers in, sounding suddenly amused and Dante glares back at the hawk. "Didn't think you'd be here until now. Huh, you look... a bit different than people say you look. A bit rough around the edges, old, maybe?"

"What was that?" Dante flatly asks. He’s deliberately ignoring how hard Nero’s laughter gets all of the sudden.

But Griffon ignores him, feeling rather chatty- if not, a bit hellbent for amusing himself. "Advance apologizes to Master Wiseass and his touchy feelings, but man, is it finally good to hear about the one guy V keeps jabbering about! I mean, it’s ‘Dante this’ or ‘Dante that’! It's like he's a fan or something, but God he talks on and on about you! Man, I think he really likes you!” Aaand Dante blinks, feeling his face grow hot- and Griffon cackles in utter glee. Obviously Dante notices how mortified V looks from Griffon's gleeful cackles. “And when I mean by that-"

"Griffon!" V sharply cuts him off, earning Griffon's squawks of indignation. Dante tries not to choke over this while Nero is too busy trying not to die of laughter. Kyrie trembles with laughter."Will you stop!?"

"Sorry! Sorry! But you know," Griffon's not apologetic to his master, it seems. "Might as well let the man himself know how much you really do feel-"

"Griffon. Silence." V sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose before he glances to Dante. There's a faint hint of red dusting his face, cheeks. "I'm terribly sorry about this."

"No no, it's okay!" Dante grins, gently patting V's hand; it has been clutching rather tightly on his cane for a while and he wonders how really embarrassed V must have been. "We all have that one guy, you know? So don't sweat it. I think you're an awesome person too. So I like you too.” As a friend who just listened to me not too long ago. I’m fine with that.

If this reassures V, that did the trick since his anger vanishes away and for a moment, he sees a genuine smile gracing the other's face. The faint blush, on the other hand, doesn’t. "...thank you, Dante."
Dante grins back-

 

"Thank you, brother. Dante, my dear brother... You never changed after all."

 

And he blinks, realizing he's just heard that voice again and then that touch gracing his back, how is it so near-

"-That's interesting. Didn't think there would be any survivors." Then the bird stares at Nero with so much confusion. "Say, V? Why does this kid-"

"Griffon." V's voice has a tinge of a threat. "I need you to go in the city and tell me how bad it's gotten."

"WHAT!?" Griffon squawks in horror. "Me- You're- are you shitting me!?"

"Anyway." Nero glances back to Dante, who is watching the banter between V and Griffon with so much amusement. He glances to the kid now. "How does it feel coming back here?"

When Trish asked, Dante couldn’t say it. Not in front of all of them. Now...

"...I want to know what the hell made the city like this." Dante's lips thin, overlooking the view of the Winnebago in favor for the now ghost-city. He looks away, not wanting to worry the other man. His hand slowly runs through Shadow’s fur, as if he’s deep in his thought. "The sooner we get in, the faster we find answers."

"Mister Dante," Kyrie responds. "I think when we do come in, we can find answers to whatever it is that you're still missing. Maybe as we pass through, you can find things out, including your home... despite it being in ruins."

Dante's eyes narrow at the thought, but at least she's right. Getting some answers are better than none.

“Maybe I can find out what happened to my birth family.” He looks down at the ground, subconsciously finding the dogtags that’s around his neck, under his shirt before gripping at it through the fabric. “I don’t think the answer of ‘I was kidnapped and nearly about to die’ helps- I need more answers than just finding them.”

“You mean...” Nero reluctantly pauses before taking a seat next to him with the little room on the trailer steps. “You want to know what happened to you that day? The day you got kidnapped?”

They do not see V letting Griffon fly off and listening in on this.

Dante nods, hand finally off the panther’s smooth fur as he lets out a deep sigh. “Yeah. And I want to know who tried to kill me- before I got into that accident.” He has a suspicion that it has to do with the car accident and the people he was stuck with. Then he glances over at the two, “Did... no, only Lady know about it, what I am asking-”

“About what?” Nero perks in attention.

“The car accident.” Dante scratches the back of his neck. He feels that shadow man from his dreams watching him again. “The day I met my adoptive father. Do you want me to talk about it?” The dream that kept playing and made Dante relive until Morrison told him and Lady about Red Grave City.

Nero narrows his eyes, silently debating in himself if he wants to hear. Kyrie looks to her beau, waiting for a response-

“I think it depends if you want us to hear.”

And Dante nearly jolts, but he feels V’s hand on his shoulder again. He heaves a sigh of relief, his fingers thanking the other when he brushes his fingers over the cool knuckles. Though that doesn’t stop his arcane from flustering from the contact. “God, V! You’re getting a bit too good at the scaring thing. Even your arcane does it well.”

“Does it?” V chuckles, his lips twitching to an amused smile before they change into concern. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Dante pauses-

There are footsteps approaching them and it's Lady, Credo, and Trish. Lady looks rather triumphant- she gives them a thumbs up. V silently signals Shadow to withdraw, his hand withdrawn from Dante’s shoulder, and obediently, Shadow does disappear.

"It's all good to go!” Lady looks very delighted. Dante slowly suspects there must have been something else involved that must have made Lady happy- like beating up one of the cocky as hell soldiers. (He’s not surprised if that happens.) “Apparently the guys knew Morrison before and they're letting all of us in."

"In this state?" Trish glance back at the city before facing them. "Well, it is your job. You both do understand that it's barricaded for a good reason, right?"

"Monsters and demons and demonic roots, sure. Those we can probably handle." The gunswoman nods in affirmation- and Dante smirks, inclining to agree. "Given our arcane doesn't run out before then- but hey, we've dealt with worse."

"Pray that our arcane do not sap away." Dante quietly grumbles and it earns Nero and Kyrie glancing at him with concern.

"And about the beast waiting for you inside?" V asks and that slightly dampens the mood.

"Well, there's that too." Lady glances over to him with a wary glance. "I'm sure we can take that thing on. Right?"

"Yeah! Sure, defeating a dragon. ...Let's hope that's the case." Dante quietly murmurs, glancing at the barricades before the Winnebago starts up. He is the last to enter in the trailer before shutting the door- this is going to be interesting. Then he sees Griffon flying off towards the city. Frowning, he glances to V.

"Say, wouldn't the officials know about-"

"Griffon knows ways to go into the city without detection." V glances back at him, eyes still on the city. "He'll be fine."

I hope he doesn't deal with magic leaching monsters on the way. Dante dryly thinks, making himself comfortable on the side chairs as he watches them pass the tanks and soldiers who look back at them.Time to head in and deal with what's coming.


The drive to the city was equally as chaotic as everyone expected (Nico's driving and the rubble that litters the streets are absolutely not helping). Speaking of Nico's driving-

"Damn it, you crazy lady!" Nero grits his teeth, glaring at Nico as they ran through yet another rubble. How the fuck did Credo survive teaching her this!? Speaking of Credo, he sees him silently reading through something Lady has sent him. Yeah, the guy's a literal steel wall when it came to her driving. Nero has to find out how and can he adapt it to his advantage. "Watch where you're going!"

"Where are we headed now that we're nearing the city?" Kyrie calmly asks and Nero can't help but think she and Credo share the same gene for not being dizzy or nauseous over this insane driving.

"We're trying to get to the safest part of the city, right?" Of course she has no semblance or courtesy; Nico's a proud gunsmith and she has no qualms about getting to her destination- fast. "I mean, I know one safe area that's a bit farther away from Albus Tower, but it'll take time!"

"Time, my ass, you just want to show off because Dante's here!" Nero seethes. Kyrie giggles because it was the truth. Even Credo stifles a laugh and it makes him a bit better to know he's not the only one who thought that.

Nico's response was also laughter and if it wasn't for Credo silently glaring at Nero to stop getting all riled up, he would have been delighted to have fried the trailer's engine and short-circuited it. ...no, wait, then this means the car will have to get repairs and the damage is coming out of his own pocket, so never mind that idea.

But it makes him return back to the thought he's noticed earlier.

Dante's expression when Lady brings up their semblance was bothering him. He should probably tell Dante everything he knows about his biological family; the one he should have been with. But circumstances say otherwise- and it really looks like Dante has indeed lost all memories of when he was a kid. His aunt Trish's face says it all and it makes him worry.

You really have no clue, did you? He knows it wasn't Dante's fault for all of this happening. In fact, Nero has a slow suspicion that he doesn't even know the reasons why he was kidnapped or was about to die. He would suspect Dante would blame his own family for the situation he was placed in, but the answers shouldn't come now. Trish is too hesitant to mention it- and now that Nero realizes in what place Dante is in at this very moment, so is he. And if his Grandfather and Grandmother were actually here, they would be... trying their best to protect their son.

But then again, Nero had thought Dante will forever try to get to the truth. Being left in the dark will not satisfy his inquiries- and he had to survive on his own for a few decades. And when Nero first met him, he genuinely was lost as to why in the world Dante looks exactly like his own father.

...speaking of...

"I'm worried." Nero quietly murmurs, sitting next to Kyrie and she looks at him with surprise. "I don't know if we'll be able to find anyone else here. I know Father, Grandfather, and Grandmother are somewhere, but it's been a while since the incident happened... Do you think they're still alive?"

He silently thanked the deities for once, Dante and his company are somewhere else in the trailer- not far, but not within hearing distance. And he looks down to see Kyrie's hand gently embrace his- and he intertwines his fingers with her own. He closes his eyes, knowing his arcane is ebbing with worry, stress, and concern; not just for all of them, but for his family. He tightens her hands ever so gently.

"I'm sure they're still fighting these horrible things." Kyrie quietly murmurs, her emerald eyes looking into his blue ones. "Don't worry; I can still sense your grandparents. They're still alive and well." This makes Nero relax a bit, but he notices how worried Kyrie looks. "Your father, though..."

"Yeah? What's up, Kyrie?"

She glances over to the newest stranger and Nero's eyes follow- before he notices she's looking at V. That weirdo? Nero's eyes narrow a bit, realizing he's reading a book on... wait, that book looks very familiar. In fact, something about him is familiar, but he's not sure what it is.

What does he have to do with my father?

"I don't mean to notice," Kyrie murmurs and Nero gets the idea that she's trying to keep her voice low for some reason, "...but that man, V. The one who hired Mister Dante- Have you seen him before?"

"No." He frowns. "Why?"

Kyrie bites her bottom lip as if she's worried about something. "It's just... he looks familiar."

Nero does a double-take before he glances back at her. "You too, huh? Even if it's the first time we've met him." And threatened me to leave back at Fortuna City. His mind dryly supplements. What the hell was that about?

"So it isn't just me? Then that's the problem." Kyrie's voice lowers to a whisper. "Why does he feel familiar to the both of us?"

Nero falls silent, allowing her to continue.

"Do you remember that Shadow panther we saw earlier?" Ah, the black panther that might kill him should he approach that creature? "And that hawk we saw?"

"Yeah. Griffon, right?" Nero slowly nods- and he can see Credo carefully flipping the page of his book, but his eyes shift to glance at them. And Nero knows he's listening in on the two of them; a part of him believes he also harbors suspicions about V that he would not like to say out loud. But Kyrie vocalizes it for a good majority of the time, so there was no need for Credo to repeat himself. Nico too- though she doesn't say a peep. Whatever they talk about stays with them and that, Nero admits, is something he respects.

"...I felt a very familiar set of arcane from him."

Nero frowns. V has an arcane familiar to them? There's no doubt she's right. I did feel a dark arcane from V- when he pointed his useless as hell cane at me. And again when that panther and that hawk came out... But it did feel like Father's- wait, Father's arcane? He perks up a bit. His- no way. That can't be-

"Don't mind me asking," Credo glances over to them, quietly shutting his book. "But didn't you mention at some point your father has a complex arcane? Something like two elements working together as one- they work together, to only oppose the other who possess the opposite?"

"Yeah." And Nero should have known if he sensed any members of his family are near. He definitely knew Dante's arcane with his healing, warming fire- that was how he came into Rock Goldstein's home earlier. "I think he got whatever ran in my Grandfather's blood. ...what's the arcane V has that makes it feel familiar?"

"I think it's-"

They suddenly lurch, nearly catching themselves as Nico instantly slams on her brakes. "What the- NICO!?" Nero glares at her, but she is caught off-guard by something. And right when Credo’s thoughts come in too! "I swear to God, you are literally the craziest driver I have ever known-"

"Hey! Don't blame it on my driving!" She lamely indicates to the view, "But do you mind? I can't drive anywhere without having these things around!"

"Those things being-" And Nero groans loud, hanging his head and hitting against his car seat after seeing why Nico stopped. He sees it. Credo stares and just flatly stares at Nero. Kyrie, on the other hand, thins her lips in concern while Nico lets out a frustrated huff, seriously about to chuck her wrench at someone. "-oh no why are these shitty monsters back...?"

"What happened?" Trish approaches them- and Nero knows the adults (yeah, it's separated by age group at the moment, so what?) are now approaching and they see the series of ugly looking monsters- the flying magic leeches- make their appearances along with those roots. "...they came this far!?"

"And we barely got in the outer parts of the city-" Nico was about to continue when they hear the door kick open.

"Dante!" Trish cries out in surprise, causing mostly everyone to do a double-take. Nero is baffled at seeing- no, he feels how blazed Dante is. Like years ago- "What are you-"

"So we just need a pathway to get through?" Dante's voice floats outside and Nero sees Lady take out her pistols and follows him. "That I can happily provide. I was about to get bored sitting back there! Hey, Lady! Do you have-"

And Nero was forced to a literal double-take when he sees the black-haired gunswoman take out a larger firearm- a bazooka!? Yeah, that looks very familiar. Is that-

"I'll handle Kalina Ann, you have Ebony and Ivory." Lady cocks her large weapon as the two step out of the trailer. It's more of these creatures and they keep approaching them- and Nero glances over to Credo, who fiercely nods as the two dash from their seats, grabbing their respective weapons they managed to hide in the trailer.

And he feels it- the same immeasurable energy he's felt blaze through both mercenaries once before they took down The Order of the Sword. Nero fights to keep his smile down, but he can't. Just like before.

Lady continues to tell Dante, "Unlike you, I do remember who borrowed my weapons and has either broken them or didn't pay me back for them-"

"Shut up, shut up, I get it!" Dante groans, outstretching his hand. "But I'm not taking the ladies out for a spin-" A series of flames blaze through the mercenary's hand, forming into a broadsword. It materializes with a flash of light, allowing Dante to catch it with such ease and skill. Then he twirls it, flecks of fire vanishing before clutching the sword with his other hand, keeping his hold steady. “Rebellion’s been itching to fight since last night, so might as well let him have it, huh?”

And Nero is still in awe years later, silently wanting to be near that light once more. He sees his tattoos glow before he lets out a small, silent smirk, thankful for one other thing. Even if it was a flash of light, he knows its familiar pulse- his grandmother has it too. It's not just my grandparents or Father I can sense as family...

"Make a pun about Rebellion and I will happily shoot your face off." Lady snidely smirks before the monsters snarl, lunging for them. And she shoots back at them with her pistols, making little to no effort in reloading her ammo and arcane. "Just like that stupid poppy playlist you have on your phone!"

"But you enjoy hearing them!"

“Yeah, only the rock music playlist!”

“Aw, you’re calling my music tastes tacky? That’s mean of you.” Dante pretends to pout, but his grin reappears when he slashes the demons with one fell swoop- fire scorching the magic seeping demons. Then he glances back at her, cocking his head at the monsters that screech for more reinforcements. "Come on, Lady, let's have a little fun." His smirk grows ever sharper, devious and delighted. "Shall we dance?"

"Oh hell yes we are." Lady cackles as she opens fire, her fire arcane fusing with her bullets before riddling the monsters to ashes.

And Nero silently gulps, hearing a click of heels joining him and Credo before seeing Trish join them.

"...I'm impressed." Credo quietly murmurs. "They didn't change, years later.”

"And scared." Trish quietly murmurs and Nero realizes his lightening arcane is tittering with nervous energy. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah! Yeah." Nero shakily nods. "I'm okay."

Trish too has her two pistols out, but her eyes are more trained on Dante. Then she looks over to Nero's glowing arm before facing Nero. Something akin to concern flashes in her. "...do you want me to tell Dante that he's your uncle? And that you’ve been searching for him too?"

Nero pauses. And then he closes his eyes.

It feels the same- the same emotions he's felt years ago when he first discovered it. Nero snuck around in his grandfather’s study one night and then he finds a family album that has not been disturbed- and he takes it back to his room. And then he sees a somewhat familiar face that isn’t from his grandparents or his father- it was Dante’s. He can tell it was him from those blue eyes- and the reasons why he wanted to be so near to the stranger who saved his life years ago return, but with a very heavy, slow growing realization of why didn't he say something sooner.

Yet he felt bad, silently keeping it all in from his grandparents and his father. It was months after he found out that he finally spilled it all- to Kyrie. Then to Credo. Then to Nico. And then Trish. Only they knew of Nico’s shocking discovery and they didn't say anything about it to his Father- for a really good reason. A similar idea ran though and he doesn’t tell his grandparents anything either.

I really don't think my father needs to know, not after he's decided to isolate himself. He needs to battle his own demons and gets better before I plan to tell him... And he'll apologize to his Father and grandparents when he gets the chance, but he suspects it isn't going to be easy. Not after this mess is cleaned, repaired, and rebuilt.
Nero still didn't say anything, even through the years he grew up, graduated. He knows both Credo and Trish are worried about this. Kyrie is sharp enough to get what Nero is trying to get at- Credo already knew, yet promised to fall silent. Nico has kept mum, not even mentioning a peep to her uncle about it. And Trish has her motivations to keep silent- she’s the second mother Nero has and protecting him is important.

"Not yet." Nero shakes his head, slowly fueling his arcane. "Not until we get close to Albus Tower. Then I'll tell him... but in my terms." He knows. His arm has been subtly glowing with the familiar warmth he should have grown up with when Dante was around. And he really wants Dante to know how horrible he felt years ago- he was only trying to protect him from more hurt and grief. Then they can fulfill that promise Dante made to his birth mother and find where the ever loving hell his father disappeared to so Dante can help him recover.

And now Nero wants to do the same- but with silent prayers that his family are alive. Please be safe, please be alive, everyone-

"Hey, brat!" And his eye twitches, hearing that dreaded nickname Dante gave him. He refuses to admit it makes him delighted to know at least his uncle thinks of him as someone worthy to challenge him. "I can feel you wanting to join- come on in! While the monsters are at it!" Then he turns around and cocks his head, noticing the other two with him. "You too- both of you! Lady and I don't mind!"

At least he’s found one that they have lost for a long time. It’s just a matter of time before they rescue the city and their family.

"Aw, you sure?" And Trish's concern whiplashes back to her faux vixen-like smirk. "It looks like you and Miss Lady have things covered-"

"I swear, Trish, if you don't get your ass and help us with the arcane you claim to have-" Lady seethes. "I will place you as one of the top tiered people on my shit list!"

Nero gapes his mouth, but Credo silently groans. "Miss Trish. What did you do..."

"Feisty and a delight. No wonder my cousin enjoys having her around." Trish laughs, taking out her own pistols. "I think I'm going to have so much fun with Lady. Especially if she keeps at it like this-"

"Please no. Not now! For the love of whatever deity exists, please do not make me scarred for life again." Nero groans, recalling the one time he walked in on his grandparents- his fucking grandparents (in no thanks to the arcane and their slow aging)- about to get it on and Nero screamed for his dear life. If he understands his aunt's wily ways and has heard the stories- yeah, no. (Arcane magic can't even scrub his mind off those images.)

"Oh kid." Trish chuckles, gesturing for him to come. "Just burn your nervousness off for now, will you? Your lightening might make our only ride explode if you're not careful."

"She's right." Credo chuckles, a thin smile on his lips as he prepares his sword. "Let's show Dante how much we've changed- shall we?"

"Yeah. Yeah, let's do that." And kick his ass later- before telling his uncle everything that went wrong in this city? That sounds like a good plan to him.

He feels his own sword rumble, his own arcane surging it, bringing it to life. Then he and Credo dash towards the others who still battling the monsters just to clear the path. "All right, Red Queen. Let's rock!"


He hears the snarls of rancor before they were cut off with blazes of the blazing fire. And then he hears the loud cheers from Dante. V softly smiles, for once, opting to stay in since Dante and Lady have both silently offered to clear the path to the Albus Tower. Kyrie and Nico are both in the car, doing something that does not have to deal with fighting, but wanting to help the group on their own. V decides to stay back and let them deal with the monsters. 

Though I doubt we will get to the tower by tonight. He silently treks a path in mind that will be the fastest. But that’s fine. That is enough time to know them all better, especially Dante.

Then he feels the sharp, crackling arcane Nero possess and V closes his eyes, feeling a headache reeling in. He draws any reserved arcane to ease it- and it feels familiar for him. It allows him to restrain all annoyances and reservations. That boy, he claims to know Dante better. But what does he know? He doesn't know Dante like I do.

He tried so hard not to kill the boy with his shadow arcane earlier. But his beloved Kyrie is there and he stops, knowing once upon a time, he’s lost someone so close to him. He refuses to let anyone suffer like this again. From the looks of it, Nero does not trust him. And that is fine; V would rather like it to be like this. Nobody should know who he really is.

It should- despite not being close to him before all of this. Nero senses something is up. What could I do to distract him from noticing my true motives? From him and his allies knowing why I’m here in this form?

V's eyes narrow, closing his eyes before he senses it-

-the cold, ice chill that his other half resides in. It's far. Yet he feels it. They are in Red Grave, after all. Albus Tower is miles away, yet to him, it is near. It slumbers, waiting within its icy fortress, keeping its slumbering inhabitants still in tact, encased in ice for their safety. Griffon is going to take another minute or so, returning with some news about the survivors and the monsters they might encounter (but V will not say a thing about the people who were thought to be dead shrouded in ice, sleeping).

The monsters are sensing their presence, and they will be drawing their attacks towards them. Survival will be thin, but V will not let this happen.

Dante... it seems you are close to these people. If they are to die, you will not be yourself and I do not want you to disappear again. To turn away from- He tightens his jaws. He's heard what Dante had to deal with in that job in Fortuna City when he pretended to be asleep. And he could have told Dante everything is fine, he is here now, he'll drop this form before fusing with the other he casted away to this city. I refuse to let you go again, not again, not after-

He takes in a deep breath, realizing for a moment his form is about to falter. He closes his eyes, silently taking in a deep breath to calm himself, and feels his form being stabilize once more.

His emotions are now like a storm: incoming, slow all because of the one mercenary he’s been seeking out this entire time. The carefully built walls he’s built slowly chips away and he knows if he isn’t careful, his other arcane will unravel and everything that he has built up will be for naught, and this form will wear away and reveal parts of his real form. Dante. Do you have any idea- He grips his cane. Any idea, what you do to me? Years later and I finally found you, with my answers to all of the many questions I have- do you have any clue how much I’ve ached for you?

The dreams should tell Dante enough. And if they can get the chance to rest-

He can feel the beast quietly wake, rumbling silently.

...no. Do not think about it. The draconic blue eyes flash open, a low growl responding and he faintly frowns, eyes still closed. He knows why the beast growls. No! Not yet. Not... yet.

There is an affronted snarl, but he knows it will remain restrained until the time is right. He can only control this side as long as he could before it falls out of control, and then-

-then what?

No, by then, we should arrive. And then I can... And he opens his eyes, his dark ones swirl into orbs of blue. These he’s managed to lose control of- ah well, it will be better than no sight.

"...I hope you know our arrangement, Dante." He quietly murmurs. He knows it too well. The man said he will be his bodyguard. Yet he knows what will really happen- but let time take its toll-

...and these monsters threaten to overtake everything I have sheltered. I need to act quick. You did promise to protect me, didn’t you, my dear brother?

Chapter Text

 

"'My request,"' The Son barely keeps his voice steady, 'Is for you to help me destroy a curse.'

"The Man in Red frowns, 'There is no such thing as a single curse- what sort of request is this?'

"'One that has to do with my father.' The Son continues, not giving up. 'He is a cold-hearted man, wanting power for a reason he doesn't say to others. But he has transformed into something demonic- and has slain those who have attempted to kill him. In return, I was the only survivor, this woman next to me has lost her magic. The Maiden told me you are the only one who can help defeat this curse, so I have come far to find you. Please, I can give you this valuable item in return for returning my home and father to normal.'

"The Man in Red glances over at his silent companion, who nods in agreement. before he nods, gently taking the necklace from the boy's hands.

"'Very well. I can help you.' The Man in Red nods, gesturing to the other woman next to him. 'She can help me defeat this curse your home is suffering with. Let us go; you can tell me what happened along the way.'

"And so the Man in Red and his companion join The Son, The Woman, and The Maiden back to the kingdom.

"Yet, as they begin their trek, they fail to notice someone else watching over the party, its eyes on the Son and The Man in Red."

 


 

Kyrie smiles when she hears the very familiar rev of Nero's Red Queen.

"If they make a mess at my car, the kid'll be paying for every bit of damage." Nico grimaces, but she looks to Kyrie, who is looking over Argus' notes. "Sorry for havin' to help me organize this bullshit while we wait. Looks like there's a storm out there, and it ain't a pretty one."

"It's okay!" Kyrie shakes her head. "Anything to do while the others take care of those demons- I can't fight, remember?"

"Yet you can heal."

She nearly gasps before heaving a quiet sigh of relief. V chuckles, leaning over to the two ladies with an apologetic glance. "Sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you, Miss Kyrie. Miss Nico." The mechanic nods back at him.

"It's fine! Really, Mister V." The brunette smiles, returning to the notes. She looks up to see the monsters summon another wave. "In all of the years I have read about these demons and monsters that plague this world, I have never seen these some like these."

"Eh, my shitty Daddy has heard of 'em." Nico chirps in relief, holding a document before handing to Kyrie. "But you know why? They might've wanted to use them for 'world domination' and all of that. The magic sucking isn't a new thing; it's just not a thing for them to use until- well, now."

Kyrie reads over the notes that were well-written- describing their looks, features, how they are recreated and how much arcane they can absord before they mutate. V reads them with her, but he asks, "Miss Nicoletta, perchance, do you mind if I ask you about something?"

"Nah, go ahead! Also, call me Nico, that other name sounds too frilly." Nico shrugs, placing the stacks of paper back in the notebook. "What's up?"

"Have you met Dante before?"

Kyrie glances over, surprised to hear this. Nico too, but then she hums, "Once. You might have heard us talk about it few times, but the four of us were kidnapped by a buncha cuckoo nutjobs. Then Dante and Lady came bustin' in, saved us before we were all used as sacrifices for the cult of... of- damn, what's the name of that crazy cult?"

"The Order of the Sword." Kyrie responds. "I remember it still. Not only we were trying to escape, but we thought we were going to be killed. It was my first time meeting Mister Dante and Miss Lady. They were so kind and helped up- that is if not counting how Mister Dante was back then."

"Ah yeah... that." Nico frowns, recalling that it was something Nero had been adamantly curious about. "I think Uncle Rock told me Dante really kicked himself over it- said it was not his favorite job to look back on. Something about regretting not saving Nero's mom's life when he wanted to. It's why the brat's a bit worked up, but I can't blame him. Nor can I blame Dante- he really did want to bring that lady to the nearest hospital. She did make him promise somethin' but I don't know what she asked him."

V frowns a bit, gripping his cane.

"But you know," Kyrie hums, recalling how Nero was when they left the trailer for their break earlier, "He did tell me Dante said for Nero to find him when he grew older. I didn't think much of that until now."

"Ah? Why's that?" The other woman perks. "Is that brat still peeved at Dante?"

"He was, but not anymore. I believed the two of them managed to settle that part." Kyrie muses- relieved her boyfriend won't make any more enemies. "There is his own matter of showing off in front of him. You know, it might not seem like it, but he wants to impress him."

