Chapter 1: Salt of the Earth
Nobody knew how long it took for the world to regain its sanity, to get it together again. Not after... that. A surge of light exploding from the Silver Sacks Tower in the city's cental square, tearing the city apart. In a matter of moments, the world had woken to a nightmare. Gruesome creatures wandered the streets as the city tore itself apart. People ran, panicked, perished.
Nobody knew why it had happened, or when it had begun, or who was responsible. All that aside, however, the collective thought of every man, woman, and child in the city echoed the same hushed word.
It took a matter of months to recover in the smaller towns, those still virgin enclaves left relatively untouched. It took far longer for the cities, those bastions of sin and degradation, full of the blind and misguided many. Many of the demons took to the oceans, the forests, the sewers and dingy backalleys, making their homes in the dark places of the world. More still infested the hearts of people, left raw and exposed just as their minds had broken under the weight of that marriage of Earth and Limbo.
They called that first day Rapture, and every day since has been a new dark age. People have remembered a fear left buried for millennia, and fear begets rage. Rage lights torches and stoked pitchforks. Rage turns families and friends against one another, each trying to uproot an unseen cancer creeping among them. Cut out the illness, cleanse it.
The heat of an early September day sank in over the main thoroughfare of a town that looked freshly hit by some disaster, its buildings faulted and cracked. A slight sprinkling of rain soaking everything under the bright, overcast sky. The young woman was dragged kicking and screaming down the road by large men with skin red from the sun. On each side of this macabre parade of the hostage and her malevolent entourage were men, women, and children, each roaring, sneering, and spitting. In their hands they waved guns and picket signs. 'BURN THE WITCH' in bold black letters over colorful paperboard.
She was led into the town square, and bound to an old telephone pole by metal wire and tape. Men and women began to pour orange cans of gasoline and kerosene over her, and as she looked down to prevent it from entering her eyes, she knew from those bones and ashes around the pole that she was not the first to die here.
Upon a large wooden platform, a man came up to the microphone on a podium. He looked to be middle aged, his rolling beer gut threatening to force apart the buttons on his tight, sweat soaked, white shirt. His hair was licked with dark grey streaks, and his face was full of an impotent rage that quaked the pockets of fat dangling out of his sunburned neck. He spoke with a drawn out, southern preacher drawl, "Ladies and gentlemen of the Congregation, it is true that we have another witch among us... here today."
At that, the masses booed and wailed at the girl, throwing rotten foodstuffs and small stones. The preacher paused, almost as if he was alloting time for the girl's shaming, and then continued, "Now, brothers and sisters, pray tell, how can we enter Paradise if we are unwilling to do what is necessary?"
Another pause, as he waited for the men and women to howl, "BURN HER. PUNISH THE WICKED. GOD HATES WITCHES."
The preacher continued once more, this time with a vehement, hateful gusto, "We cannot be saved unless we are willing to punish those who poisoned our world! This godless bitch must be burned with righteous fire as in days of old! It is time to purge ourselves of the sinful!"
The crowd was in uproar now, and they readied their torches and matches as the people with the gascans spread the puddles to throwing distance for the masses. The young girl began to shed tears, weepingly openly as the hateful screams grew louder.
The revving of a motorcycle blasted from the distance like thunder cleaving the sky, and all went into an immediate hush as the sound of it grew closer. Everyone in town was to attend this mandatory execution, leaving the source of this noise a mystery.
As suddenly as the noise had brought the crowd to a hush, the shadow of a racing motorbike sailed over one of the rooftops. A flaring coat tail sailed after it like a flag held against the barely covered sun. The bike and its rider seperated in a split second, sending it sailing back over another rooftop so smoothly that it seemed to drive itself.
It's rider landed with inhuman finesse in the middle of the street, catching the silent attention of the crowds as he got to his feet and swaggered up to the podium. His dark red jacket blew in the warm wind, and dripped with the rain. He pulled back his hood to reveal a head of silver hair that froze the masses in fear once they traced the hair to its roots, and the face attached to it.
Fearful whispers came from the crowd, "It's him. The one they all warned us about. Why is he here? Is he here for her? Devil..."
He spoke in a confident, nonchalant tone, "Hell of a barbeque you bible-thumpers threw together. I was wondering if there was something to do in this town."
The preacher looked down at him, showing no fear from behind his podium, "Dante, the terrorist who brought ruin to our world. Look upon him, people. Show him that we don't fear him. We don't fear you, demon!"