"Like- Okay, okay, I gotcha." Nico cackles, seeing Nero swing his sword into action before his lightening arcane fries the enemies. "That I can't blame him for! I mean, they are... Eh, you get the point-"

"They are what?" V curiously asks, earning the ladies' attention again. "Forgive me for intruding- but just to sate my own curiosity, finish your thought. I will not tell the boy you mentioned this to me."

Kyrie looks at him worried, her eyes nervously looking at him. "...well, perhaps." She twiddles her hands out of fear-

-fear?

"And I will not do anything to cross him, nor will I make an effort to." V continues and Nico frowns a bit, not sure either where to do about this. He thinly chuckles, "I don't bite."

Kyrie pauses for a second- before she makes her decision. Something about him tells Kyrie to not tell him, but a part of her wants to trust him.

So trust him she does.

"...if you don't tell Nero or my brother of my thoughts." Kyrie sighs, trying to form her words well. How can she say it without her other bothering thoughts about this stranger? "...well, there is a resemblance between him and Mister Dante. It wasn't obvious when we were young, but when I look at them now, they... well, they're related."

"Related?" V nonchalantly asks.

"Yeah, but the kid's too scared to say a thing- kid found out on his own. I know why he doesn’t wanna tell the Mister and Miss- he’s scared they might bawl their eyes out." Nico huffs, crossing her arms. “He's more scared of tellin' his socially stunted Father about this- sayin’ how his Father might go ballistic or insane! I dunno, but I can't blame him for keeping that to himself! Think about it: you get saved by someone who you look up as a hero, and then turns out you're actually related to him. Shove him with very obvious issues that his family doesn’t want him to get involved in and well, ya got trouble.”

V narrows his eyes, silently taking this in.

“And on top of that, he felt bad for not saving his mom, but I think she knew she was... okay!” And Nico huffs, shaking her head. “Sorry! Moving on. It's heavy, but sorta inspiring?"

"If not for one problem." Kyrie murmurs, worry etched in her eyes. "...Nero's only told me this because he was scared I would leave.”

“But ya never did.” Nico points out, glancing at her. “Nero didn’t leave you either- says he loves and cares a lot about you.” She blinks, seeing Kyrie’s face tint a bit pink- and Nico chuckles. “Sorry, but it’s obvious you two are so much in love with each other from the moment you both met!”

Kyrie flusters a bit- before she sighs, a small, fond smile appearing with her blushes. “It’s... well, you’re right. But I never left his side after that incident- and many others. Neither did Credo. We both refuse to."

“Dedicated to each other, huh?” Nico leans back in her seat, stacking the papers. “Band among brothers... I guess given what happened to us, no wonder he’s scared of you leaving him and vice versa.” It was a feeling Kyrie knows a bit too well- those nights made her frightened her friends and family will leave her. Yet they stayed. Nero hugged her on the nights of her nightmares, telling her that he's there and she's alive.
She tightens her fist. Nero had told her it was fine if people knew about it now- it was supposed to be kept secret years ago, but when Nero found out, it was slowly out in the open. "...but I know his family suffered from another loss- three decades ago."

V falls silent.

Nico straightens up. "Wait. I think- isn't it that incident about one of their sons being kidnapped?" This gains Kyrie's and V's attention, but the mechanic rambles, "Look, I only knew about it because Credo had me help look for articles about the incident. And you were right- it was literally kept out of the press! But I didn't think-"

"It was kept out of the presses?" V asks, confused.

"Yeah! Like you'd think anyone related to Sparda would appear on the news or somethin'." Nico continues, looking lost. "Or someone like Eva. Either one- they could have just sent out a missing person info about their lost son."

"Why was it kept out?"

Nico shrugs. "I dunno. I asked Credo, but he doesn't know either. Asking the brat's outta of the question. And definently not to his dad or his grandparents! I think that was the last thing we wanted to do- pry open any more grief. I think that’s why Nero refused to ask about it- he really didn’t want to hurt anyone else."

V's lips thin, eyes narrow as he turns to look at the floor.

She then looks back to see the others move forward, monsters slowly disintegrating out of the way with bouts of fire, light, lightening- "Say Kyrie? What does that have to do with Dante, out of all people?"

"I... I'm not sure, but a part of me knows Dante is that missing child." Kyrie muses. She doesn't notice V shifting closer, eyes now glancing at her. "This morning, Trish said he was kidnapped, was supposed to die, but he survived. His memories are missing, but Trish knows him. So it would make sense for me to think- am I making any sense?"

"Well, yeah." Nico leans back, surprised. "But the thing is, Dante has no clue. Do you think he'll react well? He did live a life outside here for decades. Even made himself known as a merc." The mechanic frowns. "Wonder why it took this long for Nero to discover all of this?"

“I- hm.” Kyrie frowns. "...that is odd. Do you think the lack of information was intentional?"

Nico lets out a huff. "If that's the case, then well. ...guess who's gonna be pissed. It ain't yer boyfriend. Nor is it gonna be his grandparents- they might be more relieved to know their missing son's alive. Trish's already done that."

They both know. Nero has mentioned it before. (Yet V grows silent, taking this information in as he listens.)

"I know." The brunette gently bites her bottom lip in concern. "...if he found out, on top of what's happening here..."

"Yeah. Where is Nero's dad?" Nico blinks. "I just realized- shouldn't he have noticed right about now what's just happened in Red Grave City?"

Kyrie stills. "I... don't know. I'm not- I wonder if the others are okay?"

Nico opens her mouth-

-to only hear something hit against the front of the trailer and Nico groans. "What the- Ah hell, seriously!? Is it the brat or your stupid brother!? I'm gonna kick their sorry asses if they so smeared this baby!"

V lets out a small laugh. “You seem to be familiar with this trailer.”

“Well, that depends on how bad the damages are.” Nico huffs, standing up. “Besides, sounds like there’s less screamin’ and more shouting- oh yeah! I want to know which sorry asshole slammed one of those mooks to the Winnebago!”

Kyrie giggles, hearing the familiar voices return. It’s either Credo or Nero- they are both going to get the tail end of Nico’s ire anyway. "Then let's find out... shall we?"


"I just realized," Lady quips. "Those monsters are just like the ones back at that island. The arcane sucking is starting to get on my nerves though."

Credo looks to see Lady's wounds knit together before Trish finishes her healing. The gunswoman, on the other hand, looks back at the piles of corpses that lay and slowly disintegrate. Dante looks the same, only his wounds healed and he looks up to her with a rather exhausted look. Nero, on the other hand, glances over at them before turning back to the pile of dead monsters.

"It still feels like shit when we finish every battle." Dante grumbles. "I mean, we had to pry some of them out of Nero- and we're not even near the tower!"

"I know, I know."

"Forgive me for asking," Credo carefully asks, "What do you mean by that? Have you fought these things before?"

"Yeah... and no. Well, it's part of our jobs, and these monsters don't exactly sap our energy as much as before." Lady glances back at them before gesturing to the beaten horde. "Hey, Dante. Doesn't it remind you a bit of that demon horde we had to beat up before entering into some idiot island years back?"

Dante blinks before he chuckles, "Yeah... Mallet, right? Where this one idiot resided, thinking he can take all the arcane and sucking the world dry. He send in... god, it was such a stupid name."

"What, were they called something like 'Seven Deadly Sins'?" Nero cracks a grin. "Or something like it could have come from an anime of sorts?"

Credo groans. Leave to his friend to make such a wise cracking remark. Of course he'll take after Dante's snarky personality. But the awkward chuckle from both mercenaries leaves the two boys staring at them.
It's Nero who tries to backtrack this- but without bursting into laughter. "...Wait."

"You were right, so don't expect anything original." Lady's hand covers her face, shaking her head. "It's so stupid!"

"It's an extremely shitty name." Dante groans, bowing his head. "And they just thought with their grubby little heads, 'Let's go and do even more property damage while we're just fucking about! And what's that message we're supposed to- ooooh, shiny thing!!' Can you think of anything worse than those nasty little goblins who have the tendencies of a cat?"

Credo holds back his laughter at the Gollum-like impersonation Dante tacked on the image of goblin-like demons attacking him and Lady. As horrible as it was, the thought makes him amused. Nero, on the other hand, has little to no way of holding back any manner of respect as he bursts laughing. Trish chuckles and then Credo gives in, trembling with laughter. Dante and Lady glance at each other before they share a rather relieved smile.

"It's nice to know we can find humor at a time like this." Trish laughs, her arcane ceasing when Lady’s wounds are healed.

Dante shrugs, a smile slitting his face. “Hey, you gotta laugh in the worst of times.”

“I don’t know if it applies when you meet face to face with a more powerful boss.” Trish huffs in relief, turning to notice Nico and Kyrie approach them. "Hey! Anything happen?"

"Yeah." Nico rolls her eyes, pointing her wrench at Nero. “You-”

“It was Credo!” Nero instantly balks and Credo flatly glares at him. Though he stares at Nico with a glare of his own. “I still have a bitching to do about your driving-”

"You're selling me out!?" Credo is offended- Seriously, Nero!?

“Oh shut it, brat!”

"While we let the children argue,” V deadpans, approaching the others. Then he glances to the slowly emptying street. "Considering how much all of you have done just to clear a path..."

“It’s a lot of monsters, V.” Dante muses, eyes on him. “Why didn’t you step in?”

V thinly smirks, not responding to this.

"Odd, I thought you can fight- shadow magic, right?" Lady glances at the black-clad man. "Unless you're conserving your energy for something else?"

V nods. "You can say so. I’m waiting for the opportune moment to utilize- the shadow arcane takes a while to recover. Especially since not too long ago, I have used it to summon my familiars.”

"Ah!" Dante snaps his fingers. "Griffon, right?" V nods. "Right, looks like we have a second to regain our strength." The mercenary stands before seeing Nero approach him. Credo and Kyrie are behind him, the brunette man handing Nico his sword for her to inspect while she rants to him about repairs. There are some ichor from the monsters they fought, but she's wiping his sword nice and well. "So, kid. You okay? How was that-"

"I never thought I can get any fighting in, but I'm pumped!" Nero smirks, beating his own chest. He lands Red Queen down and Dante silently laughs at how semi-bulky it looks. "Maybe you can show me a few moves or two, old man."

"I would, but do you really have to call me 'old man'?" Dante echoes, sounding a bit offended. "Kid, I'm... no, wait, I'm much older than you by like what? More than twenty years?"

"I'm eighteen. Do the math." Nero cackles and Dante glares at him. "Unless mental math isn't a forte of yours?"

"Shut up." Though he too quips a smile when he hears the others laugh. V, despite his slight annoyed disposition, quirks a smile and Dante silently sighs in relief. "At my day and age, I'm not sure what use math has for someone like me."

Nero scoffs.

"HEY, HEY, THERE YOU GUYS ARE!"

Credo literally looks up as the new intrusion came from the sky- and he notices a large blue hawk diving their way past them before cackling at them. "What the-"

"Oh my God, it's a bawkin' chicken." Nico groans, noticing that the hawk gleefully lands and perches on the top of the Winnebago. "Okay, before that stupid little bird decides to poop on my car-"

"Chicken?" Credo is so confused, and so are Trish and Lady. "I thought it was-"

"A hawk, a... friend of mine. And he must have come back with news." V notices Dante grimacing. Then he glances at Lady and Trish. "You two look confused."

"Well... no, never mind." Lady frowns before quietly murmuring, "Why does the name sound familiar...?"
Dante shrugs, but it makes him wonder too. "Come on. Let's pick at him and see if we can find the fast route to the... the- what's the name of that place-"

"Albus Tower." Trish tilts her head in confusion, looking at the direction Griffon flew by. "Did you just say that Griffon is your a friend, V?"

V nods, narrowing his eyes. "He is more of a familiar- but he is the only one who can talk to other beings. Is there a reason why you're asking?"

"No! I'm just... baffled." This seemed to satisfy V, but Credo can hear Trish murmuring, "That's... impossible. But how?"

"How what?" Credo quietly asks and Trish's eyes narrow, noticing to her relief it's Credo who asks. He has stepped back to talk to her, as low as they can. The others decide to kee conversing, leaving the two be. "Miss Trish, is something bothering you?"

"Familiars do not talk. Unless its creator or owner states otherwise with a contract or as a condition- and I know we do not have contracts with any monsters or demons..." Trish murmurs. "They have a sentient mind of their own, making them impossible to control. And I know of one thing." Her eyes glance to Credo. "I know only one person who can do this such thing. I thought it only for..."

Credo is lost. "...I hate to ask, but who?"

Trish doesn't say anything, her eyes pinned on V. "Credo. I know there are other things in your mind, but I need a favor. Do you mind digging something up for me?"

The brunette man smirks, narrowing his eyes. Information digging is in Credo's forte- as he learned it from his parents prior to their death. While Kyrie learned the arts of healing and amplification, Credo utilizes his own light arcane to modern technology and fighting. "I was hoping when you'd ask. Who do you want me to find out on?"

If it was Lady, he would not be surprised. But if it's who he thinks she wants him to look up-

"V." Trish quietly murmurs. Of course, it's the mysterious ones. "Find out everything you can. Something about him bothers me... it's as if he knows things we don't."

"I'll be cautious." Credo nods before hearing Kyrie call for him. "I won't tell the others either."

"All right." Trish glances over to Dante, who is talking to V. "I know Dante trusts this man, Lady can barely talk to him, but I can't. It could be his arcane, or his personality, or... something. But there is something about him that I literally can not pin down, but he feels familiar."

Then Kyrie isn't the only one who has reservations. Said man glances over to see Kyrie healing Nero while hearing Nico ask (demand) questions about the thing that Credo slammed to the car by accident. Should I tell her about this?

"Do you want me to let you know later?" Credo quietly asks.

Trish nods before tapping her cellphone that is strapped to her belt. "Make sure to find it before we reach Albus Tower."

"I'll try." Maybe before, given that nobody finds out what he's up to. "But if you're not around and I find out, may I have your permission to tell someone else?"

Trish pauses. Then she sighs, hands on her hips. "At least pass the information to someone else you and I trust. I do not want V finding out we're snooping and trying to do research on him."

"Understood."

"Hey!" The two glance up to see Dante gesture to them. The others are beginning to trail their way back to the trailer, Nero and Kyrie just joining up to them while Nico jogs up to the side of the Winnebago. "We're about to head out- Griffon's gonna talk to us in the car!"

"Got it!" Trish calls back before glancing to Credo. "Remember-"

"I think I know who to tell." Credo quietly responds before Trish starts to head off. Then he sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose before feeling an elbow nudge him. Instead of letting go, Credo just grumbles, "Nero."

"You okay?" His friend asks, sounding worried. "You look stressed."

"Credo?" And he glances to see Kyrie look at him. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah! I'm fine. I'm just thinking."

Though he's pretty certain it won't be long before one of them finds out what Trish asked for him to do.

Ah, it's not like things will be just as horrible on the way there, would it?


"Watch your turns-!"

Nico makes a rather sharp turn that nearly makes them jolt. Dante tries not to laugh at Nero sputtering out incoherent curses. But it wasn’t him who is screaming at the driver.

"For the love of-" And another rapid, sharp turn and Dante silently swears Credo is trying not to scream in anger.

“Sorry, you were sayin’ Credo??”

And he feels the spike of anger coursing through Credo’s light arcane. Normally, he would be scared of that but surviving Nico’s driving is on the top of everyone’s list. In fact, that’s... including the normally stoic V. On wow. So he is scared of something, after all.

"Nicoletta Goldstein.” Credo’s anger grows with his seething irritation. “I swear, I did not teach you to drive this recklessly!"

The first response any other arcane user would be to run. Instead, Nico busts out laughing. "Well, duh, don't you think I know that!? We're sorta busy over, trying to get them close to the Tower!" Said mechanic cackles, glancing at them in the other back set. "Ya'll okay back there!?"

Of course, the one absolute blessing Nico has is being very immune to how sensitive their arcanes are. It also explains how hilarious brisk and giddy she is when she brushed off Credo’s anger. Said guy, by the way, is about to pop a vessel from his response.

"Well, that’s great. But we’re trying to make sure select people doesn't get motion sick!" Lady calls out, trying not to laugh as Dante glares at her. Then they hear squawking and they notice it's Griffon. "What are you panicking about?"

"The fucking hell is this driving!?" The hawk squawks, trying to position himself so he doesn't get affected by the drine. "How can you all stand this!? I’m starting to get dizzy over here!!"

"You and me both." Nero dryly grumbles only to yelp as Nico smacks him on the head, one hand still on the wheel. "OW!"

"You're next, chicken!" Nico calls out, "And I'll happily clobber you!"

"Griffon." V's voice cuts through before Griffon garbles out something like a loud curse. "What did you find?"

"Ah! Yeah, about that!" Griffon's head shifts over, fluffing his feathers. "I have a literal bone to pick with you on sending me out there among the wolves! What were you thinking!?"

"Trying to find an easy way through this city without getting killed." Dante quips up his response and Griffon groans. "What? He did ask."

"And as the only familiar that can actually talk, I'm pretty pissed. And I didn’t ask for your response!” Dante rolls his eyes, leaning back in his seat. “But whatever, what do I know what you humans do? And how can you deal with this shit driving!? I’m amazed you’re not passed out or something!”

“Oh, he did not too long ago,” Trish glances at Griffon with a very curious glance. “I’m just amazed he’s not flat out collapsed yet.”

“Ha ha ha, that happened earlier today.” He rolls his eyes, gesturing to Lady. “I wasn’t used to it earlier. But the more I think about it, the more I realize Nico’s driving is a bit like Lady’s-”

“Hey!” And he laughs, even as Lady swiftly kicks Dante’s legs. “I actually learned how to drive before I became a speed demon. You- Oh, do you really want me to start telling more embarrassing tales about your tales outside of being the legendary mercenary? Trish seemed to like them.” And she has a very wicked smirk. “Want me to tell our client every humiliating moment of your parties?”

Dante squawks, furiously shaking his head no. “Don’t you even-”

“So our hero has his moments he doesn’t want to share?” V chuckles, eyes narrowing in absolute interest. “On the contrary, I would like to know-”

“No, you don’t!” Dante seethes back. “Hey, chicken! Please tell me there’s a monster to beat up or something-”

“First of all,” Griffon squawks, glaring at Dante. “Do not call me chicken! Geez, what am I, emergency rations!? And second of all, you still want the bad news or the worse news about this city!?”

The adults grew silent before V’s eyes shift to Griffon, silently demanding him to start talking-

-and Dante shivers, but in the realization that he’s felt this before with those eyes V has-

-but he barely hears Griffon announcing that more monsters are now on their way, he doesn’t see any form of survivors that are outside the buildings, and that Albus Tower is still pulsating with its same state as it was before. Great.

“And what’s the worse news that you were mentioning?” Credo cuts in and everyone braces for it. Nico’s driving reduces to a very steady pace and Dante slowly suspects it’s because she wants to hear what else decides to launch their way.

“Er, well,” Griffon twitches his head a bit, “How can I put it like this- I took a sneak peek of Albus Tower. And uh... are you sure you want to head in there now? Cause- uh- lemme put it like this: most of you can fight well, I’m sure. But from the way this is heading and the amount of mooks that are heading your way in no thanks to how obvious your arcanes are-”

“Get to the point, birdie!” Lady’s eyes are twitching. “How bad is it!?”

“There’s a couple of large looking mooks blocking the entrance and I’m not sure, but you guys will be squished into bits if you decide to take them all today!” Griffon squawks, but they glance at each other, looking shocked. “I’m serious about this! Oh, and there’s more of those stupid ass monsters on the way, so you better find a place to either get rest or be eaten!”

“How about none of those and we’ll just take the weenies out?” Dante is not in the mood to rest or get eaten. Nor is he in the mood to even think about trying to stop; they just came to the city! From the looks from most of their faces, they are more than inclined to agree. “I mean- I know you mean well when you’re warning us, but I think it’s better if we just start dealing with these monsters on our own.”
Griffon tries to protest.

“He’s right.” Lady glares at Griffon, crossing her arms. “If we’re going to go in Albus Tower, at least we need to have a plan to get in and out safely- at least without any form of fighting whatsoever.”

“It sounds like you have done this before.” Trish hums, crossing her legs. “Knowing your professions, this should be an easy thing. Right?”

“Normally.” Dante grimaces, glancing at Lady who wears the same concerned look. “It depends on what our jobs are, who our target is. ...but it’s not easy for some missions.”

“So... what was the longest you took to complete a job?” Nero decides to ask.

This earns Dante’s withering groan and Lady sighing, trying to find a way to summarize it in one sentence. “Well- yeah, that’s ...one week.” She grimaces.

“That’s too long!” The teen gawks.

Beating Mundus is up on his list of ‘nearly FUBARed’ jobs... had it not been for Dante making some sort of impromptu decision to seal the bastard’s arcane up and permanently making sure he is long gone. And Lady should know- she and Rock both saw this before Dante gave him the perfect send-off.

Dante scowls, recalling finding Mallet Island was a complete struggle itself (because the shithead Mundus decides to waste whatever godawful amount of arcane he’s stole just to conceal Mallet Island while trying to steal the Arcane Pool from the Council itself. What a vain bitch! He, Lady, and Rock are still salty about that). “Finding the guy we were supposed to take down took about a good three to four days. What happened after that came easy, but lots of monsters and demons. Whatever these are-” Dante gestures to outside, “-are easy! ...Except for the arcane sapping crap.”

“Fun.” He hears the slight sarcastic tone in his voice and the mercenary smirks. Nero just might make a mighty good merc with his attitude alone. “Sounds like an ideal life.”

“That depends,” Lady’s sharp smirk returns and Dante knows what’s coming next, “If your partner just so happens to be a lazy slob-”

“Hey! At least I treat people right!”

Trish laughs. And Dante can swear he feels V’s amusement brimming and he scowls further.

“Hey, chicken. How about the survivors?” Dante suddenly asks, knowing very well Credo requested him about it earlier. “Are there any? Even the ones inside the tower- can you tell?”

“Look Dante,” Griffon ruffles his feathers, huffing. “All I can say is I can only look for threats, not for people who live. Though if you ask, I’d say the chances of you finding anyone who dead might be slim; most of them ran off on the day this incident took place.”

So, essentially nothing.

“But I’m not sure unless you go in and find out-”

“Hey, fellas!” Nico calls out, car stopped and she gestures to- oh no.

There’s a swarm of them pattering about in the streets, flying about, the roots also snaring at the nearest living thing, but it’s also blocking up another path.

Again.

“And if... the view serves me right,” V quietly muses, noticing Albus Tower is a few miles away, “Albus Tower should be about- over there?”

Trish peers through before a low sigh escapes her. “Past more buildings, the bridge, the place where the bank used to be... yeah, that’s where it is. I would say- oh, I don’t know- a good... couple of miles off?”

“Great.” Dante groans. “And how many monsters are in this-”

A loud roar suddenly cuts them off- and they all notice a large, hulking demonic looking monster rampaging towards their direction. There are armor on its body, glowing horns that ebb off arcane magic- and it snarls when it sees the running Winnebago.

“Definitely more than that.” Trish deadpans, crossing her arms before staring at Dante. "So, Dante. Let's see how much of your experience lets you deal with this."

Said mercenary closes his eyes, trying not to think of ways to snark back at his lovely, wonderful, potentially murderous pistol wielding cousin.

“...more monsters, huh?” Credo groans, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. “Fantastic. How long will this take?”

Dante and Lady warily glance at each other, wondering if Morrison possess some form of third sense when he said this is not their typical three-day job.

“Remind me to text him and tell him we probably might not be back for few more days.” Lady grumbles and the mercenary silently agrees, running his hand through his hair.

“Told you so.” Griffon mocks and Dante resists the urge to grab it by its throat and throw him to the ground. “So. Wanna change your mind about barging into Albus Tower now?”

“Shut up.” Dante dryly grumbles, not wanting to ever admit to that chicken he is right about the timing because- well, as Dante’s luck presents it, it is absolute shit.

Well. This is going to be fantastic.


That large ass demon with the horns took some effort- but thankfully Nero was more than delighted to aid him- the kid has more energy to burn. Lady and Trish took care of the weenies- V decides to help the ladies this time. (Griffon has been forced to help. That made the others laugh.)

And Dante finally got to see the kid’s skill a bit more close. He even did a bit of teaching while he was at it- the kid’s sword technique is good, but not strong enough to take down the smaller enemies with one blow. Though it’s a good thing Credo also offered to help after taking the last of the tinier monsters out.
In some odd way, Dante can’t help but think he has two kids to teach. He’s silently delighted to have some opportunities for someone to pass the torch onto... one of these days. He’s not ready to retire yet.

There’s too many problems in this world and Dante wants to help as much as he could.

I have too much energy to burn before retirement happens.

By the time the monster (who called himself Gilgamesh and Dante resists to facepalm over the naming- what is with these monsters and their naming!? He’ll have to have a night ranting about this to Nevan and Ifrit when he and Lady stops by their place again) is defeated and dead, its valuable arcane source (the horns, gotta remember the horns) taken and placed away for Nico to inspect, Dante silently wonders if Nero’s gotten the blood to be a mercenary like him.

The kid’s familiar looking, but Dante isn’t sure as to how.

 

"Is it just me or am I finally noticing how similar you both look to each other?"

"I have to admit, it is a bit uncanny. What do you think, Nero? Does he look like someone else you know?"

 

Like who? All I know is that there’s Trish, my potential alive or dead parents, and I have a man who claims to be my twin brother I have little to no idea about except that he knows me and that... well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? And then there’s Nero. Who happens to look stupid familiar and I swear it’s coming to me, but I don’t know how. He silently screams in his head with frustration. In his actions, he decides the best way to convey it is just kicking whatever remains of Gilgamesh and it flies off to take down a struggling mook that tried to take off (but failed). This is why I hate it when things get complicated! The more answers I get, the more questions I ask! At least give me some answers instead of dangling them in front of me!

He stills when he hears a low chuckle and feels like he’s being watched-

 

"Oh? Yet you don't like when things are too easy. You do enjoy a challenge... and I'm here to give you one- I know you well, brother."

 

-the  fingers ghosting his back makes shiver again- what is it with this guy and doing this to me!? Are you driving me mad!?

This makes Dante silently frustrated as he whirls around to find- again, nobody is behind him. Am I- is it that asshole from-

“You okay, Dante?” Nero calls out and he turns around again to see Nero and Credo look at him with confusion.

“Uh-yeah! Just... trying to vent out more stress.” Dante barely gets out, silently hoping they’ll get it and not ask anymore questions. Man he must look weird.

Thankfully they take it before they leave the now clearing streets- and Dante spies a root that’s about to make its sneak attack. Feeling a bit ire, he decides to take out Ebony and shoots it, hearing the high pitched squeal of its death before it burns away.

He gestures to the spot when Nero approaches him again, this time wondering what that shot was about. “Just a root! Don’t worry, it’s just one of those stupid roots we had to kill. Where’s Credo?”

“Went back to heal. That... Gilgamesh, right? That did a good number on him.” Though this doesn’t bring down the adrenaline in Nero’s face. He asks, “So this... is what being a mercenary feels like?”

“Don’t expect too much, kid. You’ll be disappointed much later.” Dante chuckles, twirling Ebony before placing her back.Then he notices how interested Nero is at his pistol. “Like the ladies?”

“What, is Lady good enough?” Nero jokes back before Dante presents the dual colored pistols. “I’m kidding. Whoa. They... wow, can I hold one?”

“Careful. Ebony’s a bit touchy so don’t set her off.” The mercenary nods, handing over the black one to Nero. “Pistols, custom-made by the famed Nell Goldstein.”

“Wow. No shit, these look awesome.” Nero is in awe- before he glances at him. “Did you name them?”
“Nope. Nell did before she passed. Rock branded their names for me.” He looks at Ivory with a subtle fond glint in his eyes. “If it wasn’t for them and Rebellion, I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

“Rebellion being your sword, right?” Nero asks, gingerly gripping Ebony and he feels it. The warmth of the fire arcane Dante wields- it’s a more comforting one that he hasn’t felt in years. “...this is awesome- much more polished than what Nico’s made! ...don’t tell Nico I said that.”

“My lips are sealed.” Dante chuckles, noticing how admired Nero looks at the black pistol. “Do you have one?”

“No! Are you kidding me?” The white-haired teen brightens in interest. “My Father would’ve killed me if he saw me handling one!”

Ah, his ever elusive Father. The one I promised his mother to help. Right. ...what about him? Dante just chuckles, narrowing his eyes at the thought of potentially angering Nero’s father... whoever he is. Ah well, this is for Nero’s good cause. “Well, your dad isn’t here at the moment. Why not let yourself have a bit of a fun with these and learn new things? It’ll help you in the long run.” He is silently relieved when Nero’s nervousness vanishes in thought of Dante’s idea. There. Much better. It makes the job a bit more simple and lets the kid let out more of his worries.

“I didn’t think I was going to have lessons when I came here.” Nero sheepishly mumbles. “I just thought it’s all attacks and sword fights.”

“Nope! Unless you want one?” Dante jokingly offers, but he feels determination vibbing from Nero. “Okay, Nero. How about after this job I’ll teach you whatever skills you want to know? It looks like you got the basics all down.”

Nero nods before he sighs, “I learned basic fighting from my father before he isolated himself. Then Credo picked up and helped me get better with my skills in here and arcane- but it wasn’t enough.”

The mercenary allows Nero to continue- so he does.

“I even asked Trish to help me get stronger, even when my arcane didn’t match with hers. When-" He pauses before Nero continues, but this time at a different note. "-my Father. After you rescued us and we came home, he was really angry. I think he was angry at everyone- even me.”

“For being kidnapped?” Dante is baffled at this. “That was beyond your control! Why would he be pissed off at you?”

“Because I wasn’t strong enough to defend myself, for them, for-!” Nero stops before he sighs, taking a deep breath. Dante feels the lightening arcane surge with anger that wasn’t directed at him. “I had a goal in mind after that day: protecting Kyrie, Credo, Nico, my family. ...and finding a challenge- or someone like, I don't know, a mentor.”

A mentor? The mercenary silently wonders if Nero meant him. “Look, Nero. Whatever happened wasn’t in your realm of control- hell, it isn’t even in your dad’s! ...man, he sounds pretty terrible for blaming you for something he didn’t bother getting involved in. I mean, if I was in your father’s position, I really can’t blame you.” He pats Nero’s shoulders. “At least it gave you a goal in life.”

The teen blinks before he chuckles, looking down on the ground. “Thanks. ...You gave me some form of hope when I thought I wasn't going to have it. My grandparents try to tell me how he feels, but... well, I couldn't. I’m never going to understand him. I wanted to find you- probably because I felt much better when it came to that."

"And you chose me. Why not your dad?" He's getting confused by this. "Also... sorry, I honestly do not mean any offense, but your dad sounds like a complete douchebag." No offense. But Nero’s father does sound like one. And I don’t mean that well.

And for a minute, he swears he hears a grunt of annoyed disapproval. But he brushes it off. There’s some noise in this city that can be attributed to the demons and monsters who like causing havoc.

Nero blinks for a minute before he laughs. It was rather harsh, but for Dante to admit it, it is the truth. "He is. I wish I know him better, but I can't. I can't. My dad isn't exactly the type for anyone to understand- there's a distance he places, even with me and my own family. I know why, he didn't exactly explain it himself, but I found out when my grandparents told me. ...but I just wished he'd stop being a prideful fuck-off. He didn't teach me how to get strong."

Dante falls silent, feeling so bad for Nero.

"But you did- after that day, you gave me the push I need to get stronger. And they know." Nero looks down at his tattooed arm and grips his fists. His lightening arcane ebbs of silent anger and frustration. "I know I can't rely solely on my family forever."

"That’s sort of harsh, don't you think?" Dante quietly responds. "You might not know the real reason why your father became the person he is-"

"But I do!" Nero glances to him with an unknown glance. "And it has to do with what my mom asked you to do- I mean, it sort of does. But in a weird way." Then he frowns, looking at Dante. “...that accident you were going to tell me about. What happened? You said you met your foster family.”

“Ah. Right.” Way to change the subject, kid. Dante looks towards the streets. “...it’s sparse. But I remember the events after I woke up.” He closes his eyes, trying to disperse the fragmented dreams and the variation he’s dreamt the night before. “...I remember waking up with so much pain. I woke up... and I was about to be crushed by the car. I know people were dead, but I didn’t look. All I cared about... was trying to get out.”

Then he sighs, looking at the skies. “Then Desmond found me among the wreckage. He pulled me out just in time and came with me to the hospital. ...that was when I first met them: Melissa and Lila. They were going to watch over me until someone came by and found me. I didn’t know who my family were at the time, where I was, or why I was even in the accident.” His brows furrowed, still lost on the last part. “But now that I know...”

“How long did it take for them to adopt you?” Nero quietly asks. “Since- well, back then, you didn’t know and you lost your memories.”

“It took a while.” Dante sighs, “A good couple of months, actually. Since I didn’t know who I really was nor didn’t have any legal documents at hand, I was presumed to have been left behind or orphaned- and at the time, I didn’t know my real were searching for me. I really didn’t. But it was about three years later when they decided to make me a member of their family. I think the case went to a dead end because they found nothing else that suggested something else was at play.”

“Did they at least treat you well?”

A fond smile appears on Dante’s face. “They treated me like one of their own. Even if I looked a bit different. Desmond was the father who does his best, works hard. Melissa was one of the best cooks in the world- she’d kill me if she knows I’m eating takeout.” Nero’s lips tilt to a grin. “Lila- oh man. She’s like a tame wild child. Minus doing things she regrets sort of deal. You know. The chaotic good types. But she and I like causing the ruckus, making fun for everyone else.”

“The type to make people smile even though you cause hell?” Nero clarifies with a chuckle. He hands Ebony back and Dante places both pistols back in their holsters.

The mercenary nods. “They were still my family. Lila said I was the model older brother. That made me proud- despite me having to dye my hair once a while.” He hears Nero stifle in laughter. “God, the days when she made fun of how tacky my hair looks when I dyed them.”

“You dyed your hair? What color was your favorite?” The teenager smirks.

“Black. My favorite color to dye my hair in high school since I wanted to be the rebellious moron.” Dante’s lips quirk to a smile, recalling how much fun he had back then. “I used to like the darker brown- then I tried to dye it blonde one summer.” He hears Nero choking in laughter and he rolls his eyes, still grinning. “Try to imagine that for a minute.”

“No, no I can’t, blonde is not a color for you.” Nero chuckles, attempting to imagine Dante with any other hair color but black or brown. “No way. They don’t suit you!”

“Lady said the same exact thing.” It was for a job and Dante went with the black solely for the purpose to piss his comrade off. It did that well, but then it also got Nevan and Ifrit to poke fun at him for ages. And Morrison laughs, telling him it definitely gave off the feeling he and Lady look like brother and sister. Said gunswoman punched Dante before telling him the color sucked. Though she was laughing too. “It... was fun. Having to deal with all of the problems that aren’t related to the arcane, or monsters, or demons, just everyday life.”

Nero asks, “...did they know? About who those guys in the car are and why they were in the car with you.”
The mercenary nods, “Just when I was going into high school. Desmond told me what happened that day and who they were, how I was not involved with them. That still didn’t change my feelings about them, even if they hid things. I know they were trying to protect me, but at least I know.” The sad, fond smile returns and Nero’s laugh fades when he sees the grieved guilt. “...I just wished they didn’t have to defend me when things were just about to unravel.”

“I’m sorry.” Nero mumbles. Death is nothing new to him. “I... well, that day makes somewhat better sense in retrospect.”

“It’s fine.” Dante’s smile is thin. “I’m fine talking about it now. It’s nothing new for me anymore. Anyway!” He forces himself to perk up, but the teenager knows he’s still guilty over it. “How about we get back to the others and show Nico your prize? Maybe we can get her to make something useful out of it.”

Nero’s face morphs to a horrified one. “Oh my God, nooooo, you know what she’ll do!? She’ll make me the guinea pig for her stupid inventions and they backfire in some way-”

“I’m sure it won’t! Trust me. I think if she’s learned from the best, she knows how to improve on it.” She definitely got influenced by both Nell and Rock, all right. A certain gunsmith made Dante the guinea pig all because he’s more capable than Lady... and that he can regenerate a bit faster than her. “So let’s see if I can get her to do a favor for you-” And he pauses an idea in his mind. “...and for Credo.”

“I’m afraid to ask.” Yet Nero smiles a bit, slowly understanding Dante a bit. “But if it helps.”

“It should.” Dante turns around and begins to head back when he sees V approach him. “Hey. How was it this time?”

“The usual.” V glances to Nero, who scowls back at him. And a cold, indifferent smirk slit appears on the black-haired man’s face. “I thought you both had wandered off without anyone’s knowledge.”

“Haaaaa no. Like that’ll happen.” Nero rolls his eyes before lightly hitting Dante’s shoulder. “I’ll give the horns to Nico.”

“Much appreciated.” Dante nods before glancing at V. “Thanks for helping the ladies back there. Though you do realize this means we’ll be doing more of this kill the roots and mooks until we reach Albus Tower.”

“I know.” The man gestures to Albus Tower. “When we get there... you know what I asked of you.”

“Yeah. I have to guard you when we get inside.” He honestly doubts it, but he thinks V wants to enter for some reason. “Is... there something about the Tower I need to know about?”

“Only that you need to be careful.” V chuckles, narrowing his eyes. “That is all.”

“What? That’s it?” The mercenary stares at him before he shakes his head. “Christ. Here I was hoping for another hint or some sort of hint to a mercy kill. Ah well, something for me to think about, huh? Guess it’s on my own to figure it out.”

He doesn’t see V glancing back at him, not wanting to let Dante know he’s overheard the talk Dante and Nero just had before he joins him.


“Hey, Miss Goldstein!”

Nico perks up when Dante calls out for her. She whistles, presenting the horns. “Wow! These are glowing like mad! I’ve seen some other material used from monster and demon parts and all, but these are insane!”

“Says the one who hits me when I destroy one of your ‘creations’.” Nero rolls his eyes and Nico glares at him. Credo snickers.

“Those are horns that used to crystallize the arcane.” Dante smirks. “Can you handle making something like that?”

The mechanic grins. “I may not be able to sense any arcane like my uncle, but I sure as hell know what to do when things like these show up! Maybe I can make an arm outta them, how does that sound?”

“Just as long as either of us don’t test them, then it should be fine.” The brunette man tacks in and he laughs, dodging a small pebble kicked in his direction. “Hey!”

Nico sticks her tongue out. “Jerks. You brutes don’t appreciate the lovely crafts of weaponry and how to make ‘em! So!” She turns to Dante, “What can do for you, O Infamous Dante?”

“Again with the Infamous title?” V frowns and Dante barely keeps himself from jumping in relief. “What is with that?”

Dante just waves it off. That’s not important to respond. Right now- “I swear I’ll explain later. So, Nico. Are you up for a mini-job?”

The mechanic’s eyes widen in surprise. “Oh? Then what about the tab?”

“I’ll supply you with the materials.” He and Lady have a bag dedicated to unused arms. It used to be the best way for Rock to improve his skills by making either new arms for Lady or Dante to practice.

...However, Dante can just wreck his on sight while Lady carefully takes care of hers (before attempting to shoot bullets at Dante for ruining another one of Rock’s guns). So now the torch is being handed to Nico- ah, no wonder Rock suggested to him and Lady that they bring her along.

Dante asks her before gesturing to Nero. “Make the kid a pistol. Make Credo a good one too, for their arcanes.” He sees the two boys sit up in alarm, but Dante shrugs it off. He sees the surprised look on Nico’s face. “Can you do that?”

“What!? Dante-” Nero looks flustered, Credo looks shocked. It’s Credo who tries to talk Dante out of it, “Look, you really don’t have to-”

“It’s good to have a backup in case one of your weapons don’t work.” Lady pokes her head out- and Dante spies Trish and Kyrie having a conversation in the trailer. It’s probably about how to make healing go faster. “So I see you’re alive.”

“Har har, the kid helped. We'll switch next round and let you handle the bigger ones.” Dante rolls his eyes before glancing down at Nico. “Well?”

“How fast do you need it?” Nico is brimming with absolute delight. “And what type?”

“Oh, that’s simple.” The mercenary knows which weapons for them to start. He just hopes they can take care of them well. “A pistol.” He can feel the two look at him in shock- and in gratitude. “Show me what you’ve learned- maybe give them a whirl or two.”

Nico smirks, narrowing her eyes with the challenges she’s been given. “Oh, believe me, Mister Dante. I will not disappoint my grandma. I will make her proud!”

Dante smirks. “I think she already is.”

 

Chapter Text

"The Man in Red follows the Son and his party, occasionally inquiring the Son of his home, the kingdom that has the curse, and of the necklace he’s been given as payment. The Son answers what he can, but when the Man in Red asks about the necklace, the Son falls silent.

“The companion speaks, ‘Young one, you are hiding something. What is it that truly bothers you-"

The blonde woman pauses, rereads her sentence again before she lowers her pen. She glances over at the paper she’s written before she sighs, closing her eyes and opening it again. She looks at the notebook that contains this long story she’s trying to write as a fairy tale.

And then she glances at the cover- and in her handwriting reads the following sentence: ‘To our lost son, Dante.’

“This isn’t going to work, is it?” She whispers to herself, hand on her forehead. “The story... this will never get him back, is it?”

 

 


 

 

It turns out killing monsters and ‘weeding’ (read: torching or frying) the demonic roots takes about a good chunk of the day. The rather unwanted high screeching from the now dead roots was something least expected- but Nico said that they have a source and killing the roots should help weaken the source.

That and Lady took the mantle to driving the trailer while said mechanic is in her gunsmith mode, intense in her building. To be honest, Dante isn’t sure if it (both what Nico said and Lady’s driving because he knows she drives just as bad as Nico) helped. That and- well, Lady chucked something at Dante when he bitched about her driving.

They’ve literally crossed a large bridge that has only one part destroyed- it mainly stayed in tact- when they encountered another one of those large monsters. He isn’t going to bother with the names this time. They are absolutely ridiculous to even think about and he swore one of them is named after a Greek Goddess (Nevan’s friend Beowolf will have a rant about this).

They took care of it with little to no issue- though V decided to take part in helping them all by summoning Shadow and taking care of the monster with Dante’s help. And really, it did. That stupid demon was a complete bitch to take care of. It’s just for some reason, V suddenly stepping in is rather sudden. Dante wants to ask what made him do that, but he refrains from asking. After all, if they have the help, he might as well take it, especially for a job this massive. He is going to have a talk with Morrison about what jobs to look for after this one because Dante is tempted to call in an actual vacation for an entire month. Lady? Well... that depends, does she want a break?

The city’s expanses are wide and after Trish pointed out where in the city they really are (half way to Albus Tower, not even a sixteenth in the city and that’s how much roots they have taken out- she has a map stored on her phone), Nero was itching to scream bloody murder at Nico. But with the others with them, he has successfully restrained from that.

At least they made progress as they steadily made their way into the city. Even Lady has to admit they have gone farther in- if the damage around the place looks worse than the outer parts of Red Grave City.

“Besides,” Dante has reassured Nero after the latter decided the best way to vent his anger was killing more demons and roots, “It’s better to take out the source before taking down the rest. Take it easy, kid. Don’t give up so easily- that’s the good thing about us humans. We always find a way to bounce back.”

“Fine.” Nero’s anger bristles, but he calms when Kyrie starts to heal his knuckles from a horrible scratch earlier. “I’m... just worried.” Worry doesn’t start describing how the teen really feels as Credo and Kyrie glance at him with concern. Then he smirks, glancing at him. “You should be a motivational speaker one day- it might do you some good.”

“Ha ha ha. Not on your life, kid.” Dante grins and so does Nero.

They snap back to his battle-ready mood when more monsters decide to descend on them- less of the tinier beings and more of the bigger beings.

And one of them- oh hell, one of them’s demanding they stop or else they will pay with their lives- and Dante looks bored out of his mind when he shot the demon mid-monologue and then talks smack back.

Great, Dante is going against every rule on how to beat most demons and trying to survive. When Nero asked if that was a thing he does just to piss off every demon and monster in the book, Dante shrugs with that wide grin as Lady laughs.

Nero and Trish share a dreaded stare at each other. "...well," Trish unhelpfully grins, "I can see it being a thing-"

"Don't you dare!"

At least they can get through this fast with the other areas.

...though at the rate they’re heading, it took them much more than an hour.

By the time they reached a few blocks away from Albus Tower, it was nearing sunset and it was about to turn dark. And nobody wanted to admit it, but their arcanes are nearly drained. Mostly in due to the massive amounts they had to use for defeating so many beings: from those roots that are now stupid easy to kill to a number of large monsters (Cavaliro? Who in- screw it, there must be some idiot naming convention involved because it isn’t just that; there’s a Forneus, Baphomet, and Malphas that- ergh, no, let’s not revisit that ugly fight) that Dante and Lady silently chalk up to being equally as rough as the ones they met from their larger past missions... wait, no, he lied.

They make that crazy Fortuna mission and Mallet Island look simple. Though he doesn’t care to tell anyone that.

The other thing they don’t want to admit is-

“I told you so!” Griffon gleeful cackles. He’s perched on one of the fallen traffic signs as Dante decides to keep watch of the trailer. “I was wondering if you all finally decided to take a break from the amount of monster killing- you look like the walking dead.”

-that the talking ‘chicken’ was right. They are more than tired to deal with anything else and right now, they just want to rest.

“Shut up.” Dante glares at the hawk. It was just the two of them at the moment. The others have decided to gather things (food, gasoline, and materials that they can salvage at the moment) to wait out the night- mainly to recover, but also to make sure nothing monstrous come their way. V is the only one who didn’t do so; he decides to use this time to make sure things are fine before they decide to rest for the night. He took Shadow with him- so Griffon opts to stay with Dante. “You had a grand time, dive-bombing those demons.”

“Hey, I was bored!” Griffon responds, “What am I supposed to do? Preen like one of those frilly birdies?”

“Yeah,” Dante’s lips twitch to a smirk, “Maybe give me one of your best feathers so I can use it as a bookmark.”

“In your dreams-” Griffon looks at him with surprise and cackles. “Waaaait, I didn’t know Mister Badass can read! Say, out of my own curious mind, what books do you read? It looks like you don’t. Do you use one of those- eh, those tablet thingys I see people use?”

Dante chuckles. Who knew Griffon can tell what those things are? “First of all, I don’t like using one of those I-tablets. They hurt my eyes when I stare at the screen for too long, so I don’t even bother.” The one Rock gave to him for his birthday months ago is still unopened and sitting on his desk. He’ll find a use for it eventually in his own apartment. “And two, just your usual classics, suspense novels. The cheesy, comedic crap, comic books- you get the gist. I do like reading a lot about books that sort of based on history.”

“Soooo no Playboy magazines or anything for the big guy?”

“Only on the days when Lady isn’t around to silently judge me.” The mercenary grins, earning Griffon’s laugh. Yeah, he does have his days. “So, if we’re going to get along without having me call you ‘chicken’, let me ask something about you.”

“Sure,” Griffon ruffles his wings to stretch them a bit. “Not like V sent me to do an errand anyway.”
“How did you and V meet?” That was something Dante wanted to know. “I know he summons you with his arcane... but these things don’t happen naturally.”

Griffon stares at him with interest, silently asking how.

But Dante isn’t going to say; he’s witnessed his fair share of contracts with demons, monsters, even beings that are bound by contract. It’s been equated to slavery, Dante just thinks it’s stupid. Most of the arcane contracts lead to death: either the person who initiated the contract was killed, or was decimated because they were immediately too weak to rule. Morrison called it ‘the usual contract goes wrong, make sure to subdue or destroy the demon or else’ jobs- the easy jobs.

Riiiiight, ‘easy job’ being very understated...

If a contract was successful (the chances of that happening in this world are less than five percent and Dante... has seen only Mundus do that along with one other), then these things can go wrong: either the person who initiated the contract suddenly gets killed (probably the most common since they house the arcane pool between the two); a rule was breached in the contract either member of the party (He, Lady, and Rock all have their horror stories to tell); or the contract has been done or broken off, the monster that now has free range to destroy and do whatever it wants.

One job came to mind, and it’s the one where he and Lady met with Patty Lowell and found out about her family line of... contracts gone wrong just to subdue one being named Abigail. (That was a lot of fun, having to explain to a very horrified ten year old girl what her father really did). He didn’t want to talk about that one- only because the way it had to be done was spectacularly grandiose and lacking any logic, but Dante went with it because it was the only thing needed to be done.

Instead, he tells Griffon, “I’m just wondering.”

“Ah, well, you shoulda said so.” Griffon grunts, clearly not satisfied with the response. “So... eh, we met him and we made some sort of deal. It’s not exactly like a usual contract-” Oh? Is that so? “-but we agreed to work with each other. We had our problems, he has his, we both decided to work with each other.”

There’s more than one? I wonder if Shadow is one of them. “And I wonder what that deal was?” Dante quietly muses, hand on his chin. Even if his arcane masked it, he can feel his stubble growing. “But I guess it’s one of the more personal ones, isn’t it.”

“Yeah. Even if I wanted to tell ya,” He swears he hears Griffon’s amusement eek through. “V’s the one who could tell you since I don’t wanna disrespect him, ya know?”

Dante pauses- before he sighs, closing his eyes. If things aren’t already complex with this job, there’s a contract involved... that Morrison didn’t know about. Great! This is giving him a mild headache. He’s definitely going to have lots of words with Morrison when this job is finished. For one, how to better look for people and do background checks, even the ones who are very last minute. “...Point taken.”

“While we’re on twenty questions,” Awesome, where are the others? “Did anything brighten your mind yet? Since you’re the one with the missing memories of your childhood. And all.” He stares at the hawk in shock, wondering who the hell told him about his lost childhood. Then before he snatches the bird by the beck- “Wait waitwaitwait! Before you kill me for asking about that ‘cause I know yer’re sensitive to that stuff-”

“Sure, convince me.” Dante’s eyes narrow. Who in ever loving fuck-

“I wanted to let you know V told me about it! Said it was part of your interest to know what happened to ya when you were a kid!” Dante stills, wondering when he’s ever told V- probably back in Fortuna City before they left. He sighs, relief slowly bubbling as he laxes his fists, but confusion flutters in about... how does Griffon know? “Sorry if that pushed any buttons, but er- you know, memories don’t come back easily.”

“No. They don’t.” The mercenary sighs, running his gloved hand through his hair. “Sorry. I just- urgggghhhh. Nothing came back to mind. Not even when we passed half of these areas. Even Trish tried to tell me about it and I’m still confused.”

He knows she’s trying to help. And he understands, realizing what she’s telling him is the truth- would Trish ever be the person to screw him over? Probably not! ...though he did tell her to get a new hobby that isn’t bothering him (and she kicked him while Lady laughs prior to clearing the bridge).

“Well, if it makes you feel any better,” Dante glances back at Griffon, “At least you got some of your family and childhood back. Think about it- you got something. Better than having nothing on your mind and dying empty.”

Wow, he sounds a bit like Lady right now. “...yeah. thanks, Griffon.” Dante’s lips twitch a smile.

“You’re welcome! And I know you got a question for me- ask away!”

“You said ‘we’ when you described making a contract with V.” Dante’s mind is ticking about it. “It wasn’t just you?”

“Ohhhhhh... oh, crap!” Griffon groans before adjusting his position to face Dante, “Shit, I slipped! Look. Don’t tell V what I’m about to tell ya.” Dante raised an eyebrow in confusion, but he allows the hawk to continue. How much info can I milk out of him before V comes back? “But... uh, it wasn’t just me. Shadow and there’s one more- Nightmare-” Again with the- yeah, the trip to bitch about this job to Nevan and Ifrit is going to be a thing now because this naming thing is the absolute worst- “We three knew what he wanted, and we did- but with a pretty shitty catch.”

“A catch- yeah, things aren’t this easy.” The mercenary frowns. “...what’s the catch in all of this?”

“Well, uh,” Griffon fidgets, looking around before lowering his voice. “Here’s the thing about V ya should know about. He ain’t... uh, how can I put it like this? Stable? Like he ain’t a normal human-”

“I already know, arcane users aren’t.” Dante grumbles. Them versus normal humans are not the same.

“Of- no! I’m talking about his form!” Wait, what? “When I mean by stable, I mean that there’s a limit on how far he can make himself look like that-” Uh- “And besides, when we first met him, he introduced himself like that! He had some other name that his real one-”

“Whoawhoawhoa, V’s not his real name?” That... is a red flag. That’s a huge, obvious as hell problem. Suddenly Dante isn’t sure of what V really wants, but he swallows that question. He... yeah, okay.

So.

...he is going to have a talk about introducing background checking to Morrison after tonight.

“...then what’s his real name?” Something in him wants to know, thinking that it connects to something else, but he’s not sure as to what.

“Uh-” The hawk swiftly glances around again- and the white-haired man realizes he’s trying to look and see if V is coming back. Deeming it safe, Griffon frantically whispers, “I’m trying to give ya a nudge so you can actually remember and get this shitty landscape back to normal- lift the curse, like that goddamn fairy tale, you dumbass!”

Wait. What?

Curse? Fairy tale?? What the hell!? ...Red Grave City was like this from a- curse!?  Oh my God, this better not be a thing. His mind is swimming with questions that Dante swarms off. “Then say his name already, what the hell is it!?”

“I’ll- give you a hint if you know literature then-” Dante’s eye twitches because he has no time for riddles. “That book, Inferno, right? There’s a guide who presented your namesake the layers of hell-”

“Are you absolutely shitting me!? What sort of sorry little-”

There’s a faint sound of the rhythmic tapping with a cane and Griffon stiffens, Dante jolts in surprise when he senses the shadow arcane approaching-

-to only have him yelp in pain when Griffon squeezes his talons on Dante’s arm before he flies off to the top of the Winnebago. “OWOWOWOWYOU GODDAMN TURKEY YOU’RE MAKING MY ARM BLEED!”

“Turkey!? Oh, so we’re going to that low now!?” He hears Griffon squawk back. “And you can heal-”

“Oh you flappy little-”

"FLAPPY!? YOU CALLING ME FAT!?"

"Yeah, you know, that little birdy app that makes you rage*?" Dante glares at the hawk. “Whatever you just- OOF!” He couldn’t finish when he suddenly feels something bound for him- and Dante’s on the ground because Shadow was too delighted to jump on Dante and lick his face. He laughs, trying to nudge the panther off him. “Okay, okay! You’re happy to see me again, I get it! Oh man-” And he chuckles, feeling Shadow’s head nudge him. “All righty, I need to get up- get off. I need to get up-”

“Shadow really likes you.” He hears V approach him, that fond smile appearing once again. “I have never seen something like this.”

“I bet it likes you too, seeing how it’s used to both of us.” Dante sighs, feeling the panther’s saliva slowly drying on his face. Ick. As warm, sloppy, and loving that was, he still feels grimy from the sweat, dust, and saliva on him. He brushes off the dust from his body, glancing at V. “So? Did you find anything?”

“Griffon is right.” V’s lips thin, narrowing his eyes. “There are a group of monsters guarding the entrance. I wouldn’t be surprised, given our current location, if they decide to ambush us.”

“Shit.” Dante groans. “This means- we’re gonna have to wait it out, aren’t we.”

V nods and the mercenary isn’t looking forward to explain this to the others when they come back.

“Craaaaap...”

He hears a... very familiar version of a low chuckle. “Patience, Dante. There will be a reward, to those who wait.” Dante feels V’s hand touch his shoulder- and he blinks, recognizing it as similar to the shadowed man’s hand that graces his shoulders-

-his back-

 

“...my impatient other half. I promise, you will get what you want and I will get mine...”