"Whoah whoah, if it wasn't for me, you people would still be stuck with shitty cable and that crappy Virility. Show some gratitude!"
"We have no gratitude for those who stand in the way of God's will! We are doing His bidding here, and we will not budge before you, demon."
"Y'know, the last guy who said he was doing God's work was pretty big headed too. You'd think a demon's tongue would fry clean off just saying the word, but then again, you're not using YOUR tongue, are you?"
The preacher looked down at Dante with a fearful confusion coming over him, "What are you talking about?"
"I dunno, how about you step out of the overweight redneck and let's talk face TO FACE," grunted Dante as he whipped a glowing red chain out of seemingly nowhere. The chain stabbed into the preacher's chest, piercing his sternum with a fiery glow. He yanked back the chain, and the people were shocked at what transpired.
Hanging from the front of the preacher's body was an immense demon, its body made of twisted flesh and ash that churned and twisted. It clutched the chain, now digging into its chest, and shrieked at Dante. Dante muttered, "...fucking Possessors."
At that moment, a blinding light enveloped the crowd. When it settled, the alleged witch, the preacher and his demonic attachment, Dante, and several crowd members had vanished. The rest of the crowd went into a panic, each starting to shuffle and finally start running as people began throwing out accusations of conspiracy at one another.
Meanwhile, Dante and the others eyed each other in a twisted version of the town square. The puddle surrounding the girl had become a pit of flames, full of monstrous creatures that tried to claw at her legs as she screamed, trying to kick them away. The demon, now a full head and torso, with its limbs bound to the preacher, who dangled behind it, screeched and hissed, "Fowl Son of Sparda, shedder of fraternal blood! We will tear you to pieces and eat you from the inside out!"
"Big talk for somebody hiding behind an old man's face. Who are these clowns?" he said, gesturing at the other men and women, and out of each burst a Stygian, leaving the human bodies inert in the street, Dante nodded, "...oh, and how did all you nice guys find yourselves in a God fearing community such as this? Ah- nevermind, I guess the puppet up here talks enough for the lot of ya. Whatever, I'm getting sick of talk anyway. What say we cut to the chase?"
In Dante's hands, the blade Rebellion manifested, and he tightened his fingers around it as the demons began to advance on him. With a single leaping spin, his blade cleft the heads of the two demons advancing from the sides before throwing a third demon into the air and using his Ophion chain to ascend after it. Tossing Rebellion into the air, Dante pulled out Ebony and Ivory, peppering the demons with a rainstorm of bullets on his descent. Finally, he resheathed his guns just in time to take hold of the blade once more, driving it into the skull of the last Stygian. At that, he turned his attention to the Possessor, who used the preacher's legs to break into an unnatural spint as his demonic form dragged the human form behind it. Dante ran at the Possessor, and thrust forward his blade.
Rebellion's tip sit a half inch from the preacher's face, but it had skewered the Possessor completely. Dante twisted the sword in the demon's gut, causing it to cry in pain. Rebellion vanished from the demon's body, leaving a gaping hole the demon clutched with his large claws. The large fists of Eryx formed at the ends of Dante's hands, and he wound up for an uppercut, "This is the last time anybody is listening to your sermons."
"WE WILL BUTCHER YOU, DANTE THE DEMON KILLER!"
"It's just... Dante!"
And at that, a single punch sent the Possessor flying clean from the preacher's body, which fell limp like a rag doll as the man mumbled incoherently. The demon went flying, before the Ophion chain pierced it again, yanking it full force into the pavement, which shattered upon impact, sending the demon out into the void of limbo.
Dante then looked up at the girl, and the flame monsters, their flaming tails vanishing around the floating buildings of limbo as they fled from him. He hopped across the broken pavement that floated over the empyrean void, and cut her loose. She looked up at him, "Who are you?"
"Don't worry, I'm a friend. What about you?"
"I'm... Sarah. Why did they tie me up? Am- am I a witch?"
Dante noticed Sarah recoil at that, her face growing afraid. He chuckled reassuringly, "No, no, don't worry, that's a good thing. See, you're a Medium, one of the few normal human beings who can interact with Limbo and use magic. These demons don't like humans having that kind of power, so they convince others that you're dangerous under the guise of priests and pastors. It'll still take some time to get them to come around, so you'd best get in hiding until I come to find you."