 

And Dante looks up, wondering about something as he searches into V’s eyes. The other looks to him, half-narrowed and was about to ask him something-

“Yo, Dante!” He whirls to see Nico approach him with an exasperated Lady and Nero who are carrying tanks of gasoline. Trish, Kyrie, and Credo are conversing while carrying something that looks like bags of food, though Credo is carrying something rather heavy around his shoulders. “We got the loot!”

And of course Nico is carrying a bag filled of scrap metal.

“Right! of course.” Then he glances to V. “So, want me to break it to them about Albus Tower? It might make it easier on them.”

V chuckles, eyes narrowing in their dark blue before snapping his fingers- Shadow and Griffon vanish. The latter though, glances at Dante once before vanishing into the shadows. And Dante is silently grateful the hawk is keeping mum about it all. “Sure, be my guest.”


“Shifts to- wait, does this mean some of us are going to have to wake up in the middle of-” Nero stills before he groans. “Are you serious?”

The news about Albus Tower was well-received. There are no freak outs, so that’s good.

The other news about Dante’s sudden plan about watches made some... divisive comments. (More from the kids, but not from Trish.) And this got Nero whining about having to get less sleep.

“Hey, if you want to learn how to keep watch,” Lady grins and Nero scowls further, “It’s practicing how to sense your enemies.”

“And yes, your sleep will be complete shit.” Dante laughs, seeing Nero and Nico scowl at the thought. The brunette siblings (as he tacked them), on the other hand, shrug, glancing at each other. “But hey, perks of being a future merc: you can stay up as long as you want.”

“Yeah, if your day consists of chaos and fighting every single goddamn demon in the line of sight.” Lady lightly punches him, leaving Trish to laugh. Nero quietly does, but then he glances to Kyrie, who glances back at him. “Will you be fine with that?”

“Well,” Kyrie smiles, “I’m already used to the chaos with you, my brother, and Nico create.” She laughs when Nero glares at the mechanic, Nico rolls her eyes and flips him off, Credo smacks the two of the head for being utter children. “Like that-”

“You call this chaotic?” The three of them ask, three different tones: one annoyed, one indignant, one very flat. Kyrie nods and giggles.

Dante, Lady, and Trish glance at each other, trying not to laugh. V, as usual, resumes to read his book, occasionally frowning at the ruckus they make.

“It could be us, don’t you think?” Trish chuckles and Dante smiles at the thought. “Maybe... maybe after we solve this, get everything situated, I would like to see what you both do on a daily basis.”

“Oh, so you’re interested in being like us?” Lady hums, arching an eyebrow. “What caused that shift? Thought you were the type to stay at home and cater to your sadistic needs.”

Trish’s smile grows sharp and Dante silently dreads that smile. Because wait, his memories come back of a very evil Trish and when she wants something- ah hell. “Well, seeing as how sharp you really are, Lady...”

“If you two wanna brawl it out, take somewhere else so we don’t see you fuming off on each other’s steam.” Dante jokingly gestures to the direction back at the bridge and from the city’s entrance. “I’m so sure the guards would pay to see two very attractive ladies have at it-”

“Excuse me?” Lady’s eyes twitch, but Trish’s glare is now directed at him. “Are you implying something, you sick idiot!?”

“Uh, no!? I mean by popping off shots and OWOWOWWWW STOP IIIIIT!!”

It’s the teenagers who are trying to hold off any semblance of laughter as Dante gets slapped and pummeled by two women. V just stares at this, chuckles, and returns to his book.

“I wonder who the kids are this time.” Nero flatly deadpans.

“Shut up!” Dante groans, lifting his head. “I get it, stop hitting me ladies!!” Then he glares at Trish. “For someone who’s supposed to be my cousin, you get annoyed so easily.”

“Ha ha, apparently you’re a boor when you feel like it.” The blonde woman deadpans. “Maybe I am glad someone keeps an eye on you so you don’t do anything ridiculously hopeless-”

Dante scrambles up to glare at Trish. “Hey! Since when did I-”

“You barely do your chores, you clean when Morrison or I nag to you about it-” Lady smirks, earning Dante’s glare aimed at her. “There’s an entire list, want me to go on?”

“I dare you-”

Trish hides her grin, a silent giggle passing through when she hears Dante and Lady have at it before she turns to Nero, “Are you sure you don’t want me to tell Dante?”

“No.” Not yet. Not now. I feel like I’m standing next to someone who could have been a parental figure. Someone I can relate to. Nero carefully shakes his head. The talk he had with Dante comes back and it makes him smile. At least he knows Dante better. “I’ll tell him before we enter into Albus Tower. I promise.”

The blonde woman sighs, tossing her hair back, a worried look painted on her face. “Well, kid, you better hope we make it until we find some shelter. As much as I want to sleep in this creaky trailer, I highly doubt it’s going to fit three more people.”

Nero grins, knowing what Trish is venting about. “Admit it, Aunt Trish. You actually want a real bed, with real food and all?”

“Oh be quiet.” Yet she chuckles, “...I suppose finding an actual bed wouldn’t hurt for the night.”

“I knew it, you were going to whine about how stupid hard the Winnebago’s floors are-” He laughs when Trish gently smacks his head. “I get it! And it might be good for the rest too- having some form of normal life.”

There’s an agreement and everyone falls silent- before Lady asks, “Say, I just remembered. Those watches? How are we going divide up the times just so some of us get some proper sleep?”

Said mercenary stops defending himself and hums, “Huh. Didn’t think about that. ...so, who wants the first watch?”


He really... should’ve seen this one coming a mile wide.

“It seems as if we received the first shift.”

I seriously blame you both- Lady and Trish. They scare me.

Dante glances to V, who sits next to him at the trailer steps. Then he smiles, glancing back at the darkened skies, only to be illuminated by the street lights that aren’t decimated by the monsters. “Yeah, imagine that. The ladies get second round, the kids get round three.”

V chuckles, setting his cane down before handing Dante what he realized was cup ramen. Though the red should hint Dante that it was one of those Korean spicy ones. “Eat. If you want to survive in the night, that is.”

“And you can’t?” Dante grins and hears V silently scoff, picking up his own. “I’m kidding. It’s good by itself, but not that great. The ones I buy are the ones you actually boil and add veggies to it. I eat it when Lady or Morrison aren’t around to tell me pizza isn’t the best food in the world or when I’m in no mood to cook anything.”

“If given the chance, I would not rely on substance to get energy. I would rely on the arcane and the reserved energy I’ve been given.” Dante glances at V in surprise, but the latter falls silent. “I know I can’t rely on energy forever, but I don’t tend to eat.”

“...well, it’s not a good feeling.” Dante picks at his noodles, waiting for them to soak the soup a bit more. “I did it before- but that was on a bad time. I didn’t want to eat because I had some nightmares about... things that affected me.” Nightmares about losing anyone else close- this was before he took Nevan’s job to rescue Ifrit from Temen-ni-gru. His place of stay was much different then- he didn’t have enough to eat for food. It wasn’t until during the job that his lack of food was discovered- and his poor state of health was talked about. “It’s after my first real big job that I was forced to eat at least one meal a day. Then two. And I grew healthier, better. Probably for the best-” He forces a small laugh, looking at his free hand. “-I looked pretty bad then.”

V falls silent, glancing him with concern.

“But I feel better now- so don’t do what I did.” Dante glances at the black-clad man. “Take what you can- the basics are really all you need. Be thankful you have them.”

“...I shall.” And the two resume, though one kept a closer eye on the other while he was too busy talking about other people. 


It’s a slow night and Nero can barely keep his eyes closed.

This is really pathetic.

The teen can’t sleep in his own sleeping bag and he’s forced to be awake, trying to rest. He, Credo, and Kyrie do have the last shift in the watch; Kyrie’s already asleep. But he senses Credo is awake- and Nico’s already drank an energy drink that allows her to tinker and repair the weapons Lady asked for her to modify as she rests.

But Nero can’t sleep. Something was bothering him. It lingered before they ate and planned out who was going to take which watch and for how long. And it nudges him now, still continuing to bother him. The problem is-

What was I so bothered about?

He sits up, trying to look for something to do, someone to talk to. He’s this bored. Dante’s already outside, taking his post as watchman with V. He blinks before he lets out an amused smile- Lady and Trish are leaning against each other, asleep on the trailer sofa with a blanket around them.

And now too long ago, you were trying to figure out Lady’s motives with Dante. Nero tries so hard not to grin- his aunt Trish deserves someone to can keep up with her. Despite knowing each other for only hours ago, Lady and Trish seem to have gotten along well with each other. It was mostly about embarrassing the ever loving hell out of Dante, who is seething at them for most of the stories they’ve shared. Yet when V stepped in, Trish grows a bit hesitant, but Dante allows him into the conversation.

At least this strange guy is cordial to my aunt and Miss Lady. Nero silently notes, recalling how close V is to the mercenary- his arcane, as dark and unsettling as it is, remains calm when he’s around Dante’s fire. It’s as if the shadow arcane is fine being next to a more volatile one because of the cool, chilly arcane that surrounded him-

-wait. Chilly arcane?

Nero stills, realizing that was the lingering thought that still bothered him. He glances over outside, silently thanking that V is outside the trailer and not in to see Nero act like this.

 

"...I felt a very familiar set of arcane from him."

"But didn't you mention at some point your father has a complex arcane? Something like two elements working together as one- they work together, to only oppose the other who possess the opposite?"

 

What Kyrie and Credo said earlier. He frowns, wondering why in the ever loving hell would V possess something like a very cold arcane that feels exactly like this Father’s-

-wait, exactly like his Father’s?

 

“Father? Why do you have two instead of one arcane?”

It was one of those rare moments his father decided to come out of his room in a weekend and teach Nero how to summon his arcane. Nero was seven, about to turn eight and his grandfather decided it was time to show Nero about arcane control and weapon. His father took him to a field close to home, yet so far away from the city.

Not that Nero knows what his is to begin with.

And he sees his father summon his weapon, but it feels cold and icy to the touch. And Nero has shuddered from the dark, whispy shadows that came with it.

He sees his father look at him, surprised before he quietly murmurs, “Your grandfather possess the same arcane I did; I must have inherited from him.”

“Then who inherited Grandma Eva’s?” Nero innocently asks, "Does she have an arcane? It feels nice and warm..." He  sees the look on his father’s face turn into subdued sorrow. “...Father?”

“...someone who should have been with us the entire time.” His father quietly murmurs, clutching onto his sword tight, not realizing his arcane is spiraling with self-hatred and silent fury. Nero shivers, feeling the ice slowly creep to him- and his father stills before he takes a few deep breaths. The ice goes away, but the shadow of his anger remains. “Sorry. ...It’s nothing for you to learn now. For now, you should focus on figuring out what your arcane is.”

“My arcane?” Nero blinks, confused. “Father? Who’s supposed to be here with us?”

His father pauses- before he sighs, looking away from him. “It figures you would begin to ask... but it’s someone who I am still very fond of. I would be- if he is still here.” And he falls silent, looking at the outside and Nero realizes how suddenly gentle his father’s arcane became instead of the frightening dark fury is was. “He would have loved this place, this sight alone...”

“Father?”

He feels the gentle cold return to their indifferent self. “Never mind. Let’s continue or else the sun grows dim.”

 

Nero has been with his family long enough to be familiar with his grandfather’s, grandmother’s, Trish’s, and his father’s arcane. And this-

I know that arcane- wait, what the HELL, I do!?

He sits up before he looks around to see if-

-no, Kyrie managed to sleep peacefully. And he decides, against his own will, to not disturb her. He gives a tiny relieved smile, brushing her hair before he looks to see who else is up aside Nico. Then he see Credo, who is helping Nico with the parts at the table and he walks up to him. I know he should be sleeping soon, but I can’t keep this in now because I might forget again-

“Ice.” He hisses, trying not to attract anyone else’s attention or wake Kyrie up.

“Huh?” Credo blinks, looking to his friend. Nico looks up at him, a wary stare on her face. “I’m- sorry, what’s wrong?”

“How long do we have until the first watch is done?” He needs to tell them. This is going to keep eating at him until Kyrie wakes up and Nero silently tells himself no, he has to say it before he forgets.

“About a few more hours before Lady and Trish take over- hey, shouldn’t you be sleepin’ or somethin’?” Nico stares at him. “You’re like a bitch when you stay up too late-”

“Nico, I swear to God, shut up and let me say this before I forget.” Nero whispers, intentionally trying to prevent anyone else from hearing him. “It’s about V- he hides an ice arcane. The same one just like my stupid dumbass father’s-” He registers the shock in Credo’s eyes as it widens- and Nico looks gobsmacked. He silently chalks it up to a ‘haha’ moment for the mechanic, but that was not important. “Yeah, I know. Don’t. Say anything. Pretend that you’re busy and listen.”

He definitely does not want anyone else to know about this- except for the others. And he has a sinking feeling if V finds out-

-oh God if V knows-

-then why would- Nero’s mind is muddled at the moment, but he continues to hiss, “I didn’t think about it until now- and I realized V’s arcane is literally the same as my father’s!”

“And what made you think that?” Nico is staring at him as if a second head is growing- oh, right. She can’t sense arcanes at all. “Just- explain it as you would to the others!”

“Okay, well,” Nero glares at her before taking a seat next to Credo, who allows him. “There was another familiar he summoned earlier- Shadow. A panther. And Griffon-”

“That hawk?” Credo finishes, voice also in a whisper. “I thought it was unusual to hear that thing talk.”

“And that’s what you’re basing off your suspicions on?” Nico flatly mutters, eyes narrowing at Credo before she glances at Nero. “Sorry, but uh. No offense, but ain't that a bit judgmental of ya to-”

“It isn’t just you who has suspicions about V.” Credo continues and Nero stares at him in shock. Nico raises her eyes, stopping with her work to actually listen. “Trish. She asked if I found anything on him- and I am about to do my research while we conduct our watch.”

So Aunt Trish too?? Nero’s eyes glance to Nico, who frowns in return. “Hey, Nico. About V? When did he first appear in Fortuna City?”

“I dunno, want me to text Rock and ask?” Nico lifts her phone and they both nod before she takes off her gloves. “Though you gotta admit this much; he’s attached to Dante more than the rest of us. It’s like- maybe he trusts him more than either one of us?”

This makes Nero fall silent- he’s also realized said man’s arcane is soothed when either he is around Dante or the mercenary talks to him. “...maybe. But I mean, he’s supposed to be Dante’s client! Isn’t he?”

“He is,” Credo frowns, “But from the way he behaves, I suspect there’s more than that.” Nero stares at him, looking baffled.

“Then why...?”

“I have no clue.” Nero’s hands grip in his fists. “But I want to know- I need to ask Kyrie what made her think V looks familiar to her.”

Credo firmly nods before glancing back at his sister- who is still sleeping. “...we’ll talk later.”

“Good idea.” Nico grumbles, resuming back to her work before she hums, “If you idiots want, I can look something up in my deadshit dad’s notes about familiars-”

“No. That won’t be necessary.” Credo shows his cellphone to Nico, who takes it before she shoos him off. “All right, all right! I’ll get some rest- you too.”

“I’ll try, but I ain’t promising a thing!” She smirks, “That Rockstar got me pumpin’!”

The two boys stare at each other with insufferable expressions on their faces.

Credo scoffs, “I swear, if you start complaining about tired you are due to your pride and joy as a gunsmith, I will happily say this is your fault-”

“Shut up, stuffy boy!” Nico glares at him before returning to her work.

Credo sighs, shaking his head before placing his hand on Nero’s shoulder. “You should get some rest- maybe it’ll make you think.”

“...yeah. Good idea.” Nero smiles back before going back to his sleeping bag. Then he sighs, eyes still open.

Nero tries to fall asleep and he can sense Credo trying to as well. Nico is still tinkering with the guns, but Nero can tell she’s bothered by it too.

The thought doesn’t leave them at all.


About an hour or two goes by and there’s nothing too big.

V silently flips through a page and glances to see that Dante hasn’t returned from his walk around the perimeter. He sighs, placing his book down before he looks at the city itself. There were a few roars before they whimper- and V knows Dante has taken care of the monsters that dare approach this place. Good. At least let us live while we’re still here. Cowards.

He surveys the background of what was once a bustling, lively city-

 

He sees Dante turn to the view of a lighted city, his blue eyes widening as he drinks the view in.

 

...if only I could have joined him instead of...

Then he turns and joins them, another thought mulling in his mind before he turns to see Dante, who looks back at him and grins. “Hey V! Cheer up, our shift’s almost over. So if you want to sleep, we’re almost there.”

And for a moment, he thought he’s back in his true form, the one with his real hair color, his real body- not in the form he shrouds as V-

-but he looks down and sees the tattoos in his arms and black gloves.

V silently wonders how much longer he has before the charade ends; he has a time limit. 

I need to tell him before he ruins it all. The one I've cast to the side, the one who is guarding, waiting-

Yet he feels himself smile and murmur, “I’m guessing you are nearly drained of your arcane?”

“Yeah, well,” He gestures to the now cleared streets. “I’m feeling a bit better now. No more monsters to drain me of my arcane like before.”

“I don’t think they plan to.” V looks back at the direction of the tower. “Even demons must know when to rest.”

“That’ll depend.” Dante stretches, feeling rather lax as he leans back. Then he glances around and V is confused for a minute. “Where’s Griffon? I thought he wanted to fly around, get some new scenery in this space.”

He forgot about that; said hawk got restless, so V summoned him, allowing him to fly around before deadpanning his boredom. So V let him back, itching to grab the hawk's beck just to silence him. Oh, the temptations to have silence... “Ah. Resting. Though I called him back.”

“Oh. Well- right. You and your familiars. How did you ever get used to summoning them is beyond me.” The mercenary groans, returning to his supposed lax position. “But how did you get them? Just out of curiosity.” He’s already asked Griffon. Now it’s V’s turn to explain himself. “There’s absolutely no way you could have just made them up as you started your arcane.”

V’s lips twitch to a smile. “I will answer- if you can tell me something in return.”

“Huh, is that how we’re going to play it?” Dante arches an eyebrow, glancing at him. “What’s that?”

“How did you get your start as a mercenary? It is a rather difficult profession. Let alone a life-risking one.”

“You first.”

“Very well.” V pauses for a brief second. "I found them while I was travelling, searching for something. You can say they were in need of something themselves. And we all understood that we wanted something in common- so we drew up a contract."

Dante's annoyed that he's not straight and narrow to the point. Instead, it's vague and completely broad- yeah, he's not going to get something specific from V. Not like what he got from Griffon. Better deal with what I have then. Thanks, you flappy bird, you were a lot more helpful than V is. “...a contract? For what?”

V pauses as if trying to word a proper response- before he glances at Dante. “Your turn. I answered your question.”

“Ah. Right. I did mention that.” Dante pauses, slowly sitting up as his mind processes the question. But then he glances back, a small, thin smile on his face. “Remember that town I told you before we left Fortuna? The one I used to live in? It’s after they died I decided to take matters in my own hands. I met a mentor who helped me begin that road. Then I met other people through him and I learned lots of things, tricks, and ways of the mercenary. Those demons and monsters who corrupt people and decide to take whatever they want without... I mean, there are people who honestly deserve what’s coming to them. No matter how bad they are.” It’s always bad. No matter how much I did to help-

Desmond. Melissa. Lila. Grue. Jessica. Nell.

He's lost them all, no matter how much he wanted to save them. No matter how much he's tried, with his abilities, with his arcane that he thought he had enough of- I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'm sorry-!

Then he looks down at his gloved hands and grips it. “...even then, nothing good comes from it. Not from being with me, not from me, not at all-" He blinks, realizing who he's with and he gulps, seeing V look at him with an intense gaze. "Sorry- I'll stop-"

V narrows his eyes at this before he places his hand around Dante’s- and the latter looks to him with surprise.

“Don’t say that.” V carefully states, trying so hard not to let any emotions get better of him. “Please, never say that again. Do you doubt yourself this much?”

The mercenary blinks before he closes his eyes. If only you knew... “I don’t know, V. People I care for either die or sell me out for their own shit. It’s rare I get people who truly care for me. And you-” He looks at V with suspiciously wet eyes, yet he tries to hold his carefree attitude together. This is getting harder than I thought. “You only knew me since last night. You’re just a client. After this, I don’t know what your plans are. You said you had no plans after this job. Why do you still care for someone like me?”

The other man falls silent. For a moment, Dante thinks he’s stalling, attempting to think of an excuse.

Instead, he feels V tighten Dante’s hand, lifts it, and kisses his palm. And it gets Dante’s attention- he straightens up in shock, but then he notices how V looks at him-

-with those blue eyes that he swore were black when he first met the black-clad man.

“Because, Dante.” V quietly murmurs, closing his eyes, “I want to. I'm here now. I broke that promise to you years ago- and I want to make it up to you. Please, let me in. I want to help you..."

Shocked, Dante is about to ask why and what promise is he talking about-

 

“Dante. Please, let me in. You used to be close...”

 

He stills, realizing he still hears his older twin speak and it’s just him and V-

 

"...the bond we have, do you still recall?  You used to talk to me about everything- I want to be close again-!"

 

A part of him now wonders if the man who claims to be his older twin and V are related. ...are they?

It’s only around V when that voice comes, that low hoarse voice that he’s slowly coming to realize as his older twin brother. He should ask. He should start wondering if he’s going insane or what now-

But instead, Dante blinks, ignoring how warm his face got, and slowly allows V to withdraw his hand away.

And the feeling from his dream returns- the one where he wants to be close, the aching feeling in his heart that nearly drove him insane. He wants to be with his twin again, even if he doesn't find the answers he wants-!

Then he clears his throat, attempting to break away from the now thickening tension. He notices V's eyes open, but he avoids his eyes. Shit. “I’m- gonna walk around and-” He lamely gestures to the area surrounding them. V is still staring at him and Dante now realizes he’s felt this before. “Explore. And. Uh. Yeah. We’ll get the ladies when we’re done. You get the idea. Will you be-”

“No, I’ll be fine.” V nods, his face a light dust of pink, snapping his fingers to summon Griffon (who gracefully lands with a loud squawk and curses). “I’ll alert you if something occurs.”

“Thanks! I really mean it.” And Dante rapidly walks away, and turns a corner, presumably to clear his head off from the moment just now.

And it's just V- and Griffon, who perches where Dante was just at. 

What it could have been the moment I would have told him- why did I let him get away!?

Then Griffon lets out a long-suffering sigh, a very flat stare aimed at him. "For crap's sake. Are you serious?"

V nods. He covers his free hand with his face- the one he felt Dante's warmth with. It still tingles. He can feel his emotions surge with longing, want. Need. Did he- no, this form didn't dissipate. Barely. "Yeah."

"You were just about to tell him, weren't you?"

Said man nods again, clutching onto his cane again.

"...wow. What great timing! Coulda saved a lot of grief." Griffon snorts. "And here I thought those shitty soap operas at those bookstores are the worst. What the hell, man?”

"I know." V sighs. He closes his eyes-

 

He sees Dante turn to the view of a lighted city, his blue eyes widening as he drinks the view in.

"Yeah, but you know, I like it! It gives me lots of energy- I wanna explore around and do things! There's so many things to do here! Maybe-" Dante’s getting giddy and it catches his attention. "OH! Making new friends, being in a new adventure-! It's like a new playground! There's always something to find in new areas! ” He frowns at the idea of someone already getting Dante’s attention, but he allows him to continue. “Like an action game, but more awesome! I'll be the hero, saving the day from many bad guys! And I'll be strong- like you, big brother!"

 

"So close."

V whispers to himself. He can still feel Dante’s warmth linger in his hand- and he closes it. “So close, yet so far, brother...”

The reason I made that contract with them, why I’m like this, why I’m forced to endure this... It was to find you, Dante. Why is it I still feel distant, no matter how close I am?

What am I missing?


Dante has made it around a couple of blocks before he ceases his rapid walking, pretty certain he’s bypassed the limits of the crumpled parking deck the Winnebago is parked at.

“Shit, I shouldn’t have gone far.” Dante quietly grumbles before he takes out his phone. He derisively snorts, recalling he’s turned off his phone in silent fear that there will be no reception in the city. But he’s seen Lady look at hers, so it must still be there, right?

He decides to leave it off, just in case someone wanted to use it.

Few deep breaths to calm himself down (despite feeling V’s lips brush against his hand) and a couple of steps later, Dante gently takes out his dog tags and clutches onto it, trying to calm himself. But his heart is rapidly beating, even as he attempts to cool his mind. V... no, whoever you really are, are you my twin brother in disguise? What are you doing to me? Why are you making me like this? Then he stills, realizing one other thing. ...why can’t I remember you by name-

 

“That book, Inferno, right? There’s a guide who presented your namesake the layers of hell-”

 

And Dante groans, Griffon’s ‘unhelpful’ hint coming back to haunt him. Seriously!? As if that's going to help-

He’s read through that book and it’s been a fascinating read while he was waiting for Nell to finish her work. It was the one of the few classics she had in her study and the others were all about the history of certain guns and machinery. And he knows the details to Inferno well- especially with the most known quote to boot.

But- the guide who came with the Alighieri guy, wasn’t his name Virgil? ...wait, Virgil?  That name-He pauses with a frown  before hearing himself murmur, "...no, his name isn’t spelled with an ‘i’-"

 

"It's spelled with the 'e'!" Dante crows in delight as he presents a paper, carefully , neatly scrawled with the other's name. "I can finally spell your name right, Vergil! See?"

And he sees Vergil's eyes widen before a soft, gentle smile graces his face and tackles him to a hug-

 

Dante barely gasps, stumbling through the streets before his hand finds support on the side of the building. His mind is searing in pain, but he grips his other fist before glancing at his hand. It feels much worse than before- no, he’s wrong, this feels like absolute shit and it feels about a thousand times worse than before-

All because he’s just said the name ‘Virgil’- no, not like the poet, not at all, it’s spelled much differently-

Shit, shit shitshitshitshit nononononono not now not here ohgod what can I do I can’t collapse here- Not where the monsters are, not with them potentially coming to the others like they were easy prey-

A very quick thought crosses him. He impulsively takes out his hidden pocket knife Lady’s presented to him for his last birthday, glances at his left hand that’s gloved before gulping.

He’s only done this before finding out he was a car accident victim. And he knows- because Lady and Morrison were trying to help him- and this was the only way Dante thought- he thought- helped with his searing pain in his head. What happened instead was Lady nearly crying, Morrison about to kill him, and Dante was left with a very sore headache and nearly injured left hand.

And that the only time he resorted to pain as a solution to this-

-fuck any rational thought, he needs it now just to fight back the pain seering in his head. It's either collapse, or move forward with a bleeding hand. As horrible ideas both of them sound (and he refuses to go with any third optional one to keep walking with a shitty piercing headache), he has no other way to deal with this. Trish and Kyrie's light arcanes aren't near him to help heal. And his light arcane- the underlayment for his fire- is a bit... lacking on the 'heal the mind' part. If there was a moment where he regrets not learning something, it's that.

Dante barely tore his glove off before looking at his shaking hand, the knife, and the now healed left palm-

-before he grits his teeth when he quickly slashes it with his pocket knife, forcing a feeling of pain to go through him in a poor attempt to overwhelm his piercing headache. He swallows his pained scream, knowing pretty well that the monsters are attracted to any arcane blood spilled-

-to which he quickly remedies by putting his gloves back and gripping his fist again- and yeah, okay, bad move; he winces and that didn’t make his headache any better.

Shit. Shit! Walkwalkwalkwalkwalkkeepgoingnowyou'realmostback-

He barely makes it back and his vision is nearly blurring- he couldn’t make out the figures that surround the fire, let along it being V or someone else. He knows they were talking because he’s managed to utter, “Head- hurts- tried to get the pain to go away- ”

Though the gasp he hears is from Lady aaaaaand fuck. She knows what he’s done since she nearly forced his left hand open. The scar definitely didn’t heal this time, but for what reason- maybe he’s trying to get rid of his impending headache stupidly, recklessly-

He feels cool hands cradle the sides of his head while another set of hands try to heal his left hand, trying to heal him throughout, but it doesn’t work. He is not sure why, but it definently doesn’t heal.

Then he hears some shouts, some movement, something wrapping his left hand, more talking and the next thing he knows, his body is on something soft yet lumpy and that’s when Dante hears the manic bombardment in his mind, muddling the outside world with his mind now on haywire-

 

“-a guide who presented your namesake the layers of hell-”

"Are you really going to go out there one day?"

"Please don't leave me-"

"You promised we’d play swords-”

“I just want you to be safe-"

“I wanna explore around and do things!”

“You better swing me really high, Dante-"

“But it’s just you and your awful, stupid boring books-”

"Can- Can you hear me?"

"-the Famed Mercenary himself-”

"Wanna see if I can ask him to come with us?"

“You said you’re gonna go outside with me-”

“I promise, we'll get you to a safe place-”

"What are you doing to my brother?"

“-You're here and that's all I care about-”

“YOU LIED- YOU ARE A LIAR-”

“-Hold onto my hand- stay with me, okay?”

“You were kidnapped for ransom-”

“-you didn’t know and you lost your memories-”

“You ruined my notebook-”

“Get strong. Find me-”

“-am I finally noticing how similar you both look to each other?”

“-I hate you! I wished you weren’t here being all noisy-”

“-You were about to die that night-”

“-you gave me the push I need to get stronger-”

“You hate me!? But I thought-”

“Shut up and leave me alone already-”

“I paid the price for my own folly, for I have done something wrong-”

“...do you really-”

“JUST GO!”

“-You're... someone very important-”

“Fine! I won’t bother you ever again. I hope you’re happy.”

"I jest. You can call me-”

“...I wish I wasn’t annoying you...”

"What is it, ...gil?"

 

He barely gasps, fighting to keep his eyes open because no way in hell is going to black out, not when he was supposed to finish the first watch-!

"Please... help the boy's father. Find who he has lost- please end his suffering."

The promise. ...that he made to Nero’s father? Why is that coming up again...?

 

“I just know, Dante. We're halves of a whole. My younger twin... my other half. My beloved. ...all of this, mine-"

“-I'll be the hero, saving the day from many bad guys! And I'll be strong- like you, Vergil!”

 

His eyes snap open for one second, something finally clicking in his head.

Vergil? ...my twin brother’s name is Vergil?

He tries to speak-

“Do you want to know? What I have done? Do you truly want to see me then?"

And he gasps, not caring where the hell he is or who is listening, but he’s about to fall into that unconscious sleep again- Not again, not again- Why- just when I- Please let me retain this, let me keep this in me...!

Then, before he falls back to that darkness to sleep-

“I REFUSE to lose you again, stay with me, Dante!”

“’m just gonna... sleep for a bit, Vergil...” Dante mumbles, his eyes finally closing on him when he turns to V, who looks absolutely horrified at Dante’s worst, why does he look upset?

The last thing he saw, however, isn’t V.

He sees a white-haired man with a more sharpened, refined face similar to Dante’s. He wears a blue coat, black vest, and more black, seeing a very familiar set shocked brilliant blue eyes staring back at him, holding onto his left hand tight. And he wears the same torn, expression V has, sitting in V's place, having V's posture and holds something that isn't a cane- and it confirms it.

...you’ve been with me all this time, haven’t you...?

Then Dante falls asleep, his left hand laxing against one that’s tightening in an attempt to feel any more of his arcane.

...I think I know what happened now. P lease tell me why are you hiding like this...

He sees all black.

.....Vergil.....

Chapter Text

Eva is still writing when she hears a careful knock on the door. She blinks, looking up to see her son standing at the doorway. He looks as if he’s wrung out- and she knows why. His arcane is screaming in silent pain. “Oh, Vergil. Are you feeling better?”

“No.” Of course he isn’t. Vergil had suffered from another spell and it makes Eva worried for him. It happened in the middle of work, but he feels a bit... better. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s working remotely today. “The headaches are going away for now.”

“That’s good to hear.” Though she notices his eyes linger to her open notebook. “How’s Nero?”

“Fine. He is with Kyrie and the others.” Vergil responds before he glances again at the notebook. “...mother. I apologize for what I’m about to ask.”

Eva sighs, a small smile appearing at her face when she sees the way his eyes linger. “Well, I am not done with it. Yet even when you read the works of more complex scholars, you still want to read this silly little tale.”

“I know.”

And she knows it has merely strained her mind to think of a possible way to tie loose ends, to make sure the story fits. But her mind can’t think of the ending... she hands the notebook to him- her lone audience. “...I wish I was done with this. But I’m not.”

Vergil gently takes the notebook in his arm. “Did you forget how the story was told?”

“No. It was years ago when I last told it to you and him, but it felt so new.” And her gentle smile appears. “He loved hearing it... over and over again. I know it by heart, but it’s just... how to end it.” Her eyes grow fond. “I know how I told him. And I knew what you wanted back then.” She sadly glances at the notebook in his hand. “But I’m afraid I made it too complex... it’s not the same story anymore.”

He knows it pains for her to write it.

“I know. But it’s still the same one I remember.” Yet his resolve grows, the one he’s refusing to tell his parents and his own son about. He knows deep down Dante will also see it as the same story he’s heard too.

...if the conversation he's heard is true, that is.

‘Dante... I know you’re alive.' He makes his way to his room, gripping the notebook tighter. 'I know where to start.'

If what Nero told Trish was true-

'...can you tell, how much I’ve missed you?’

 


 

Moments before

 

By the time Lady wakes up bleary-eyed, she’s about to nudge the other woman in an attempt to wake her up. Yet she blinks when she notices Trish already awake, looking through her phone. And she looks worried.

“Trish?”

The blonde woman blinks, hearing her name being called, before she smirks. “Oh, so you’re finally awake?”

“I’m not looking forward to this.” Lady mumbles, rubbing her eyes. “Second watch is usually when things can either go great or go bad.”

“And how does it go for you?” Trish asks, glancing at her. “Given you sound like you’ve already gotten used to this.”

“Badly.” And it’s always when they feel sleepy as hell when things go very wrong. She can feel Trish’s amused reaction pique and Lady sighs, “I know you’re not used to being a merc-!” She stretches her her legs and arms, “-but you don’t know what the hell you’re going to expect at times like these.”

“That’s a good point.” The blonde woman hums, narrowing her eyes before glancing back at her phone. She shuts it off without another retort. “Well, might as well get the boys back and let them get rest, shall we?”

“Sure,” Though she doesn’t let up her worried glance. It catches Trish’s expression. “...sorry, but I have to ask. Are you really okay?”

“What... do you mean?” The blonde tries to shrug it off, but Lady narrows her eyes, her stare at the phone and any talk-backs fade away to a reluctant sigh. “All right, all right. If you wanted to know, you could have just asked.”

“And make things boring for you.” Lady deadpans. “I’ve known your cousin more than you, but I can see you two have the delight of hiding your emotions well. He has his ways, you apparently have yours.”

Trish’s lips twitch to a small, worried smile. “I envy you. You seem to care for him as if he’s your family... more than me.”

“Well, I lost the only family I had when I was a girl.” Her mother’s death was the worst of them all. Her father.... well, he was gone years ago. Only a manic named Arkham remained and Lady vowed to destroy him when she grew to the age he would have murdered her. “And Dante came, made me the person I am today. He and Morrison- they’re the two I can call my family. But I know that lughead- a dumbass who makes the worst decisions, impulsive as hell, snarky and full of stubborn pride when it comes to it. I’m honestly not sure if you would have enjoyed living with him either- he’s an utter mess.”

Trish quietly chuckles, her eyes narrowing at Lady. “Well... it was extremely fun shooting and seeing you two at your normal pace. And I think I wouldn’t mind getting to know both of you better.”

“The-” And the gunswoman blinks, staring at Trish in surprise. “-you mean Morrison and Dante?”

Trish shakes her head, her smile growing with humor. “My stupid cousin, Morrison, and you. I’ve been looking for a place to restart my career. Being a nurse in a clinic was a complete pain in the ass.”
Lady gapes before she starts to laugh. “You- a nurse? Dante will laugh his head off before telling you go back!”

“I anticipate that.”

“The monsters, demons- are you ready for-”

“Oh, I am.” The blonde woman smirks. “I read the library of demons, monsters, and arcane on the side. And my uncle gave me duel pistols, so going to the gun range is my way of fun. Aside working on my arcane and teaching Kyrie and Credo, that is.”

Lady hums, her bi-chromatic eyes narrow with gleeful interest. “So you shoot dummy targets for fun? What life were you dealing with before?” She trembles with laughter when she hears the woman’s flat sigh. “Oh no! Is it because of the job or how people look at you as a nurse?”

“All of the above.” Trish sighs. “And the repetitive of it all, the stress- it’s a bit too much. I’m ready for a change in pace.”

“Even if you’re willing to sacrifice the good money you got from the clinic?”

The blonde woman smirks. “Oh, I left a good month before this mess. I was in the middle of trying to think of what to do... and I think I found it.”

“And you think you’re up to be a mercenary?” Lady asks, looking at her. “You sure about that? It’ll be an interesting road.”

“I’ll deal.” Trish shrugs. “I like a change of pace. And-” She smirks again, this time Cheshire-like. “-aside making sure my cousin doesn’t get himself into any more messes, I think I can thrive in this chaos you two make.”

The gunswoman huffs, feeling a bit entertained. “Well then. I’ll be the one to really welcome you to this lovely mess, but I think you should let Dante know you’ll be crashing with us.”

“Oh, don’t worry about him.” The blonde woman’s eyes glint at the thought of horrifying her cousin by stating she wants to join on their fun. “I think he’ll live with two people who can happily grate on his nerves.” She smiles when Lady giggles at the idea... before recalling her initial inquiry. “It’s about V.”

“V?” Lady’s laughter stops. “What about him?”

“Don’t you feel-” And all feelings slowly evaporate for her suspicions. “-something feels off about him? That he isn’t who he claims to be? I got information from- well, let’s just say I asked for an... impromptu background check.”

“I... didn’t think of that.” Lady quietly murmurs. Why didn't Morrison get one from the start? “Why are you suspicious of V?”

“It’s interesting that you asked that,” Trish’s eyes narrow, looking at her phone. She doesn’t see Lady’s reaction when she quietly states, “...I think you should know that Dante had a twin brother.”

“Twin... brother?” Well. This is new.

Trish nods. “Older. Dante’s the younger of the two.”

“Oh.” Lady blinks. She’s thought he was the older one based on the tales he tells of Lila, but apparently not. “Why-”

“I think I should tell you,” Trish looks worried, “What happened on the day Dante got kidnapped because I was there for a part of it... and what happened afterwards.”

“Wait, why me? Why aren’t you telling Dante all of this?”

Trish’s lips thin, thinking of a certain individual who is in the trailer. And Lady gawks, realizing there is one other person-

“Because if my fears are confirmed about something,” Trish murmurs, “Then Dante is going to find out on his own about him-” She suddenly stills, standing abruptly up before she glances to Lady. “Lady. Am I- my cousin- Can you sense Dante’s arcane?”

“Eh? Ugh, sure, isn’t he in the middle of-” And Lady stills, realizing with a sinking realization that Dante’s warming fire arcane feels jarring, gasping for air-

-wait, jarring!?

And Lady sits up, gasping with sharp horrified realization- “Oh no- is he injured-”

“Wait, what!?” Trish’s voice raises in alarm- and somehow this stirred up the others awake- and it caught their attention. “I’m sorry- wait, what!?

“Oh nononono- I need a first aid kit-” Lady doesn’t care, she knows her pistols are loaded and read to go when she bursts open the trailer door, dashing in just in time to hear V’s alarmed reaction to see Dante, who is on the verge of collapse, clutching on his left hand-

-and blood drips out of it and Lady stills- before she dashes, Trish alongside her along with someone else and the next thing she knows, she’s feeling how shaken Dante’s arcane is. It’s all over the place and she immediately realizes what’s happening.

“Can you hear me!? Dante!” V cries out, attempting to force his arcance to react, but it only makes Dante grunt in wincing pain, clutching on his head with his right hand. His left hand is balled up- and terribly stained. “Dante- please-”

“Let me try-” Trish’s arms glow and she tries to heal, but that doesn’t work. She gasps, glancing at him, “Dante, let me- my arcane can’t-”

“Head- hurts-” Said man gasps, trying to hold back his pain. “Tried to get the pain to go away-”

“Dante!?” Oh crap. Nero. And he looks horrified, especially since Kyrie is holding out a first aid kit. “What the- were they-”

“No, one of his memory returned.” Lady forces his left hand open and Dante cries out. She narrows her eyes, her fire arcane blazing with ire anger. She ignores their gasps, even blocks how stiff V’s arcane is all of the sudden. She sees the pocket knife on his right hand before she takes it away, folds it, and pockets it for good reason. Lady bottles her rage in favor for being a bit more snappy. At least this’ll make Dante know she’s figured it out.

...Again. “Oh my God, Dante, you piece of shitty bastard- I’m going to kill you because you pulled this stupid stunt again! I knew it! This would happen again, I just knew it- She’s not surprised- because the other time this happened-

-yeah, no, there’s no need to revisit that lovely ass memory where she was the one on the verge of bawling her eyes out while Morrison and Rock had to do most of the hard work.

Now’s more important. And she knows Dante’s hands take a long time to heal. She decides the only thing to do is to pry his now ruined glove off and bandage it before hauling his ass to the bed so he doesn’t crash on the ground. She can hear him whimpering, but she only grits her teeth, trying to be the braver one this time without bursting into tears herself. There better be some sorry ass monsters out tonight because I’m so ticked...!

“Alcohol and wipes- I need them now!” Yeah, this is not new anymore, the many times they had to dress each other’s wounds come back to her. She hears Kyrie approach her, setting the kit down as Nero holds his hand open. She silently feels sorry that the kid has to see his ‘hero’ look like this, but really, he has to. Dante’s an idiot, an absolutely, complete, one-hundred percent moron for resorting to this just to make his headache go away. And Lady is going to be severely delighted to kick his brain over it. “Do you have a wrapping bandage-”

“Let me help. Please.” Despite helping Lady with patching up the wound by placing her hands over it in an attempt to heal, Kyrie is on the verge of crying and now Lady wants to smack Dante’s stupid head into the rubble. Making the kids cry- yeah, no she is going to beat him up for this. “It-It’s not healing-”

“Alcohol in a cotton wipe. Arcane won’t help now.” Lady commands and Kyrie decides to hand her one Trish has doused on before talking to V over what happened. (She can’t blame V for this.)

Shit. This is legit the last thing she wanted to happen. And now it does- only at the worst timing and in front of the worst group of people possible. ...she’s going to have a delightful talk with her friend when he wakes up. Kicking his ass is a requirement.

“You said-” Nero’s voice reaches her as she furiously begins to wrap his wound. She tightly held onto his bloodied, torn glove. “This happened before-”

“Years ago, there’s an absolute shitty mission that involved a dead family, a car accident, and how the town thought they were cursed because of their ancestry dealing with the dead. What a start, right?” Lady talks though Dante’s whines, despite how terrible they sound. “When Morrison described how horrible the incident went, Dante just had this horrible headache that he tried to get rid of, on his own, by making himself feel pain. And I didn’t think he had a pocket knife on him, but noooo, he does!” She hears Nero hiss at this, but she rolls her eyes. “And then Morrison realized Dumbass Dante was having a spell, patched his wound up, and we- me and Rock- had to literally drag him to his bed, making sure his sorry ass woke up. Oh, and did I mention that the three of us had to make sure he had no sharp objects on him just so we didn’t let this happen again?”

If she even talks about how many times Dante's depression nearly grips him, then- well, maybe not. She'll save it for later. This is more important.

“And-” V’s voice asks with a bare hold on how genuinely upset he is. Lady glances at him- and it looks like the man is suffering for... a different reason? “-how long did it take for him to wake up?”

This, she is not going to look forward to hear their reactions to. She sighs, closing her eyes. “A good three days before he finally woke up.”

“Three days!?” A chorus of voices gasp in horror and Lady resists to smack her head against something hard (like the ground), but she nods.

Three. Days.

She has a partner to murder when he wakes up. He’s already survived a pretty large stab once, so he can deal with her bullets.

“He’ll be better then.” Lady finishes and made sure the bandages stays tight- there will probably be a need to change them later. She gestures to Nero to help him up- to which Nero glares at her, but does so anyway. Trish was about to take him by the other arm, but V barely has a hold on him, silently nodding to Trish to at least open the trailer door. Kyrie is also ahead, but Lady senses how unsettled her arcane- no, it’s not just the girl’s. Nero’s on the verge to burst, Trish’s is nervously upset, and V-

-V’s arcane is feeling out of sorts. As if it’s trying to react in some manner, but right now, it’s a very large mixed bag of a lot of distress, being upset, and silent anger.

For what? You didn’t do anything wrong- all you did was watch over a shift with him. This- this is Dante's self-inflicted stupid plan to get rid of a horrendous headache. Lady sighs, gently patting Trish’s shoulders in a quick effort to comfort her. And she looks down and sighs, spying her hands are stained with Dante’s blood. She hears Dante gasp, wincing in pain, but it’s like before.

“Come on. Let’s get him to the trailer.” Except no arcane can heal him. Trish’s and Kyrie’s light arcane barely did anything to ail him- and whatever V tried to do didn’t help either. Lady really starts to think a part of it has to do with Dante's darker thoughts, wanting to never forget the deaths he could have stopped. Or what he could have done to save them. The many possibilities that have never come to pass- he's only been through a few... rare depression spells. And whatever wounds he inflicted on himself doesn't heal- it only heals when he allows it to. (It's the wounds his gloves keep covering up. But the one that remains from his jobs is the large gash across his abdomen- he's kept that for a good reason.)

It’s after they decide to go in the trailer accompanied by an alarmed Credo and Nico (who have stayed to make sure nothing else showed up to maul the group) that Lady turns back, hearing Nero and V place Dante on the bed.

She closes her eyes, now trying to stave off her own headache. “I hate this. This is such a fucking mess. And it just got worse, god damn it, Dante!”

“Is he-” Credo glances back at the direction of the bed where Dante was turned over. “-will he be okay?” Nico stays silent, glancing around before placing the first aid kit away.

Lady nods, grabbing her gun. “The only other thing is because of his stupid stunt, I bet those monsters will show up, so better be prepared.” If anything, those things want to feed on fallen blood and arcane. Experience has taught her this much, at least. “Come on, brat. If Dante’s shown you some skill, then you should be able to handle a series of idiot goons.”

Nero’s jaw tightens, glaring at her, but he glances to Kyrie, murmurs some words before hugging her, and that’s enough for Lady to walk out of the trailer. She hears footsteps and Trish appears next to her, a bit infuriated.

“How are you used to this!?” Trish asks, anger in her eyes. “You- Do you realize how much pain my cousin is!? And the only thing you can think about is to fight!? Are you really-”

“I know my friend is in pain over finding his lost family for three decades. He's also lost so many people in his lives that he regrets not saving them all. I’ve seen him nearly get killed, shot, slashed, scratched, burned, and stabbed by his own sword. And he made it out alive.” Lady cuts her off, her bi-chromatic eyes glaring back at Trish’s horrified blue ones. “And I’ve seen his spells more than you- both this and his depressive ones. Yes, I know. I should be there for him. But you know what? he'll think this is going to be nothing when he wakes up. He’s told me once to take care and make sure to kick his ass if this happens again.And thing is, he's the type of person who'll never ask for help! No matter how many times we tell him we'll talk? He'll never say it! We'll find it out and then he'll break down- but he'll be bottling it all up again. His depression spells? They're rare and they're ugly. Rock and I were there for those few. We made sure he was fine and recovering. And he got some help, but how much, I'm honestly not sure. But I'm certain about this- he's unpredictable. He'll never ask for the help. Even if I told him so many times...!

"And yes, I know what you’re going to ask." Lady knows Trish's arcane is about to lash back, so she decides to not give the woman that chance. She knows what she's about to ask- what happened after Dante collapsed like this. Inflicted himself with the pain with a pocket knife on his left hand that had just recovered. And that was after Dante finally admitted he has depression. And Trish is the closest family member he has. "That first time? I was practically screaming, kicking at him, and he just laughs it off. He’s asshole of the year, making me, Rock, and Morrison worried like that. And now I can tell someone else about all of this- and know at least Dante won’t pull a shitty thing like this again.”

Nor will she allow him the chance to. She, Rock, Morrison will not allow it. The fights. The battles they share. The pain they all mourn, albeit separate, from different routes. Dante, for his foster family, his mentors Grue and Nell, the girl he tried to save from the hospital, Nero's mother, and the family he's trying to search for (are they really dead though? Lady doubts it, if Trish's appearance tells of this). Her, for her mother and her father before he went corrupt. Rock, for his mother and father who both knew of their fates for being associated with the infamous ones; his half-brother, who he had tried so much to save before giving up when Argus told him he's invested in the cult. Morrison, for the woman who affected him once before dying to protect him.

They all are the family she knows. And she's vowing to protect them, help them when needed.

She sees the slight shocked stare Trish wears before the blonde woman closes her eyes, taking in a shaky breath, and then breathing out. Then she murmurs, “...and this is your version of my cousin. What...” She takes a sharp breath before she closes her eyes, grumbling, “An impressive moron. What the hell, Dante. ...Oh my God. I'm torn- between being relieved that he's alive or he's made this awful decisions that are just as terrible to himself.” She takes a deep breath before mumbling, "I don't know know him as much as I thought."

“You will. Don't worry." Lady's lips thin. She pats the woman's arm for some form of comfort. "But know this: Dante is someone who makes tons of impulsive decisions, but has a big heart who cares for lot of people, even if he's a dumbass in how he shows it. He just needs better communication. I just wished... he should’ve known what he was doing when he did that to himself.” Trish’s eyes widen, but Lady doesn’t say anything else about it. “...damn idiot. Did it at the worst time too.”

“So,” The ladies turn to see a silently furious Nero and a worried Credo approach them. Well, they heard her too. Oh well. The more slightly ticked off people after Dante for that stunt, the better. “Does this mean Dante’s out of commission until he wakes up?”

Lady senses it’s the white haired kid who wants to kick his sorry ass more. And she feels very bad for him.

“Yeah.” And they hear the growls and roars of monsters- and she sighs. Insufferable asshole, did you know you were going to attract these mooks when you did this? “Where’s V?”

“Back at the trailer. I suppose this means he’ll be of no help since he wants to stay with Dante.” Credo quietly explains, but he draws out his sword. “Kyrie and Nico are on watch. We should prepare, should we?”

Lady nods before spying Trish take out her pistols. She arches an eyebrow, noticing the colors on them are white and black. Like Dante’s Ebony and Ivory. “...they got a name?” She shifts the subject a bit.

“Like you and Dante, they do.” The blonde woman ghosts a laugh. “...Lume and Ombra.” Trish’s voice is calm, collected. “Spar-My uncle gave them to me as a gift. You’ve only seen me use my arcane- just not with these.”

Nero’s strangely silent, but she feels his arcane fidget. Anger runs through him and she silently feels bad for the kid. But then she knew who caused it and she decides to let Nero let out a good brunt of his anger on Dante when he wakes up.

“Then start using the guns, reserve much of your arcane as you can.” Lady takes out Kalina Ann and charges her arcane with it. And the monsters start to approach them- a slow, incoming swarm, huh? “This is going to be a while. I dare you- keep up while you can!”

And they charge, weapons at the ready before striking their first beasts in the night.


“...please be safe.” Kyrie whispers, carefully shutting the trailer door as it barely muffles the sounds of their fight. Then she glances to Nico, who looks through the window to keep watch from a distance.

“Do you think he’s gonna make it?” Nico asks, lowering the covers before gesturing to the bed. Her voice is lowered and she knows why- they don’t want V to hear. Speaking of, they can hear V say something, but Kyrie closes her eyes to compose herself. She nearly cried when Dante’s hand wasn’t healing, but the fact that she can still try to help by wiping away the blood calmed her, knowing it wasn’t life-threatening.
The fact that they can’t heal him from his suffering headache is something that still upsets her.

“I think he will.” She also hopes it doesn’t take three days for Dante to wake up.

“Yeah. Same here.” Nico narrows her eyes. Her eyes keep glued to the window. “Dante better wake himself up- ‘cause I’m pretty sure Lady will be pretty pissed when they both have jobs to do.”

“That... is true.” Kyrie sighs, not noticing V’s cane blocking her way. And when she stumbles, she gasps, feeling her footing a bit off-

-to only feel herself being caught by someone else who isn’t Nero.

“Are you all right?” She blinks and sees V awake. He looks to her in worry, to which she nods, immediately flustered as she scrambles up.

“I’m sorry!” She whispers, her voice down to a whisper so she doesn’t distrub Dante. “I should be more careful-”

“No! No, it’s fine.” And V allows her to stand as he retrieves his cane. But he's still shaken. They had just put Dante to the bed. And V had said something after Nero and Credo left to join Trish and Lady. But Kyrie isn't sure as to what... “I just- I needed to find a blanket so I can cover myself for the night.”

“Do you plan to stay and wait until he wakes?”

He nods, glancing back at the bed, worried. “...if he doesn’t wake, I still want to wait by his side. ...I want him to be better.”

Kyrie allows a small smile grace her. Despite knowing him for a little bit, V seems to really devoted to make sure Dante is okay. Though I wonder why he cares about him so much...? “I’ll let the others know if you want me to. But I am certain Mister Dante will be better, that he will be fine, and that he will heal. Just be there for him.” She silently tacks that in her mind- before she glances at him, curious about something. "If it’s all right with you, Mister V... I just want to ask. Did you know Dante before you sought him for this?"

V blinks- before he thinly smiles, something unknown coming through his eyes. And Kyrie doesn't miss it- V is very fond of Dante. "Perhaps. Longer than you think."

"Have you asked about him before meeting with him?"

And V's eyes narrow, the unknown, slightly warm expression disappearing to thinly veiled anger. Kyrie blinks, wondering if she should walk back that question. She feels the plunge in the air and silently shivers. "Sorry-"

"No, it's..." V pauses before he bitterly chuckles. "Perhaps I should have let him know what I have heard. That I've heard how much people have looked up to him as a hero... and those who look up at him with such disdain." The shift in his tone makes Kyrie still, but V doesn't notice. "I didn't think for a moment Dante would have been revered as such- not only as a savior, but also as a scapegoat. Someone to blame on when things went wrong, or when they feel the need to destroy someone else who shouldn't be the one shouldering all of the blame...! If only that day didn't happen-!"

Kyrie falls very silent. She feels something else, cold, slowly domineering coming from him. It isn't just V's strange shadow arcane. And she knows- she's felt it a few times before, only on the times when-

 

"Nero." There's a low, emotionless tone that cut through their laughter. And it instantly made Nero's face draw back to its concerned, icy expression when he looks up at the man who just approached them. "If you don't mind-"

"I'll keep it down." Nero narrows his eyes and Kyrie senses that he doesn't like being told to keep their laughter to a minimum. "Sorry."

(They were only fourteen. Nero is growing up, so are Kyrie and Credo. The three of them were just talking about how horrible high school is, yet how they are surviving through it all. Yet Nero silently asks Kyrie and Credo if that hero of his was in his place at his age, would he be trembling or would he start standing up to fight? Like how he did when he saved them from that cult years ago?)

The man pauses- before he lets out a terse sigh, nursing his forehead. "No, it's... never mind. Keep conserving."

"Are your headaches coming back again?" Nero quietly grumbles, not facing him. There's no answer, but they all know what the response is. "You can't just let it-"

"You don't understand!" The man snarls, forcing him to glare at his son. There's a moment where it was about to break, and Kyrie silently braces against the brunt sharp, dark ice arcane that pricks near them- threatening to stab Nero.

But someone clears her throat and they turn to the older blonde woman; her looks still haven't aged, yet her sharp eyes glare at him. The man stills, eyes widening a bit when he notices the woman.

"Vergil." She states. "Are they acting up again?"

There's a very tense silence. Then the man grumbles, "...yes."

"Then don't take it out on them." Her voice is soft, stern, worried. "Please. Sparda wants a word with you."

The man pauses before he lets out a click of his tongue. He storms out in the direction of Sparda's study, the silent anger of his cold arcane ebbing away with the gentle warmth of Eva's fire. Then Eva sighs, looking worried before facing her grandson and his friends.

"Is... everything all right?" Credo asks, straightening up with concern. "Just a moment ago-"

"...Yes." Eva reluctantly nods, but Kyrie senses it isn't. "It's just- what is making them act up again...?"

"I don't know, it happens too often." Nero scoffs, eyes narrowing to the floor. Then he quietly grumbles, "I wished Father would stop having his stupid spells and get on with his life."

Kyrie doesn't have the heart to tell him his mother has the most grieved expression on her face when Nero said those words.

(Nor did they all notice the man still- with something fiercely gripping his heart, mind before going to meet his father in the study. And he silently defies his own son's words, never wanting to forget the one he's lost-)

 

-it's from him: Nero's father.

"Miss Kyrie?"

She jolts and notices V looking at her, worried. "Y-Yes?"

"Are you all right?"

And Kyrie shakes her head, attempting to smile without showing her nervous energy. Her arcane- Oh no. "Nothing! I was just... asking, that's all."

"Are you sure?" V asks, but for a minute-

“Hey! I think fight’s over.” They both turn to see Nico looking a bit relieved. “Come on- I think Nero’s injured-”

“Oh no.” Kyrie silently thanks the Gods before she had to explain herself. And that she's no longer uncertain. She can see it clear and well. The man in front of her is not a stranger named V. Then she glances back at the man, feeling even more nervous than before. “I- I have to go and make sure- well, you know.”

“Miss Kyrie.” And she stills, glancing back and for a minute, she stops.

A man with a regal-like aura stands before her, blue coat that separates into four tails, delicate embroidery flanks the coat ends. He wears all black underneath the dark royal blue- black ascot, black vest, black dress pants, and black boots. Instead of the metallic cane, he holds a familiar blue katana. And instead of the black hair and dark eyes, there is white hair and blue eyes, staring at her.

Kyrie stands frozen in fear. “...yes?”

I thought as much-

The man sighs, looking down at the ground and the voice that escapes it isn’t from V. “...thank you for assuring me Dante will be okay. I know he will. ...it's just a matter of time, isn't it?”

Kyrie nods, going for the trailer door, catching a sense of sharpened attention on her that she now realizes were from Nero’s father. “It’s of no problem.” Then she blinks, and there stands V. It’s arcane based- but why- he is in disguise that is made so well?

She pauses, looking at him worried, to which he frowns. “Is something the matter?”

Was her- no, she definitely felt it. His father is alive... and right with them the entire time. Instead, she just smiles and shakes her head. “I- well, the others. I need to tend to them. You should best tend to Dante.”

“Of course.” And he takes the blanket in hand, walking back to the resting mercenary, and Kyrie runs out of the trailer door, following behind Nico.

I have to tell Nero. 


“Are you all right?”

She blinks, looking up to see Nero looking at her, worried. Then she sees Nico and Credo look back at her with the same expression and Kyrie shakes her head.

The monster are gone, dead, and any chances of roots sprouting up were destroyed when Lady blasted off any potential areas by covering them with the largest, heaviest rubble she can find. Now, she’s slowly talking to Trish, leaving the four at the fireplace, recovering. Nero and Credo’s wounds are healed, some of their arcane slowly recovering, and they are trying to find out what to do now that their main man is down. Nero’s anger lessens, but everyone knows he’s ticked off of Dante.

I need to tell him who I saw. “I’m... well, no, I’m not fine.”

Nero suddenly frowns. Her arcane- is it tensed from something? Did something happen to her while we were gone? And Credo must have noticed, but they both don't say anything yet. If Nico realized her shift in personality, she doesn't intend to show it. "It's just... it's just us, right? You, Credo, Nico, and me?" Kyrie glances around before murmuring, “I need to tell something.”

"I can- give me a minute.” Nico decides to fiddle with the radio before she turns it on- volume down very low- to some music. At least the radio and cell towers are not destroyed. But the music is very much needed; no more monsters to come after them tonight. It calmed them down, at least a little.

Credo is also confused, staring at Nero. "Kyrie?"

"Right. Okay." Kyrie closes her eyes, trying to ease her nervousness.

"Kyrie?" Nero quietly asks, earning Nico's attention too. "Are you okay?"

"...I need to tell you something." Her voice comes out rather hushed. "It's about-" She looks back- and Credo notices that the adults were further away, out of hearing range. "-that man, V. He is familiar."

Nero’s expression changes to a concerned one. Credo frowns. "I believe you mentioned something about him looking familiar before in the day...”

"I sensed it." Kyrie whispers. "He has the duel arcane- ice and shadow.”

And this makes Nero still- and Nico barely hears it before her eyes widen behind her glasses. Credo's mind clinched in this; only two people come into mind who possess the ice arcane. One being the legendary arcane user Sparda; Nero's grandfather. The other-

"I already know.” Nero hisses, eyes narrowing as he stares at the fire Dante’s started.

"But..." Kyrie mumbles, herself in thought. "How? It's just a rare thing."

"I'm not sure what this arcane mumbo jumbo crap are, I know we talked about it earlier." Nico cuts in, but her expression looks worried. "But I thought your dad also used the shadow arcane too. Aren't those his things? Wielding two arcanes at once? You said it before, right? You wanted to know why your girl's suspicious of V."

Nero stops. He pauses before he asks, "Kyrie, who does he look like to you?”

“Your father, Nero.” Kyrie murmurs. Her vision didn’t fool her a bit. “It’s Mister Vergil.”

There’s stunned silence. Now she sees the looks of Credo and Nico mirror each other- silent, dreaded confirmation. And Nero pales, eyes widening before he lets out a horrified murmur. "...I knew it, I fucking knew it...!"

"Wait, what's wrong?" Kyrie asks, now frantic. "Did I say the-"

Nero just fiercely shakes his head, closing his eyes to calm himself and his arcane, which jolts and sparks with incredulous horror.

Credo nudges Nero before presenting him with his phone. “I need you to read this. It isn’t just you, I’m afraid.” Nero looks to him in confusion, so Credo sighs, not wanting to do it, but he has to. “This is what I told Miss Trish. I hope she told whoever she needed to- in order for things to be cleared up.” He stands up and glances over to Nico, and sees the ladies still conversing. She too is showing Lady her phone and Credo knows they’re talking about the same person. “It turns out she was also curious about V just as you both were.”

“Fuck.” Nero murmurs, reading the texts and then he hands the phone back to Credo- trembling. Kyrie feels another hand wrapped around her waist. She looks down to see Nero, leaning against her, silently begging for her to stay at least a little bit more. “...just... I need to think.”

And she does, worried for him as she leans in, allowing him to embrace her. He holds Kyrie tight as he feels her fingers draw slow, soothing circles to calm his arcane. IT works, feeling his lightening arcane calm and lean towards her light arcane, wanting nothing but a solid ground of reality on him. I really... really want everything to be normal again. Please, if there is a deity who is sympathetic to us, let this be easy as it can be for Nero, for Mister Dante, for the others.

...for Mister Vergil too. Even if he has his own motives...

She silently prays for Dante to get better. And then she notices Nico and Credo deciding to resume back to their activities, even though she feels their tense emotions on guard, wondering if things will ever be normal after this.

Kyrie closes her eyes, her light arcane being the only comforting one with a sliver thought of hope. Never mind about the normal. I just want everyone alive.

And a minute later, it’s Nero who cuts it, and she senses his lightening arcane brim with confusion, anger, and shock. He tightens his hand around Kyrie’s. “...shit. No, I get what he’s trying to...” Nero’s eyes narrow. “Why... would he do all of this? If he- then...” He closes his eyes, fighting inner turmoil and distress at all of this. He knows something else, but he doesn’t tell them. “...shit. All of this- why? Why couldn’t he have asked for help? Then we could have-”

Credo narrows his eyes. “...so you know something?”

“I can’t say it. He’s afraid I’ll ruin it for Dante. Of fucking course.” Nero lets out a small condescending chuckle, that for a minute, Kyrie swears mirrored his father's. “What sort of- this is my Father, of course he’ll do this! I just- it’s so stupid, it could’ve just been as simple as finding him and...! Ugh! I should have looked for Dante first, let him know about-!” Then he looks up with the most exhaustive glance. “If I so could, I would have been more than delighted to find Dante first and then let him know about our family- But no! ...no, I get why Dante’s mentioned his luck is the pits. Apparently I got it too, just in a different form.” Then he quietly mumbles, "I just want my uncle alive and awake..."

They are so confused right now.

“Geez, aren’t you trigger happy to beat someone up.” Nico deadpans, crossing her arms.

“Yeah. And I got a horrible idea.” Nero’s voice is shaking, but something in him surges and Kyrie glances at him. She’s not sure what it is, but it feels like something in him changed. “I want to-” He swallows his throat, but he glances to the other two. “I want to talk to Miss Lady about something. I need to know- was it just to take down the thing that’s up there?”

“Y-Yeah? From what I’ve heard so far from Rock-” Nico barely nods. “Why?”

Nero’s eyes narrow, blazing with worry. “I want to help Dante- and I know how I can repay him from saving us in Fortuna City. And I need Miss Lady’s help- Trish can come. All of you can. ...It’s just I need to do this.”

“What about V? And Dante?” Credo glances back at the trailer. “If he should wake up-”

“Lady said so herself Dante might not wake up and by the time he does, it might be too late.” The lightening arcane user’s fist grips. “And for once, I don’t want to sit back and just watch. I want to actually make a difference.” There’s silence, but Nero continues, “...I really want to save my family, all of you, this city, everyone...! And I just want my uncle back. I just want my father back to normal. Is that too much to ask?”

The silence this time is deafening- and then he hears footsteps and it’s from the ladies. Lady is sniffing, but she tries to hide her tears. Trish, on the other hand, has an arm around her shoulders in an effort to comfort her, but her eyes shine with a cold determination.

“No, it’s not.” The blonde woman quietly continues before she nods to Credo. “...so I take it that showed them what you sent?”

“I’m about to send it to Dante.” Credo’s eyes narrow. “If he wakes up- that is.”

(Lady frowns, not wanting to tell him Dante turned his phone off.)

“You overheard me, didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question. And Trish nods, Lady looking him with grim resolution. Nero sighs, but he still holds Kyrie’s hand. “...well? Am I stupid?”

Trish blinks- before she chuckles. “No. You’re normal. And besides,” She glances back at the trailer. “Lady and I were just talking about that. I guess our minds think alike. And honestly- well, we don’t know if Dante would have thought the same thing.”

Nero glances to Lady, silently wondering if this is okay. Said gunswoman sighs, rubbing her eyes a bit before she nods.

“Dante would’ve- well, that’s what he would have done.” She glances at them, despite being so dead in the night. “Screw the shifts. We’re going in Albus Tower. If Dante can’t wake up to finish this, then it’s up to us. If he does- well, even better. But at least- our goal tomorrow. Just entering in, find people we can save, then run. If one of us finds the dragon-” She pauses to think about it.

And Nico, being the slight impatient one, asks, “What if we do end up fighting against it? Or encountering it?”

“I’ll fight it.” Nero is resolute in this. “I’m going to end this stupid thing once and for all.”

At least Dante can wake up, knowing it’s all better-

There’s a slow rumble that catches their attention- and they realize it’s nearby. One second later and suddenly, they notice something rising from the top floor of Albus Tower. There was an unnatural bright light that suddenly forms, tinier flecks of light gathering to form into a large structure. Then roots, branches, and a trunk follow- it’s as large as the tower itself.

“The- What the hell is that!?” Trish cries out, standing up as they all observe this sudden growth in horrified awe.

“The Qliploth.”

They turn to glance at V, who is standing at the door to the trailer, but his gaze is now at the open ceiling... and the large, silvery tree gently gates over the tower, the unnatural white roots slowly encasing the tall structure. The roots have not reached the ground, but the thin, paper-like ends web across the lower half of Albus Tower, glowing. Just like the monsters and demons who were filled with their share of the arcane.

But V looks very worried, lips thin. “...it’s appeared. This can’t be a good sign...”

“I’m- sorry, repeat that!?” Credo’s voice raises in horror. “The Qliploth!? As in- the tree from Hell itself!?”

V nods and the air plunges into a mix of fear, angry, and confusion-

“Oh. My. God. What in the actual fuck- why is it going over Albus Tower!?” Nero’s fuming- and it vibes off well: nobody wanted to see this, asked for it-

“...I do not know.” V quietly responds before snapping his expression back at the others. “Are you- I can not help but overhear- are you all planning to storm in Albus Tower now?”

Nero glares back at him. “Yeah. Why do you want to-”

“Do you want this city to die!?” V suddenly snaps, forcing them all to fall into silence. “Do you- how much more can all of you take before you all realize there isn’t enough arcane to take it down!? There has been enough lives at risk as it is, unnecessary sacrifices were made- some that could have been prevented-” He takes in a sharp, deep breath before covering his face with his hand, trying to regain his senses from his about-to be rant as he takes in a deep breath.

And it’s Lady who breaks the silence. “Look, I know you’re still livid about Dante. But we need to get this done before anything else happens- and we don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow. So we need to go in now and-”

“-no. The tree will not grow- it’s not at its worst. Yet. We have enough time to wait.” V quietly stops her. He glances at them all, wondering how does he know that-

-but he will not let them know. He refuses to let them know how much he’s heard, how much he realized Nero and Kyrie know. ...how much he wanted to threaten them to silence, but it will eventually be let out. His son is sharp, and so was the woman Nero fell in love with for years...

Do you have any idea... how much I have done to make sure I found him? How much I’ve missed him? How much I ache for him- to find my other half and find out how he is? Do you?

He has to silently give them credit. But the only thought he has is who talks first. Who makes the first move- to Dante.

“Rest.” He coldly states. “Your arcane- it should be aware of your new situation. It will be able to recover itself- and so do all of you. Nothing is gained from beating yourself up over it all- so rest. Then fight.” He steps back in, barely adjusting his cane and leaving the others to think on his words. Then he glares at Nero, his son, the one who he has raised to fight... and now potentially his enemy. But this is not designed for you- you were supposed to be far away, letting Dante deal with this- “Especially to you two.” Him and Credo- Kyrie’s brother, Nero’s comrade in arms.

They will depend on the two to carry the team on- Lady is already preparing; V already witnessed her power. Trish- his cousin- she’s unpredictable. He refuses to deal with her- she’s already caught on.

But what does it matter now? They’re here at the tower. Shouldn’t they be at least relieved of that and let V handle Dante’s current situation?

Apparently no.

He steps into the trailer, silently mulling on what to do now.

“...fine.” Nero grumbles and he feels for Kyrie’s hand- and she gently takes his. Then he glances at her worried before he closes his eyes. “...we’ll go tomorrow, first thing.”

“Then don’t oversleep.” It was supposed to be in humor, but they don’t feel like it. Instead, Lady takes out her cellphone, takes a quick glance at the trailer to see if V is within earshot, then she whispers, “Give me your numbers. If we can't go in, the best we can do is to plan this thing out- now. Dante, Rock, and I used to do it before we got in to the large spot- now’s the time.”

This seemed to be in agreement with everyone- even Trish seems to agree with this, but not before glancing at Lady in concern. “Do you think Dante will wake up by then?”

Lady’s lips thin. Then she narrows her eyes. “...I don’t know. But if he does,” She glances up at the now still Qliploth tree, full on sight. “Someone, please tell him to burn that stupid thing down.”

“Like the church in Fortuna?” Kyrie quietly asks- and she blinks, noticing how shocked everyone else looked. A small, if not fond memory crosses back to her when she recalls hearing a certain gunswoman screaming at her comrade for setting a very ancient structure on fire from a rather crazy cult. “If I recall, Miss Lady, you were not fond of him doing that.”

Lady chuckles, realizing the kids were the ones who recalled that angry call. “Yeah... but you know, I think we need a proper burning. Especially with the demon tree over here.”

There are smaller chuckles, but there's an overwhelming silence that crosses them and expands through the night sky.

And even to the man in the trailer, they all wonder what will come next. 

V glances down to Dante, who still sleeps and he leans down, his hands clutched against Dante's bandaged left hand. 

Please, wake up, brother...

...and he too, closes his eyes to sleep for the night.

Chapter Text

The preparations were silent, only told through texts. It took up more minutes- taking naps in between, but it barely gets them by before they decide to finally rest. (Or rather, as Lady texted: I’d rather not like to deal with a cranky person tomorrow morning, so SLEEP)

It did not, much to what Nico was initially hoping for, quell Nero’s silent anger for what he had been mulling and thinking in all night. If it was about not telling Dante about their actual relation, then the mechanic gets it. But if it was for what they were talking about hours ago, then... uh well. Shit. (And here she thought Nero’s father had the anger problem. Apparently that has been handed down to the brat.)

Nico’s the only one staying up, barely making any noises as she tinkers with last minute parts. She glances back, once in a while to stare at the large white tree that formed atop of the tower before resuming back to her work.

At least Nero and Credo would have extra arms in case their swords break from overuse.

She’s already texted Rock about this. This was a large- if not nightmarish- complication that arose and just had to appear right when Dante collapsed.

Fantastic. And now the brat wants to climb this stupid thing? Almost there- She glances over to the dark trailer and shakes her head when she hears the brat snore. Good God, how in the ever loving hell did Kyrie put up with that...? Even with this bullshit, no less. The others were asleep; Nero and Kyrie at each other’s arms, bundling their sleeping bags together (The brat needed a hug, honestly). Credo took the passenger’s seat, softly sleeping with the seat pushed all the way down. Trish and Lady were sleeping next to each other at the same place they were resting before. And Dante-

-well, he’s still sleeping at the main bed. And V is sleeping too- one of his hand on Dante’s bandaged one. He sleeps sitting on that same damn pulldown seat- how can he do that without aching all over?

Whatever. Nico silently shakes her head before resuming back to her work.

Staying up for two days is normal for her, esepcially since Dante asked her to do a job that she’s on the brink of finishing. It was quick, normally time-consuming, and would have taken her two to three weeks to complete.

But she found the tools needed to round off these pistols: one for Nero, the other for Credo. They’re both like Dante and Lady’s pistols- only these are more tailored for arcane. There are more parts (most of them from that other horn she’s saved- she’s used most of the first half for her own weapon) that make it easier for their powers to be the ammo- the actual bullets are optional.

I hope you’re watching me, Grandma.

She’s never told Rock about Nero’s family. In fact, Nico was sure Rock hasn’t even heard of the brat’s family until the night before- but Rock hasn’t connected the dots. And she’s positive the three of them- Dante, Lady, and her uncle- were too busy trying to save the world from even making a single connection until this job. And that’s fine- save the world. And I think Uncle Rock told me they all got some form of issues they have to deal with first. She lifts her smith’s glasses to glance at Dante’s sleeping form. ...I bet that’s why he’s told me to make sure I make Grandma proud. He still feels horrible for what happened- not for Nero’s mom, but for Grandma Nell...

She only heard the story from Rock. Dante refuses to dwell back on it- and she understands why now.

It was after he met with a man named Grue- Dante was about to be twenty and he had been living off on freelance mercenary work, no courier to get his name out. And Grue found him attempting to steal his wallet for money, talked to him, and decided Dante is going to stay with him and his daughters until Dante gets his foot in the game. Training him was going to be a deal for him too. And so is getting him weapons. So he introduced Nell and Rock to Dante.

“You know what the first words he told me were?” Rock’s lips tilt in a very nostalgic, amused chuckle. It was just her and Rock- he was only twenty-one and in the middle of learning gunsmithing. “He told me I looked like a stupid football player.”

“What!?” Nico guffaws. “What the- did he really say that!?”

Rock nods. “That was the day I decided to prove to the idiot he’s wrong- and got my first set of tattoos.”

The older gunsmith chuckles. “God, what a glorious day it was to see his shocked reaction when he dropped off his first set of ruined pistols. And even more so when I showed him my arcane. Nell was amused by it all- and just told us to rest while she works on Dante’s mess.”

The tattoos are a thing in the Goldstein family- Nico has one on her back with two pistols pointing in opposite directions; like metallic wings made out of gunpowder and steel. There are more fluff to decorate it, elaborate it, but it makes Nico proud. Despite not having the arcane like Rock, she’s silently determined to pick up after that side of her family. The gun and weapon smiting, that is. The arcane- she hasn’t even inherited it. But she’s learning.

She places in another screw in the handle, recalling also when Dante and Rock decided to team up- though Grue came with them to see if they would actually decide to survive.

“We did. Though man...” Rock glows a smoke from his cigarette. “...I have never felt such power- the fire arcane was obvious! But you know,” He pauses, “...it could have been stronger. But at the time, we didn’t know that it wasn’t awakened all the way. I mean, Dante controlled it well. With his energy and how much firepower he had- it worked. I saw it- and Nell saw it too. She knew what to make for him that night.”

And Nico thins her lips, finally finished, but still thinking. She glances at the plaque with Nell’s gun. Kinda have to ask you something, Grandma. ...why did you make Dante assemble the guns that day?

Rock told her the condensed version of that day: Jessica took care of her sisters when Grue had a job- and she winds up tired from it all. Nell took care of her sisters on the days Jessica had her part-time. And one of those days lead to an incident that made Jessica upset and apologetic to a coworker, upset for what happened.

While everyone else was and moved on, the coworker wasn’t as forgiving. She paid for a rogue arcane user to curse Jessica- and a demon came to slowly drain her life away. It got to a head and Jessica went insane, swearing she saw something demonic while picking up her sisters. Someone else called the police and they took her to a police station, thinking she will be safe there.

But Jessica wasn’t safe. The demon saw it as interference and possessed her; he ate away at her stress and soul, causing a rampage to those who it deemed as nonsense. Word reached to her father, who was coming back from the job. But he too had a demon of his own to handle- one very alive and physical from the case he was working on: a demon took over his dead contract and wants to erase any witnesses. He called Dante and Rock from Nell’s offices about it when the demon tried to kill him- and Dante decides to run over to help the old man while Rock made the search to find out what area Jessica taken to.

Nico glances back to see Dante again- and she recalled his pained expression when she heard Nero’s mother tell Dante to not save her life- their lives were more important than hers. Then she glances back at the pistols before she takes out the polishing cloth, silently deeming it almost done. ...maybe that’s how he felt that day too- when he couldn’t save Grue, Jessica, or Grandma because they wanted him to be okay.

Rock has told her their fates- albeit reluctant.

“What happened to them... well, don’t say anything to him, for one. Dante and I were forced to watch when the hitman killed Grue- and he told Dante to ‘save Jessica by whatever means necessary’. And I think Grue knew it’s too late to save his oldest. But Dante didn’t. He took the guy apart before we ran to the station...and that- well,” He grimaces. “The demon nearly transformed Jessica to a dryad- one of those withered plant demons who feed on human blood. But she begged Dante to kill her- save her soul before it reached to hell. And... Dante did. He was nearly crying, but he did. And he apologized, but she told him it’s fine... and he and I got those demons gone. People knew, they tried to help, but Dante refused to hear it. He didn’t save their lives and that matter to him.”

“What about Grandma?”

Rock sighs. “...Nell... god, she was a stubborn bull. Even I know- and I’m her kid. But she heard about it and just kept going. She even told me and Dante to chin up- Grue’ll beat his apprentice up if he saw him moping. So we did, but Dante couldn’t stop thinking about it. Nesty and Tiki were taken to live with their relatives- they were a helpful bunch, even offered Dante their condolences and a key to Grue’s empty office. We... did go there a few times. He has a deed to it that he’s given to Morrison. I know we made it into an office, but Dante would rather like it if we met at his apartment. That was fine- Morrison made it into an office ready to move and use. But anyway... I was drifting off, wasn’t I?

“Ma had her enemies. She doesn’t like to say it, but there are people who envy her work. They’re masterpieces- only designed those to who truly deserve ‘em. One merc tried to get her to expand- telling her works are like diamonds in a mine. But Nell refused. She said only those who are worthy can wield her guns- arcane or not. And we know who we are. But that jackass ain’t one of ‘em. He was pissed; he wanted to buy her business away. Ma didn’t like it and told the guy to go. ...he did, but not without threatening her. He told her she’s going to regret turning him away, but she just told him to go.

“Later... well, Dante and I smelled fire. The guy was back, but he was trying to set Ma’s place on fire. We caught ‘em and Ma struggling- he saw the pistols. He wanted to take them and run, but they were disassembled. He demanded Ma to assemble them, making that stupid offer one last time, but she told ‘em she’ll go it over her dead body. ...so he shot her before Dante threw him out- the fire... well, he had his arcane. He’s too used to fire. He tried savin’ Ma, but she just told him to finish her gift to him. She said with a smile that it’s his- and Dante managed to assemble Ebony and Ivory before we dragged her out. We got everythin’ important before. But when help came, Ma was dead. ....and Dante was upset.

“I told the police what happened and the guy was arrested, claiming that it was all Ma’s fault. But most people knew Ma’s side- and they helped us recover. We were both grateful... but I mean, it still made Dante gulity for not savin’ her. I do... well, I miss her. We both have our moments. But if Grandma was watchin’ us, she would have kicked our asses and told us to move on. But Dante... he doesn’t want to say it, but he holds it still. Deep. ...and I wish someone can help him with the pain. He can’t deal with it by himself.”

You and me both, Uncle. She blinks when she hears a ping from her charging phone. She glances down and- yeah, her dreaded thoughts about the Qliploth were realized.

Rock: Never thought I’d say this

Rock: But you guys are FUBARed

“Thanks, Uncle Rock.” Nico deadpans before seeing his response again-

Rock: But I know somewhere in Argus’ notes

Rock: He has something about this

Rock: Mentioned this was the very tree he and the cult were trying to find the seeds for

Rock: ...for why, I’m going to take a guess and say it’s for power gathering

She shouldn’t be surprised about this. But she is. She’s briefly noticed it, but she skimmed through it, thinking will never happen. But it did and she doesn’t want to take those notes out in knowledge of waking someone up.

Nico: Shit

Nico: Makes sense

Nico: The monsters were harvesting arcane and life

Rock: Yeah

Rock: Though there is a way to kill it

Nico’s eyes shot wide.

Nico: HOW

Rock: Well... there are three ways

Rock: 1) Burn the entire damn thing down

Rock: 2) Take down the person/power source. There is and always be one. If this is arcane-based, then that’s going to be your target. If its done via will, force them to kill it.

Rock: 3) ...this one is unheard of, but last resort: you take down its roots from the Underworld.

Nico: Uh

Nico: The roots... burn easily?

Rock: Yeah, but from the pic you showed, it looks like they don’t reach down the tower

Rock: You guys have time

Nico sighs in relief.

Rock: How are Dante and Lady? And your friends? It’s about four in the morning

Rock: Shouldn’t you sleep?

Nico: Uh...

She pauses- before she sighs. She doesn't like telling her uncle a lie- especially about Dante’s condition. So instead, she decides to polish the guns, wrap them in a quick bundle, and calls her uncle. “Rock?”

“Hey kid.” Sounds like he was staying up late too. “You’re calling me for an update?”

“Yeah,” Nico’s lips thin as she steps out from the trailer. She looks up at the still night sky, spying the Gemini Constellation before grumbling, “...about that.”

And she starts telling him everything after her last call (she called him at the government barricade in front of Red Grave City). The multitude of monsters and demons that were gathered, the materials they got, the fights, the shift that eventually made Dante bleed from his left hand. And then-

-she pauses on telling her uncle about V and Nero’s father. She’s not sure- will this be appropiate timing for her? And it’s as if Rock sensed something else was up. He sighs, feeling rather tired from staying up and now worrying about the others. “Look... I don’t know if you’re bothered by something else- but it sounds like Dante... is dealing with more than just a normal job. It’s probably worse than the Mundus bullshit I told you years ago... God, man. Now I wish I was here, tryin’ to heal my friend.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, Lady’s about to kill him for it.”

That elicits a small laugh from him. “Ah, right. I think I’m better off stepping to the side then. But regardless... I’ll be honest, I’m at a loss. I’m torn- between wanting to come in and get you guys out, but you’re too deep in and I might risk myself for more trouble. And it isn’t just him Lady’s gonna murder.” Nico chuckles and then she hears him laugh back. “Listen... it’ll be fine. Whatever Dante is going through, I know he’ll wake up. And when he does, I think he’ll know how to set the damn tree on fire and get rid of it. I know Dante. ...he’s going to take down the bigger threat first.”

There’s silence before Nico mumbles, “Rock? I... well, I gotta confess somethin’. You know how when I first came in from Red Grave that I might not make anything while I’m here? Well, uh...”

She hears Rock’s hum, “You made something, I take it. It’s going to be a thing. I’ve made things for Dante and Lady- and they’ll use it. They’ll wreck it, but they’ll use it. And trust me when I say you’ll be repairing a lot of weapons.”

“Yeah. I have.” Nico softly chuckles. She rolls a rock between her foot. “...but I’m kinda scared. I’ve- well, I’ve never entered in a monster-infested area before.”

“This being your first time, huh...?”

“Any advice?”

“Well,” Rock sighs. “Try not to clock the others when they start spouting any bullshit. I’ve had my fair share of that. But more importantly- keep them all safe. Not the things you made- but you. Your comrades. Your allies. Lives are more important than art- save what matters more. ...Nell told me that.”

Nico silently keeps those in mind. She knows her uncle feels bad for not saving Grandma. But at least they honor her traditions- they are Goldsteins, after all. They know her style and skills.

“...I’ll keep an eye on ‘em.” She mumbles. “I swear.”

“Good. Get some sleep- oh, and Nico? Tell Lady to smack Dante extra hard for me. I’m going to probably savor every moment when I tell him the many times he’s ruined my babes and made me order some expensive as shit parts.” Nico raises an eyebrow- oh, so this is how her uncle makes Dante regret that stunt? “I was there for that night he made that dumb cut. Lady was bawlin’. Morrison had- well, maybe we should reintroduce those rules again. That was a delightful time.”

Nico blinks before she smiles. It sounded like Rock cared for Dante too- whether he showed it or not. “I’ll let you know what happens from here.”

“Got it. ...take care of those morons over there, will you? It might not look like it, but we’re just as important to these guys- more so than you think.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Nico sighs.

“Oh, and Nico?”

“Hm?”

“...I’m proud of you. Keep at it. Update me as soon as you can.” And with a more quiet murmur, “...keep a good eye on these guys. Especially on Dante.”

She smiles, silently imagining her uncle pat her shoulders. “I know, Rock. I know.”


They woke up at some point in the morning- but that’s not what Nero’s highly concerned about.

He was the last one awake and the last to get ready, but it’s fine. He hears the others talking outside the trailer, possible getting ready to head off. He can hear his stomach grumble for a bit, but he manages to muster up the strength to sit up before glaring at the area where Dante still sleeps. V is still slumped against the chair, sleeping with the blanket around him, but it's Dante he turns to... and he silently groans.

He's still sleeping.

Damn it. Damn this! Something twists in Nero's stomach and he silently doesn't think it isn't hunger. Guilt rises in him as he still recalled yesterday and the times he should have told Dante that they were related. I should have told him when Trish talked to him first. I should have said something! Otherwise-

"Nero."

He blinks, jolting from his thoughts to see Credo, whose hair looks a bit on the tumbled side, but he approaches from the open door of the trailer. He can hear Lady and Kyrie talking, but not sure about what. "Hey. Sorry. Did I oversleep?"

"Somewhat." He throws Nero an energy bar and a water bottle- he barely catches it, scowling at how shit Credo's aim is. "Eat. At least we can wait before Nico and Trish show up."

"...the hell are they up to?"

"Finding... something." Credo's eyes narrow. "I'm not sure what. But all I know is that we're going in the tower as soon as you're ready."

"Right." There's a chance both of them will probably find something that can take them to the tower faster; Nero is in no mood to run around or walk around. "How are you holding up? And Kyrie? And the others?"

Credo's smile looks very thin, exhausted. "I can say this makes applying for colleges look easy."

Nero blinks, a very confused stare on his face. "What the hell, man? Those two aren't related!"

"But they're equally as stressful." Credo chuckles, managing to dodge the now crumpled water bottle Nero throws at him. "You have to admit that I'm right about that."

"They're still not related, you dumbass!" Nero seethes, but he feels his lips twitch to a grin. "...thanks for the food. At least you're ready for that."

"No problem. But you should prepare- we don't know what dwells in the ruins." Credo must have a lack of sleep last night- and Nero suspects this was something he's not looking forward to. "The trailer- Nico's informed us this thing isn't going anywhere."

Nero's eyes narrow, glancing at why. He sees two other adults resting- and he glances back at him. "Credo."

"Hm?"

"Do you think-" Nero shifts closer to him, his voice lowered to a quiet murmur, "-if I could have- Do you think I should have told him yesterday?"

Credo sighs, sitting on the stairs to the trailer before lightly tapping Nero's head with his fist. The other yelps before glaring at the brunette, but Credo stops whatever Nero was about to complain about. "Do you recall the day one of my relatives passed away? Kyrie and I had to attend our Grandmother's funeral and you were worried, asking us if we were all right after we came back?"

"Yeah..." He knew the two were close to their relatives- they were outside of the city. "What about it?"

"And the day Nico's mother passed?"

"...that wasn't fun." A crying Nico was the last thing Nero had to deal with, but he knew the pain.

"...and you know what I'm about to ask." Credo's eyes glance to Nero and he falls silent. "That day. I know how you feel. ...how many regrets do you think we have, not having the chance to tell those people what we should have told them?"

The white-haired teen falls silent.

"But there's a difference." Credo continues, his fist unraveling to ruffle his hair. "Dante might wake up. It may be days... a week, at most. But give him the time to wake up."

Nero chews on his bottom lip, silently thinking of ways to tell Credo there might be a chance this isn't possible, but he doesn't say anything. Instead, he grumbles, "...yeah. I know."

"But if I know you as such-" And he spies Credo staring at him. "-and you are an impatient moron-"

"Hey!" He wasn't lying about it, though.

"-then why not just tell him?"

Nero blinks. "...what."

"Just tell Dante." Credo repeats. "I'm not about to repeat it a third time. If you think this is the only chance you will get at telling him before we head out, you should do it now."

"But when he's sleeping!?" What in the ever loving hell are you thinking!? "Credo- I would, but there's a reason why I can't-"

"And when will you ever get a chance to?" He stills, realizing his friend might have a point. "Tomorrow? Next week? When is your only chance to tell Dante? Nero. I just want you to stop suffering. You, Kyrie, and Nico are the closest I can call my genuine friends. Allies, maybe. But the more I see your hesitation and your guilt, the more worried I get about you."

Nero opens his mouth- but then he closes it, noticing the concerned look on his friend's face.

"If you want to," Credo's quiet. "Tell him now. Before we head off. At least, you can say what you need to say before you go."

The other stands up, hand giving Nero's hair one more shake before joining the other two ladies- who look at him, worried before resuming conversation. Though he spies Kyrie glance at him worried, before returning to talk to her brother...

...and Nero hastily combs his hair (with his fingers) back to his preferred look before standing up, slowly going back inside the trailer and sees Dante still sleeping. V, of course, is also sleeping.

Lucky bastards. Though not... really. Dante's probably knocked out cold at this point, who knows when he'll wake up? I should just go for it, then.

As quietly as he humanly can, the teen walks up the steps to the mattress before standing before Dante. The space was mildly cramped, barely sidestepping from the sleeping V, but Nero makes his way to the best place he can see Dante up close. Ish.

He lets out a terse sigh, easing his nervous arcane and mind away before grumbling, "...morning, Dante. God, this is stupid- why the hell am I talking to you when you're just sleeping like a rock?"

No response, like he expected.

I feel like an idiot talking to a sleeping person. Instead, he continues, "So. ....we're going now. Just as a head's up- and there's a chance we... might be in there for hours. It was Lady's idea. Speaking of, she's saying she's about to clock you for what you did." He glances to Dante's left hand and back to him. He's not sure how horrible the scar is- nobody wanted to know. But if Lady coming out with bloody bandages and a new change of gloves gave off an idea, it looked... pretty bad.

"I don't know, you tell me why your hand can't heal. I thought most arcane users heal. ...only those with light do. I mean, I should be lucky. Kyrie-" He lets out a soft smile. "Kyrie... is my light. My joy. Someone... I value more than I realize. She's really patient- she wants you to know she's done the best she can. She still wants to help out- payment for saving her life." Nero closes his eyes, not noticing V stirring awake and opening his eyes.

"I forgot to say this- maybe I forgot I did, maybe I didn't. ...but thank you. For saving our lives years ago." Nero feels a soft smile appearing. "It's because you came in at that moment that- this is embarrassing- I thought I saw a hero- not like the ones from the comics. I... actually looked up to you, thought maybe I can be as powerful, strong... courageous like you. I- well... I actually want to follow you in your footsteps. I didn't tell Grandmother, Grandfather, or my Father yet about what I want to do for my future. ...but I know now." He takes a quiet deep breath.

"I want to be a mercenary- like you. Saving others, fighting things that threaten us, using your absolute best in the worst of fears." A light chuckle escapes him. "But I- well, you know, want to help. In a way- I kinda wanted you to be proud of me. If that makes any sense." He clutches his tattoo arm. "Dante. I need to tell you something before I head out-"

"Despite my warnings, you're still heading into Albus Tower."

He jolts, swiftly turning around to see V stare at him. And the man has silent anger written in his face.
"The fuck, V!?" Nero sputters. "Can't you tell I'm in the middle of-"

"Talking to a sleeping man?" The black-clad man stands, clutching on his cane tight. "This is ridiculous for you. Just what do you gain by talking to him- while he sleeps?"

Nero narrows his eyes. "I know. It's stupid. But there's something I have to tell him before I go- and I want to get it out in the open before I head there-"

"You-" The teen freezes, feeling something dark and threatening near his throat. And he barely notices how threatening V is- his cane isn't out, but his arcane borderlines anger. "Are not going anywhere-"

"Try telling that to Lady." Nero is tempted to call her from the trailer. "She's Dante's partner- she's the one who suggested going in there." Liar. His mind grumbles, but it's a good reason to see V lower his shadow arcane- that was about kill him. "And if you kill me right now, Dante's not going to be happy about it." He sees V stiffen- "Neither will my family. My father-" And I mean you, V- "if you know him-"

"-you will die." V cuts him off, eyes narrowing, yet filled with rage. His voice hides frustration, Nero can tell. "The others- they can not step foot without a stronger person with them. The tower-"

"Might have more enemies than before, worse than before, I know!" Nero finishes, getting frustrated. He knows V is trying to stop him- but his mind's made up. "I know. I'm more than ready to go in- unless you know something that you don't want us to know."

V stills- and Nero's eyes narrow. ...yeah. He's hiding something else. It isn't just a demon dragon up there. That tree isn't it either. So is it what I think it is?

The silence looms.

Something else, then?? What else isn't this bastard telling me or the others? That I bet he didn't tell Dante?

“Even if I tell you,” V glares at him, Nero silently wanting to literally kick V and not care of there's a dent in the trailer because he is tired of runarounds. “That there might be a potential chance you and the others might not make it out alive-”

“We will! We will- and you'll know it! You might not know, but all of us are capable enough to survive! Even if you think we don't, at least we're tried!” Nero seethes, glaring back. Yeah, Kyrie’s right... his Father is in there, trying to talk to him out what he thought would be a unwinnable battle. For his own protection, he'll claim.

Yeah, no. Nero's seen some of his father's bullshit. He’s going to make sure at least, a good chunk of whatever that tree is will be gone. And Dante will know.

V grows silent. Then he hisses, “You, Nero, are an insolent brat. How dare you- you seriously doubt my words when I tell you that things are more dangerous than they are!?”

“I saw Dante fight these things yesterday and he made it look so easy.” Nero cuts him off again- fuck this. Fuck everything. He’s going to be the one who will absolutely make Dante know it’s his stupid as hell Father who did all of this. Caused all of this- everything. “And he said to let the truth come out. He’s helped me- more so than anyone else I’ve known- and it was just all one day. More so than someone else I know. He wasn’t there when my mother died- Uncle Dante was. And I wanted to help him get over whatever else he suffers through- because he shouldn’t do it by himself!” He grips his fists. Dante’s silent suffering through his words were proof- from what Lady told them cemented Nero’s decision clear that he refuses to let the man go through it again.

“...I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to do this, whether you wanted it to happen or not. I’m going to fight whatever caused his mess and make sure Dante doesn’t have the pain to go through it all. You don’t know how bad I feel or how I- fuck it, you don’t even care, it’s just-! Ugh!” He grips his tattooed arm, knowing it’s reacting to Dante and something else- but for now, this will have to do. He needs to let this out- getting really tired of not knowing things he should. “I should save it all for my stupid ass Father and my family. But I can’t because I’m going in to... I want to make them both proud! Is that too much to ask!?”
To his cold indifferent Father and to his warm, ball of impulsive happy-go lucky Uncle. The two parental figures in his life- one he’s known and one who should have been with their family.

He doesn’t see the shocked stare V wears when he looks at the teen.

“Nero-”

“Shut up. You have no right to tell me to stay silent when you barely know me. Dante does. ...and he'll agree.” Nero doesn’t dare look at the man who is trying to talk him out of it. He instead looks at Dante, who is still sleeping and his left hand bandaged. Nero slowly understands his Father’s pain now- but he only knows about the 'losing your other parental figure' part. As for- well, he doesn't know. And he hopes not to. But at least he can admit he's missed part of his family for a long time. "He told me we can hope. At least we're strong enough to endure."

Dante, you... fuck, you better listen. He closes his eyes before taking a deep breath to calm himself.

“...if you can hear me, you stupid sleeping piece of shit,” His voice is border-lining quavering when he sees his uncle like this, “You better listen. I’m going up to Albus Tower- and I’m going to help Lady finish the job. I don’t know when you’ll wake up.” He takes a deep breath, “But when you do, I promise, you and I can fight as much as you want- if it makes up for me taking down the monster.”

He doesn’t hear V’s sharpened breath of anger, about to tell Nero something else, but the white-haired teen doesn’t care. And he decides to tell him. “...you better wake up, Uncle Dante. I’m not about to lose another family member to this mess. I refuse to. Not when things are just looking up. Not when I finally found the person who saved my life before all of this mess...”

For a minute, he’s felt it. A small comforting warmth that’s Dante’s arcane. He’s probably heard- and he’s probably telling Nero everything will be okay, just hold on, he’ll wake.

“...please wake up and help us fix this...” Nero’s voice comes out quiet. He wants his family back. He wants to be with Kyrie everyday with his family and everything fixed. “I just want things to be normal again. I want to help if you let us. Trish too, everyone else...”

He falls silent again before glaring at V. "I don't know about you, but I want to end this nightmare. At least- I can start something to save my home. And if he was awake, he would say something exactly to what I am going to do."

And he leaves, deftly picking up Red Queen before walking out from the trailer.

“...I hope he wakes up too.” V’s voice comes out remorse, quiet. Nero doesn’t hear him- but he knows he deserved those harsh words. He closes his eyes before gently taking back Dante’s left hand. And he squeezes it tight, closing his eyes once more. "I wanted all of you to be safe, away from this..."

But given the circumstances, I fear for the worst.


"Seriously?" Nero flatly asks, glaring at Nico. "Are you- where did you get this van?"

"My question exactly." Credo grumbles, cautiously staring at the license plate. "Are you aware that you two just committed auto theft?"

"I know." Trish hums and Nero hears Credo's groan before his hand meets his face.

Nico and Trish are waiting for him in a smaller van. The others were waiting for him, but that's literally not what he's worried about.

"Oh, somewhere off near the parking deck." Trish leans back from her passenger's seat, shrugging. "It was my idea. Not hers, kiddo."

Good God. Was Trish some sort of car thief in her past life? The aunt he's a bit more used to would never recommend doing this!

"Eh. Either that or we'd run. And I ain't about to that." Nico shrugs. She frowns, spying his angry scowl. "You okay? You look like you're in a bad mood."

"Let's go. I'm ready." Nero grumbles. "V's not coming. Going to stay with Dante."

"Of course he isn't. I asked when I woke up this morning." Lady shrugs, staring at Credo, who only walks up to Nero. "But I guess someone has to watch over the dumbass until he wakes up."

"Yeah." Nero glances back to the trailer- and glances to feel Kyrie's hand brush against his shoulder. "Are you sure-"

"Who's going to heal you when my brother and Trish wouldn't?" The brunette asks and Nero sighs, gently taking her hand to his. "I will be fine. I know what I can do in danger." Her smile is a bit reassuring. "I'm not helpless, Nero."

"I know." He gently kisses her knuckles. "...as long as you promise to stay close to us."

She nods before they start boarding the van- ladies first before Credo gets in. And Nero goes in last- before turning back again to the trailer.

He really doesn't want to lose Kyrie again, nor Credo, nor Nico, nor Trish... nor anyone else, really. Not again- not like before. And this time, Dante isn't going to rush in and save them until he wakes. And Nero silently knows.

I'll try to hold up... His lips thin before shutting the van door. "Nico?"

"Yeah?"

"...try to hurry up." He knows she looks at him, raised eyebrows and all. "I know, I know. Your driving's the absolute worst. But for once, go for it. I won't complain about it." Even this earns Trish and Lady staring at him- Credo and Kyrie as well as all four of them stare at him in shock. "What?"

"Nero," Nico turns around, warily staring at him. "You sure you're okay? I mean, I can literally go a few speedruns around the block so I can get a better hold of this little thing-" Nero sits up, paling at the idea. "I mean, I can do extreme driving like flips, leaping cars and all- drifting might be good too- oh! Do you think maybe if I can do some swerves-"

"Drifting!?" Hell no! Nico doing that is- yeah no, that's not okay! "Anything but all of that! Just move already!"

"HA!" Nico cackles, her grin appearing as she starts the van with the keys- wait, how the hell did Trish convince her to steal this van in the first place again!? "And the sensitive brat returns-"

"JUST MOVE ALREADY!!"


For once, nobody complained about Nico's fast driving. It was honestly a blessing right now, considering where they are going to be. 

...and there was a good chance Nico ran over some smaller demons with the van, but nobody complained about it. (They barely felt it. Oh well.)

“We’re here-” Nico barely shouts, but Lady barrels it out of the door, Nero and Credo in tow before Kyrie joined them. Trish stalls at unlocking her door. “The hell!? Ya'll are just- gonna not wait and be cautious!?"

"Too late for that." Trish sighs before glancing down at her pistols, worried.

Nico turns off the car before she attracted any more attention- and glances to Trish. “You going yet?”

“No, I just... I'm thinking.” Trish quietly murmurs and glances to Nico. “I feel horrible. Bringing you kids in a situation that would have been easy solved by us- I wish you all would have been safer somewhere else."

"And what? Had no way to deal with the situation without some sort of guide?" Nico scoffs, "Uh... no? Maybe a surgeon's warning, but not hiding us away!"

Trish looks at her in surprise. "It- are you sure? You would have been better off not knowing lots of things that took place."

“The same coulda been said for my shitty dad and Rock, but you know, what can you do? Things come out eventually.” Nico leans back for a bit. “A while back, I asked Rock if he regretted not saving Shithead Dad before we got kidnapped. But Rock just said he was fine having someone who knows better take up on the craft- shithead Dad only wanted demonic power and... was a lost cause. I mean,” She glances at the blonde woman. “I ain’t pissed. My dad got what he deserved. Treated me and Mom like absolute shit. And I still think he’s better in jail than out here- the one way that I thought solved the problem easily.”

Trish falls silent, looking at the van floor.

“Dante might think this is better- not having you get involved in trying to regain his memories back. And he probably did it just to not let people get hurt.” Nico continues, glancing at Trish, who’s still sitting in the back. “I mean, come on. The man’s dealt with shittier missions than any one has! He’s a merc, for god’s sake. There’s a reason his rep is up and high with so many people. I think this is probably something he can deal- and be good at it.”

Trish’s lips quirk to a small smile, closing her eyes. “...Uncle Sparda did mention Dante was the strong-headed of the two when they were kids."

"...huh, I can tell."

"I can still see that now. He’s brave, can adapt, know how to get out of it, even if means taking a hit.” Her cousin’s arcane is still silent, not flickering, yet slowly waning back. It’s subdued, but Trish silently hopes Dante wakes up. “...and then-” She recalls last night- and she glances to Nico. “Did Credo tell you?”

Nico rolls her eyes. “Yeah. Contract-making? We were just talking about it all, but to have... all the family drama! Sorry. This just makes a Spanish soap opera look like a dream. But about V-” She glances to her. “Do you really think-”

“Yes, I suspect V is literally my dumbass older cousin in disguise, wanting to find Dante by himself without asking the rest of us for help.” Trish groans. “And he’s made a contract with a familiar that I have no idea if we can get him out of. There. I said it.”

“A-” And Nico groans. “Riiiiight. Should I ask Rock about that?”

“No. Even better if Nero knows.”

"He sorta has an idea?"

...that I had a feeling would happen. "Great." Trish’s lips thin. “There are so many problems with this, so many questions. ...the most obvious question I have is what he made the contract with. I think I know why- it's just with what set of conditions. But how to get out of it is also an issue. And if there's a chance I could...” She trails off, but Nico silently knows.

Her cousin's still family. She wants to save him. Instead of asking, Nico hums, "Contracts aren't in your realm of expertise?"

"You can say that." She glances to Nico, who grimaces at the thought. “I’m getting bored waiting here.”

“So am I.” The mechanic glances at something she’s been carrying. Then a wicked smirk appears, “Wanna go in and help them with this absolute bullshit? Brat’s right. I’m tired of waiting on the sidelines.”

“That’s- wait.” Trish looks to Nico as the mechanic unravels the larger bundle. “Wait, are sure that you want to-”

“I may not be able to sense the arcane and all of that. But my mom had the brilliant idea of forcing me to defend myself. Some teach took pity on me, so I got free fighting lessons.” Nico takes out her own weapon- a prototype of an armored arm that she wears like a glove. Trish senses that one of the horns were used for this- the unknown arcane is ebbing off of it like insane. Then where’s the other horn? What was it used for?

"...are those what the gloves are for?"

"I was gonna have the brat use them- make him the guinea pigs-" Nico smirks, bending her fingers. There is a crackle in raw arcane coarsing through the metallic plates and Trish can feel it. Nico might be able to handle it. "But then Dante wanted me to make something for the brats, so change of plans. Rock’s taught me some shit about how to deal with arcane when I’m not a user- and I think I can do this.” Nico smirks, also presenting Trish a bundled item. “Give these to the brat and Credo if I’m too busy fighting- it'll come in handy!”

“What are-” The blonde woman blinks, taking the bundle- before her eyes widening. She knows what it is. “...these and the gloves. Were those what you were working on yesterday?”

"Yup!" Nico nods. “Come on! I wanna know how fighting these mooks feel like. And ‘sides, I want Dante to look at ‘em and realize they’re grown up. All of us. ...we're not the same brats anymore.”

So it's not just Nero, Credo, or Kyrie who wants to prove themselves... oh how blissful it is to feel young again. Trish just laughs, opening the van before the two rush in, following the others. “Welcome to the other side, then. Prepare to get injured... a lot.”

“Oh, as if the shitty brat and Credo’s fights indicate anything!”


Lady took out the monsters that litter the first couple of floors- thankfully, they were easily taken care of. The lingering roots and now branches that slowly appear- just pure arcane on Lady’s end. And then Nero. And Credo.

The occasional waits to allow Kyrie to knit Nero’s wounds (Credo can heal his on his own, Lady- okay she can dodge things easy) comes in spurts, but at least she knew how to quickly heal and recover before allowing the others to advance.

At some point in the middle of attempting to go up to floor (what was that number? twenty-something?? Okay, whatever, Albus Tower looks like a wreckage sight and some floors caved on each other- probably after the people ran out), so there was really no distinguishable hint as to what floor they're on... anyway-

"I'm really starting to question your sanity." Credo seethes, eyes twitching as he silently commands his etheral light daggers to nearby monsters. They stab, shredding the monsters to their dusty remains, but Credo's attention is more on Lady. "In what possible world do you believe we can get through all of this- without feeling exhausted!?"

"None." Lady responds by sending a missile- laced with her fire arcane- and it blows a hole in the closed doorway along with the screeching monsters that could have barreled out to attack them. "I'm a bit too used to this-"

"Like what Mister Dante said with the monsters." Kyrie murmurs, managing to knit one of Nero's wounds back. "How come you two don't share your tales with us?"

"Some-" And Lady reloads her ammo before gesturing the three to follow her. "-are things I don't want to talk about. Some are a bit touchy- client confidentiality."

"Of course, like doctors?"

The gunswoman nods, kicking down the door and it causes the two boys to wince. "There are some that Dante refuses to talk about: out of either respect or he just doesn't want to be reminded of them. I get why-" She looks around before gesturing them to go up the stairs, "But you know, some are better left up to your imagination."

Nero grumbles, "What, you having to deal with some love spell gone wrong?" 

Lady cackles and it makes him pale. "Ohhhh those are the fun ones he and I can talk about!"

Uh- "What."

"Which ones do you want to know about? The one with the love charm that wound up summoning a demon from the Underworld? Or the one that attracted a snake spirit that threatened to swallow a town whole?"

"What!? None, thank you very much!" Nero balks as Kyrie lightly giggles. Credo, on the other hand, stares at them before he shakes his head. "Can we just- how far are we!?"

"Looks like a few more feet until we can go up an actual operating elevator." Lady silently calculates something in her mind. "Maybe if we can find it here-" She stops, seeing a pile of rubble blocking the entrance. "Huh. Well. This isn't good. How are we gonna-"

"Oh. Stand back." Credo takes a few steps back- shielding Kyrie and Lady as Nero's right arm crackles with his lightening arcane. "This... was how-"

"-I learned about my arcane!" And Nero slams his hand to the pile of rubble, charging them before they fly over the space, hitting whatever it can with the pulsating arcane charged through them. He smirks- hearing some of the monsters get hit and screech as the 'ammo' slams into them, crushing them.

"...there will come a day when I can talk to him about collateral." Credo flatly states, earning Nico's glare. "Given how reckless your arcane can get at times-"

Nero whines, "Seriously, Credo, we're talking about this now?"

"It can't be... all that bad." Lady spies Kyrie smiling as they walk through the newly formed entrance. "Better than burning an entire building down that could have been a historical site. And yes, it's what you think it was."

"Oh, the church?" Kyrie skips over a few rubble before they continue on. The floor is pretty bare- save for the several projectiles that Nero fired off just now, joined by the crushed monsters and demons. "I'm amazed you still recall that."

"It's because it was the one time Dante willingly set something on fire and actually didn't care for it." The gunswoman huffs, but she glances at them. "But you know what? I'm glad. Even if it wasn't one of our favorite jobs, something did come out it."

"And what would that be?" Nero asks, not sure what she deemed as a good thing. Dante didn't seem to think so-

-but he blinks in surprise as she gestures to the three of them. "Getting Dante a good reason to be a bit more conscious about his decisions. And meeting you guys- from the looks of it, he was having a blast yesterday." She tilts her lips. "Even with Trish around. I can tell all of you are good company- given if we decide to stay in contact after this job is over."

The last comment makes Nero silent, realizing that Trish hasn't told her about him and Dante's lineage yet. Credo and Kyrie seem to notice- and Lady senses something is up. Her eyes narrow, finally recalling something from yesterday that also caused this type of mood.

"...actually, now that we do have the chance to-"

“Watch out!”

And a gunshot rings out, forcing them to turn around- and see a demon scream in its agony before disintegrating into glowing dust. Lady balks as they turn- to see Trish appear with Luce and Ombra, along with-

“NICO!?” Nero and Credo gape in absolute horror, the unknown arcane hitting their senses when they recognized her gloves surrounded with the similar, raw demonic like power Gilgamesh possessed.

“Yup! And I’m born ready!” Said mechanic is delighted, smirking before waving at them. “Whaddya think?”

“What do I- What the-” Nero is about to scream about how in the hell did she fashion a pair of battle gloves when something gets tossed in their direction. He fumbles around the wrapped package, trying to open it as Credo continues on Nero's about-to-be rant to the mechanic.

"The bloody- you, really shouldn't be- it's arcane bounded, you asinine lunatic-"

Nico scoffs, not caring at the last. "You callin' me a looney? Hey, I gotta defend myself and at least your little sis found a way to do so! What do you think, Kyrie!?"

"They- uh, look cool? I guess?" Said brunette replies, sounding very... lost. "Are you sure you can handle that raw power on your own? It could potentially be dangerous."

"Yeah, well, duh... Uncle Rock taught me the skills needed!"

"That's one way to describe your stubborn mind." Nero mutters to himself before he finally opens the fabric knot- and he gapes. And then he holds them both with trembling hands- and turns around. "Nico...? Are these- Did you-"

"Ah yeah!" Nico's grin grows wider, gesturing to the two pistols in Nero's hands. "I made those on the fly- they might not be perfect, but I gave it a shot. Sort of remodeled based on Dante's own twin set, but ehhh, we'll see how fast I can repair them."

“Pistols-” And Nero stills before he recalls Dante wanted them to have a back-up weapon. The way he was looking at the black pistol Ebony must have given Dante an idea... “-he want us to use them."

"May I see?" He sees Lady walking up, hand held for one, and he gives it to her. She should be fine with it- she's an expert at the arsenals. "Oh wow... it is similar to Ivory. That's impressive, Nico. Maybe after this- take it to Rock and see if he can enhance it a bit more. It should hone pretty well to their arcane."

Credo takes the other pistol Nero hands him. "Don't mind me asking- but how long have you been handling firearms?"

"Since when I was young." The gunswoman hands Nero back his firearm. "Self-defense. I taught myself- rough, but I got used to it. It didn't take long for it to merge with my arcane, so yours should come easy."

"So you say..." Nero frowns, inspecting the gun. He narrows his eyes, nearly spying a hint of blue gleaming in its metallic grey. "...how long did it take Dante?"

"From what he told me? Instant. It came like water to him."

Nero glances back at his gun again, silently wondering if he can do the same thing.

Trish approaches closer, inspecting Credo's pistol, lowly whistles. "Huh... one for you and one for Credo, hm? Dante must have been very interested in seeing how you two were interested in expanding your abilities. I wonder then-"

"I've already asked." Kyrie sheepishly smiles, flashing Trish an apologetic smile. "But my parents have forbidden me to use it unless I have a license."

"Hm. Fair. But we are going to have train you- if you run out of arcane." This earns Kyrie's nod... and pale-faced stares from Credo to a frowning Nero. Trish notices the two reacting- "What? You can't just fully expect her to depend on you both for everything, do you?"

"Uh-"

"Well-"

Trish stares back. "Really? Boys, are you serious?"

"My God." Lady laughs as Trish's eye twitches. "Forgive me for saying this, but you two are twits to believe that."

"Sorry, Trish." Nero mumbles, red-faced as Credo's semi-defeated stare greets them. Kyrie giggles as she watches all of this. "We're too used to- uh, you get the idea-"

"No, I don't." Trish deadpans. "What sort of dynamic are you all used to?"

"The kind that fuels dumbasses." Nico scoffs, deliberately ignoring Nero and Credo shouting indignant remarks at her before she nudges Kyrie. "Don't worry- I gotcha! I think Grandma's stashed a few pistols for occasions like these! Remind me later to search for one when we get back."

The burnette blinks, "Are you sure, Nico? I wouldn't want to impose."

"Well-" That train of thought crashes to a halt when they feel some pounding- more of those beasts are approaching them. "Hold that that thought, got a couple more of these things to beat up!"

"What-" But nobody stops Nico from dashing forward and punching one of the baffled monsters right at its nostrils. A sharp crackle ripples, effectively taking down the monster and its other mooks before a hole appears through all of them- and the mechanic widely grins. "Whoo hoo! What a day to be alive!"

"Will you just shut up!?" Nero groans, seeing another group of demons materialize before them. "Awesome. Make more noise and shouts, why don't you?" He feels his eyes twitch, was about to use Red Queen-

-when he feels a slow, if not thum. He blinks, realizing it's from the pistol he's still holding in his left hand. It feels similar to how warm Ebony felt in his hands- silently shouting for its owner's hold, to fire on its target, to use its wielder's arcane as it courses from his arms to the bullet-

Use me. He hears its silent plea. Wield me. Name me. Fight these monstrosities- with my power.

Nero blinks... and he narrows his eyes. "Move out of the way!"

"Move- what!?" Nico does a double-take before she shouts for the others to get out of the way, suddenly seeing the surge of power manifest and crackle to Nero's right hand- the one that holds the pistol before it fires off.

One shot. It crackles, buzzes in his ears from the sound, but Nero's eyes narrow. This won't faze him.

Two. Some of the monsters fall, but he doesn't take into account how much arcane he's pouring to the gun- until he hears Lady's voice shout and he's suddenly pulled back.

"-ro! NERO!" Lady suddenly lowers his arm before he takes another shot. "Nero! Stop- stopstopstop. Okay! First off... you did channel your arcane to the gun well. But." She narrows her eyes. "You need to calm down."

"Calm down?"

"Nero... maybe you should look." Kyrie cautiously approaches and indicates to the room. The buzz and battle haze gone, Nero stares at the damages done. And he balks.

The one gaping hole in the wall and the ones following it were a clear indication of where one of his bullets- and series of demonic parts scatter through. The other- well, there's no other way to describe it except it's now a series of more rubble and dead monsters. All crackling with his lightening arcane.

Lady's attacks... do not look this huge. And from the gaping stare Trish gives him, neither were hers when she uses her pistols.

Nero swallows whatever surged through his mind and caps it back up. Ack. "...right! Maybe I should- I mean, holy shit-”

“See?” Nico smirks, even seeing Credo glance at his longer pistol with sudden interest. “Maybe Dante had a good idea when he asked me to make these things, huh?”

"Pretty frightening results, if you tell me." Trish murmurs, staring at Nero. "Looks like your arcane is just as scary as your anger."

"...maybe." Maybe he's better off trying to calm his bottled rage. "I... better save this for a last resort deal."

"Good idea." Lady quickly nods as Nero struggles to find a place to put his new pistol. "Oh- here." She hands him an empty holster; he attaches it to his belt and places his gun in its new home. "You can get it adjusted later."

“Perhaps.” Credo smirks, narrowing his eyes before firing one at an incoming demon- it screeches at a sudden burst with his bullet. “No wonder- should I name this pistol its rightful name?"

And the mechanic witheringly groans, all humor erased to sheer ire, leaving Trish to start laughing as Lady chuckles, reloading her weapons. “Oh. My God. Don’t tell me you started to name your weapons!"

"Oh dear." Kyrie smiles, earning Credo's chuckles. "Did you tell her about Angelo?"

"Angelo!?"

“Kyrie named the epee.” The brunette man smirks. He holds the silver pistol up on the artificial light that shines above them. “I’m to call this one Bianco.”

“What!? After-” Nico stares at him, “Next thing I know, you’re gonna ask me to brand the names on there too!? I ain't Uncle Rock, you bastards!”

“Yeah, good idea!” Nero calls out, shooting a few more monsters before they continue on. Though he sounds genuinely interested. “How about Blue Rose for mine? Following Red Queen-"

The mechanic rolls her eyes. "Ya'll aren't Dante and those names suck!"

"You remember them anyway!" Yeah, they're the worst at this naming game, but at least Nero can be proud that Dante asked for them to wield these weapons. For you, Uncle? I think this is one of the best gifts you've given me and Credo. "Come on- I want to put these to the test-"

"Yours, use your arcane lightly!" Lady calls out, the others dashing to catch up to her. "Aside that- let's keep going. I want to get most of these wiped up before we reach the top."


Nobody is sure how long the terk up took. They knew they are past the half-way point of the tower; one of the elevators was working and it took them further up than usual.

Maybe it took half-hour to get up to this point. An hour. How long has it been?

"It's two." Credo gripes, cocking his gun and firing it at the fly-like demons that approached them. "Two. Hours. And I spy those roots from that tree."

"Fantastic!" Nico's slightly winded voice calls out. Nero senses that the raw arcane from the gloves slowly wear off- but he suspects she knew of this. "Does this mean we're getting close??"

"Not from the rate we're going." Trish thins her lips, firing some ammo from Luce before switching to Ombre. "This. Is exhausting." She turns to Lady, who still looks fine, no signs of being tired. "How- can you exactly-"

"I told you, years of experience. Firing- get cover!" The gunswoman pulls one of the needle from her reserve of arcane-laced grenades before throwing it- speckles of her fire arcane activate the grenade, forcing it to blow up where the demons float. They all hide- Nero covering his and Kyrie's ears while the others huddle for safety. When they turn back, the hallway was cleared and they start running towards the elevators. Most of them were out- the lights blinking indicate this. But two of them seem to be in working condition. Still.

"Perfect!" Nico beams in relief. "Now what?"

Nero's lips thin, thinking of an alternative route. Banding together did take down more of these monsters- they're spawning from the top, materializing through the walls and floors... they are everywhere.

But it isn't taking us any closer to that dragon, is it? He glances up, slowly feeling something immense and dark stationing at the top. It's faint, but he thinks it's because they are further away from the very beast guarding the tree. If we all take it down together from the way we're going...

There is little chance they'll actually survive. Most of them didn't get the chance to wait and reserve their strengths- there was no time for that. And there is very little time now.

“Hey. Lady?" Nero suddenly asks, earning the gunswoman's glance. "Do you think we'll get up there by sundown?"

"I don't know. Maybe?" Lady squints up. "I'm not sure- if we can get the fast track to the other floors-"

"I’m going up there first.” Nero gestures with his thumb to the top floor of Albus Tower- the entrance of the smaller tree that perches up top. He can sense it- the spiking arcane of the beast waiting for them. “I’ll take care of the bastard that Dante wanted to take on. The rest of you- you should stay and look around more; maybe for some opening or a way to take out the tree from the bottom up.”

The group falls... very silent, staring at him.

"What?" Credo is the first to react.

"I'm. Going. Up." Nero states firmly.

"WHAT!?" Trish and Lady join Credo's alarmed response.

"Are you crazy!?" Nico marches up to Nero, glaring at how messy looking Red Queen looks. "We've been at it for- like Credo said, two hours- and all of the sudden, you just- I don't know, ram all the way upstairs and take on that godawful dragon from hell!?"

Nero nods, his mind firmly set. "Don't even dare talk to me about getting out of it. It's going to be late by the time all of us get up there- and we don't even know if Dante's going to wake up and figure out we're here. And- I know. I'm stupid." He knows very well what Nico's going to say. Trish, on the other hand, looks pained. So does Credo. Lady is baffled- and he knows. But it's Kyrie's lack of worry that bothers him. He continues, "So... I'm thinking I'll face that thing head on. If it's that bad, I'll literally just run away and find you all- at least most of you will be safe while one of us isn't!"

"And bring a heavy-weighted beast along the way!" Credo lifts his hands, exasperated. "What a wonderful plan, you moron. When said thing decides to come down and begin to attack us, pray tell, Nero, what's your plan from here?"

"Uh- all for one and one for all?"

Their glares weren't helping.

"Look! I've- I've already told Dante what I wanted to say." Nero is growing frustrated. "And I really want to get this done! But- trust me. I didn't want to say it- we wanted to face that thing together." He really does. He also wanted Dante to face the huge beast too.

But now? When time is short and things are not going to the way everyone was hoping for?

Please let me do this. Nero silently prays. I just want all of you to be safe, not dealing with a large dragon that could kill all of us...

Then Trish sighs. She glances to Lady before staring at Nero. Then she glances back at Lady. "So, if we let this kid go, we can attempt to do something else. But what else can we do?"

Said mercenary sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. Then she walks up and lightly smacks Nero's shoulder with her fist. He tries not to wince- Kyrie's healing is slowly taking its effect, but he tightens the pain.

"If you're going up there," Lady states, "Then you better find a good way to sense our arcanes- we're going to try and find any semblance of survivors in this place."

He opens his mouth to say something-

"I know." Lady continues. "V's mentioned if there's anyone else who survived this entire bullshit, they're probably hiding in a structurally safe area. And I'm going to find it. If there's anything I can do for my partner, it's finding those who managed to stay alive from this mess, and getting them out. Fighting the dragon was Dante's deal, not mine."

"Then-" Nero stares at her. "What were you here for?"

"To help out!" Lady narrows her eyes. "Dante's my partner in crime. ...and he owes me some money, so there's that too."

The white-haired teen chuckles. Of course there's some hapless side Dante refuses to show to anyone. "Is this why he gets on your nerves? Aside his typical personality."

"Oh. Constantly. It's a given." But Lady's lips twitch to a grin. "Good luck. Let me know if there is an actual thing up there. For Rock's sake." (Nico tries not to guffaw in laughter.)

Nero nods before seeing Trish, arms crossed and worried. "Trish-"

“...go.” Trish sighs. Then she has a resigned, proud smile on her face. “But do not- I repeat, do not-”

“Don’t die.” Nero’s smile comes out thin, yet determined. “I know. I plan to run away when I can’t handle anymore. But at least- I can do something.”

To make up for not telling Dante earlier.

It seems as if Trish understood his feelings- because she nods."Then do it." Trish pats Nero's shoulder. "Go and beat that thing as best as you can."

Nero nods- then he faces Kyrie, Nico, and Credo. As he spies the two ladies walking further to give the younger ones some space, he glances back... and mutters, "Just tell me honestly. How dumb am I looking right now?"

"Uh, want it in the scale of one to ten?" Nico arches an eyebrow. "One hundred."

"Hey!"

"She's right." Credo crosses his arms, huffing. "You're being rather ridiculous in this entire accord. To think you can actually go up there and deal with a possible threat on your own... you are insane."

Nero frowns, but he doesn't say anything to protest this.

"But you're my friend. And you're the only one who has possibly enough energy to do this. Let alone arcane." And he feels Credo's warm hand clap his right arm. He can feel Credo's light arcane buzz through his own- energizing him before he lets go. And Credo's smiling- albeit small and tiny. "Go. I think you've waited long enough. Run if you can't handle it."

"Got it-"

A loud roar instantly cuts it off, forcing them to turn around and see a larger, white demonic monster dashing towards them. Snarling, it bares its demonic fangs as it spies the four teens as its prey.

"Get down!" Trish and Lady were about a split second late in brandishing their pistols-

-before something dense, golden, bright flash before their eyes. They shield in an attempt to prevent going blind- but Nero realizes immediately Kyrie isn't by him. He looks around frantically, not even caring if his eyes burn or if he hears the monster roar with burning pain. Kyrie!? Oh nonononoNO not again NOT AGAIN-

"Did- Am I doing this right!?"

Nero’s flabbergasted when he sees Kyrie’s hand glow, trembling, but they are glowing, not with a healing sign, but with a warding sign along both arms; she's extended it, making it look like she is holding up a thicker arcane-like dome above their heads. Then it immediately dissipates- the corpse hinges on burning, but that's not the thing they're focused on.

Kyrie lets out a shaky gasp, trembling as she lowers her arms, their runes cease their glow. She turns around, her face wearing a face of sudden relief. “Oh- thank God. I did it right! Making a warding shield, I mean.”

The group falls silent, staring at her in shock when the monsters disintegrate, screams of their death ignored in favor for feeling the sheer power of Kyrie’s light arcane. Though Trish looks suspiciously proud, brimming with absolute delight as she nods. “Congratulations, I think you’ve successfully protected and killed that thing off.” She scrunches her nose a bit, smelling the burnt flesh. "...though a bit less on the arcane next time-"

"Oh! Oh, sorry." The burnette finally notices the monster's singed corpse and she steps back. "I'll remember for next time."

Nero’s amazed and can’t help but have a smile appear on his face. Kyrie- shy, not for battling, healing Kyrie... just unleashed that. "Kyrie..." Shit, I’ve just realized I really love you even more.

Credo just rolls his eyes and thwaps Nero for gawping at her, earning the other’s yelp and the women’s laughter. “Stop it.”

“What!?”

“Your aunt taught me how to use one in emergencies.” Kyrie smiles, the runes on her arms fade. “I’ve started to research on powerful warding spells- I can’t just heal people forever, nor can I sit back and watch as these continue to unfold.”

“I can tell.” Lady whistles, glancing back at Trish. “And she taught you how to control it?”

“For a while.” Trish smirks back, “I would prefer being the battle-born healer than being the one who waits.”

“Damn.” Nero murmurs in awe. “Remind me to take you out more often.” He doesn’t hear Credo groan, witheringly glaring at Nico, who trembles in laughter before he pulls Nero’s hair again. “OW!? Credo!”

“-and how the hell did you get past our parents?” Credo sounds incredibly delighted, annoyance seeping through. “That must have been fun when they found out when you came back tired!”

“They were.” Kyrie smiles and Credo groans. “I just told them you might not be there for most of my life and they decided it was time for me to learn self-defense.”

“What in the ever loving hell.” Nero laughs, suddenly swooping Kyrie in his arms. She laughs before feeling his lips press against hers- sudden and out of place. But he doesn't care if anyone balks at this moment. Fuck them. Give him this moment of happiness, at least. “Kyrie- I swear, you are going to be the awesome mother while I be the stern father to our future kids. You better teach them how to defend themselves just like you’re doing right now.”

The burnette girl laughs, returning his hug and Nico joins in with Credo's groan.

Lady grins, arms crossed and hips cocked. “Hey, as much as I want to see you kids get it on, wasn't there a plan you wanted to follow through, Nero?"

"Yeah, I know." And he takes a deep breath, looking inside of the elevator before facing Kyrie. The others decides to walk a bit back, allowing them some space. "...will you be safe?"

"Of course I will, silly!" Kyrie smiles before she cups his face. "Nero, I know you. Yes, I'm worried. And of course... I'm scared of losing you. But I know you are determined. And you are coming back alive. I am sure of this." She lets out a trembled breath before pressing a kiss to him. “...I love you, Nero.”

Nero tightens his hug on Kyrie, breathing her scent, locking it in his mind. He'll be by himself for a while. No healing, no light... nothing to help him recover. “I love you, Kyrie. Please... find me when I don’t come back. Be safe. Use that awesome spell of yours if you have to. Be safe for me.”

She fiercely nods. Her eyes look even more determined before joining with the others. "You too. Go. Find us when you can!"

"I will." And Nero sees them run towards the other side of the hallway, back to exploring the rest of this floor while he steps into the working elevator. He glances at the buttons, silently thinning his lips when he presses the very last button- the very top floor- and closes his eyes when he hears the chiming 'ding', closing the doors.

All he has to do is to wait and hope the monsters do not sense a mechanical working elevator with him inside.

“I promise..." He looks up to see the elevator's floors tick. "I'll come out of this alive."


"He's really like Dante, isn't he?"

Trish glances over to Lady; the five of them deciding to trek and continue exploring the floor. Nero's arcane fades upward, so she knows he's on his way to the top. But what Lady just said- "Come again?"

"Sorry!" Lady pauses before she hums, "Nero. He has that same vibe as Dante's... when they refuse to give up on something. It's odd; it's like they share the same gene."

Trish's mouth slightly opens- before hearing snickers from the kids. She glares at her, silently frowning before turning back to Lady. "Do you recall what I was about to tell you last night? About Dante's twin?"

"Oh! You were." Lady perks, also knowing this. "What about it?"

Trish pauses- before something passes through her that feels-

-cold, chilled, yet soothing ice, as if it's trying to ward the monsters away-

"Wait, hold on." She stops, slowly walking back, her eyes now pinned to one of the double-doors they've just passed. "Sorry, I'll come back to- did... anyone feel that, just now?"

"Feel what?" Nico asks, looking lost, but Credo steps forward to inspect the door. "Uh... wanna tell me what's happenin' now?"

"This doesn't feel demonic." Credo frowns, glancing at Trish. "Nor do I sense any of those monsters. But this- feels very off. As if- it shouldn't belong here."

There's a moments silence between all five-

-before the door flies open, Credo and Nico both shoving the double doors open with a loud slam. They barely cross the room when a sudden chill greets them- forcing Nico to loudly shudder.

"What the crap!?" She yelps as Kyrie, Trish, and Lady follow. Lady, of course, quickly shuts the doors before Kyrie quickly draws a silence rune and activates it with her arcane. "It's- Shit! It's like a goddamn freezer in here!"

"What in the world...?" Trish hears her heels click in the frigid room, slowly inspecting the large, yet ice-filled room. Most of the walls and sections are covered with chunks of ice, encasing most items in its frigid state. There are no lights coming in, yet the room is glowing itself with some semblance of light. The eerie silence greets them, making them feel uncanny for entering in such place that has been untouched by the rubble and ruin. 

"It's... wow." Lady murmurs, feeling goosebumps on her skin. "This looks... different."

"Of course, this explains the off-put feeling." Credo glances over- and slowly takes out his epee. He placed his pistol somewhere in his jacket- safety on. "Perhaps it's best to look around for something- be careful. See what we can find for some... hint of what we're about to be in."

This seemed to be their mindset as Trish slowly takes out Ombre; Lady with one of her pistols, Kyrie sticking close to Nico, who decides to walk at the back part of the room. Lady and Trish stick with Credo, who carefully trek through the area.

By the time they made their way through one section and felt nothing malicious heading their way, all tension vanish in the form of trying to be mindful of their surroundings- especially that of the ice that coats the floor.

"I wish there's a heater on." Lady shiver, her hands attempting to warm herself, but nothing. "I'm starting to appreciate the outside heat now."

"I thought you were of the fire arcane?" Credo arches an eyebrow, her and Trish staring at her in confusion. "Shouldn't warmth come naturally to you?"

"For Dante? Yeah, it would. Me? Ohhh no. I can only melt ice. I'm not a walking furnace."

"So," Trish's lips quirk to a suggestive smile. "Say that we're in some cold room- you can't just start your own fire and warm up?"

Credo nearly chokes on this, red dusting his face, but Lady rolls her eyes. "In a literal sense? Yeah, I can start fires. But again, I don't do reckless things. It's not the way I deal with things! And no, before you ask, I'm cautious. I don't do impulsive."

"Oh?" Trish chuckles, "Even if I wanted you to lose control once in a while?"

That causes the gunswoman to gawk, stare at Trish with a pink blush- and Credo sighs. Loudly.  "And on that note, that will be my cue to leave to find my sister and Nico!"

Ignoring whatever protests Lady has and Trish's cackles, Credo grumbles under his breath, "I did not want to hear about that. Now I know how Nero felt-" He looks up to see Kyrie and Nico looking up at... something. "There you are! Oh, thank god, I can talk to someone else who can't-"

"Credo," Kyrie's voice sounded strange. She's still staring at one of the ice pillars with a rather confused look on her face. Nico's too- but she's glancing at the other pillars now with a very lost glance. "Can... you see it?"

He frowns. What's Kyrie referring to? "See what?"

Kyrie indicates to the ice pillar she's standing in front of. "There's someone inside of the ice!"

"What?" Credo lets out an incredulous chuckle, shaking his head before looking at what Kyrie is pointing at. "There is no possible way that-" And he stills, humor gone as he sees a pale resemblance of a man's sleeping face looking through the pillar.

And he looks back at her- but Kyrie looks- why is she confused? "Kyrie. Since... are you sure about this?"

"I'm sure." Kyrie narrows her eyes, her arms glowing soft as she places her hand on the ice pillar. "There is someone in here, but why does this person look familiar...?"

Credo stills- and looks back on the face once again. Or- no, it's a form. There's a body attached to the head. He squints his eyes, trying to piece together who he looks like as he inspects closer. "You're right. But who is the question...?"

Then her eyes widen, a sharp gasp escaping her. "Credo! That man- it's- where's Miss Trish?? Miss Lady!?"

"I'll- where are they?" And Nico's on the verge of horror- she's noticed something else too. Credo lamely gestures to the other side of the room- and the mechanic barely sprints to find the two women, Credo and Kryie moving to the side before they glance back at the ice pillar with the man inside.

"Kyrie." Credo needs to know. "What. Is going on."

Kyrie bites her lower lips, glancing back at the man in the ice. "The man, Credo- he looks like-"

“Uncle Sparda? Aunt Eva!?”

Credo stills.

And he turns to see Trish standing where Nico was- except she's staring up at the ice pillars in shock, disbelief. “What- how- what are they doing here!?”

Nero's grandfather!? He looks up again- to finally realize the man is indeed the sleeping Sparda. And next to him is a woman, sleeping in the same area- Eva.They're- encased in ice? Credo glances around, seeing Nico show Lady something else.

“I thought they were the first who tried to ward off the monsters!” Trish sounds very lost.

“So did I.” Kyrie frowns, her light arcane beginning to glow as she places her hands against the ice barrier. “I want to check something- if they still live, then I should be able to feel for their lives. Their arcane has been massively subdued- as if they were shut off on their own.”

“That’s... fine." Trish lets out a very shaky, nervous breath. "Just what the hell is this room?”

“I’m going to get a closer look.” Credo carefully stands before slowly walking around the large ballroom of its frozen denizens. He finally notices it now- the people who are sleeping in their frozen world. “If you don’t mind-”

“Go ahead.” The blonde woman looks around for anything else that can warm this room- but instead, it’s just freezing cold. She shivers a bit, glancing back down at Kyrie who is doing a careful reading on the two. “Well?”

“This is highly unusual...” Kyrie’s eyes narrow, her arms glowing with the signs of life as she passes through their faces. “Their arcanes are sleeping- as if they are recovering.” She looks back at the other woman. "This room... feels like a cryochamber of sorts."

Trish's mouth is barely open, trying to lean against something solid- and she does, barely gasping at the frigid ice pillar she was about to lean into. "Are all of the others like them? People- encased in ice like this??"

“It is-” And Credo stills. He recognizes one of them. But it’s odd, their expressions aren’t dead! “-Cardano!? But- I thought he was one of those who died!”

Trish walks to inspect with him, also alarmed as Lady glances over at some of the other people- and she narrows her eyes, spying a few mercenary signs on their clothing. Nico gestures to the sleeping people, “...you know them, Lady?”

“Yeah. Some idiots who decided to barge into Red Grave first before they went missing.” Lady narrows her eyes, hand now on the ice pillar that encased the mercenary. She swore for a moment she heard a sleepy grunt, causing her to narrow her eyes and kick at the ice. “The mercenaries that Morrison asked- What the hell are they doing here? I thought they were dead?”

“No, and it’s odd.” Kyrie frowns, placing her two fingers to check for a pulse for the two who they have broken out with Lady’s arcane. “...they’re alive. It’s as if they’re sleeping.”

“Sleeping?” Credo and Trish glance at each other before looking back at those who are still in the ice.

“Yeah! They are.” Nico flicks at one of the pillars of sleeping people before turning to see another group. "I mean- this ain't a sci-fi thing. But if they're resting- that means they've been like this for... a month!"

The silence is really tense. A whole month of people missing- the people who were supposedly taken in by the monsters, thought to be dead, but to only end up here, sleeping and recovering.

...people who are really alive, not dead. For a good reason.

And the overwhelming arcane feels very familiar to him- and from the looks of it, to everyone else but Nico and Lady.

This brings up few answers and more questions.

“...I start to suspect,” Credo’s voice grows quiet, being the one who breaks it with his musing thoughts. Slow, interested... and irritating thoughts. “That things are not what they are made to be.”