Sarah nodded, her face full of fear, and ran away into a building as the city reformed and the sky cleared, landing them all back in the human world, surrounded by the bickering crowd. They jumped at the inert bodies landing among them, and Dante hoisted up the preacher. One woman shrieked in horror, "YOU KILLED HIM!"
"Oh, you wanna check his vitals?" Dante said, tossing the staggering man to her. The woman caught him, falling to her knees in the process. Dante drew a small index card from his sleeve, "So... that's $40 a pop for the demons in those other people, and for Father John over here, a solid $200. Here's my ca-"
Dante's head jerked back from a shotgun blast from the crowd, splashing blood on his card as it fluttered down into a puddle. Dante collapsed to the ground, the blood pooling around his head, as one of the men came out, kicking the body, muttering "Fuckin demon."
The man turned to the others, "Come on, help me take this one to the city. They'll pay handsomely for this one."
The crowd hoisted Dante's body up and dragged him away, but not before another note fell out from his coat, to be stomped on by the treading masses, none of whom noticed it. Moments later, Sarah came out, picking both up.
The business card read, 'I'll be back after I get loose from these clowns. Find me at my office if you have any problems,' followed by some contact information that she could barely make out through the blood. Then she read the business card
ANTHONY REDGRAVE, ATTOURNEY AT LAW
Chapter 2: The Archer
Dante, reeling from the assault in the witch trial, finds help from an enigmatic and unconventional ally.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Dante came to, every muscle strained with ache, as if they’d each been pulled to tearing. His head throbbed, and he felt a metallic sting in his sinuses. The dried blood stuck bits of his hair to his recently regenerated face, and he began to recollect how he had gotten here.
The wind on his skin became evident as his eyes blurred into focus, watching increasingly tall buildings roll past, each one in a state of ruin and subsequent, haphazard repair. Immense posters hung from the more preserved buildings, each depicting the masked, unknown “hero” of the Order, in his sweeping trenchcoat, and the bold, stylized letters reading “AWAKEN”. Dante began to roll his eyes, only for their motion in his skull to send shooting pains through his head.
The bobbing and bumping of his surroundings led him to survey what he was on. Looking around, he saw the rusted blue bed of an old pickup truck. To either side of him were men wielding guns, with another sitting at the back. One of them noticed him coming back to consciousness, and thrust the gun barrel at his throat, “Look at this, boys. The demon’s awake!”
The others chuckled with sinister abandon, each aiming at his head. One piped up, “How long d’ya figure we can put him out for this time?” followed by another man grunting, “Let’s see if we can the record, nobody said he couldn’t be turned in livin’.”
Dante swept the closest gun barrel away from his face, fearlessly regarding it as just an unpleasant object, “Will you clowns put the popguns away? I’ve had enough shuteye for one day-”
He was interrupted as the butt of the gun drove into his jaw, knocking his head back against the metal floor of the bed. He looked up in an almost thoughtful gaze for a second, before clicking his jaw back into place and stretching his neck, “Alright, you asked for it.”
His legs flew up, kicking with immense force into the guts of two of the men. They staggered back in pain, collapsing against the back side of the truck bed. The third man swiftly moved his rifle to aim at Dante’s temple, only for Dante to whip out Ivory from it’s holster, aiming it at the man’s head in the same fashion. Dante’s face became grim and sober, “I don’t want to do this, don’t test me.”
For a split second, his assailant hesitated, his hold on the gun becoming shaky. This moment of mercy was broken by a bolt of blue light jerking his head aside. In a nerve reaction, his hand squeezed on the gun, spurring Dante to flick it aside just in time to avoid a volley of gunfire. The inert body of the gunman flopped off the side of the truck.
The other two soldiers looked up to the towers, aiming desperately to hit the silhouette of a figure darting at inhuman speeds between skyscrapers. Dante squinted his eyes, making out a lithe female form as she glided overhead between two opposite rooftops. drawing back a bow as blue energy flickered in her hand. The sliver of light came in a smooth beeline, like a flash of lightning with unrivaled precision.
One of the soldiers looked up in fear, the arrow’s luminous tip poised to sink between his eyes. After a brief moment, his eyes traced along the shaft to see the arrow clutched in Dante’s hand. With a single flex, the arrow snapped, and faded into nothingness. Dante stood over the two soldiers, and without turning his head, spoke.
The two soldiers leapt off the truck, their bodies rolling in the dust of the abandoned avenue. The driver turned back, aiming another large gun, “What the fuck is goin’-”
Another arrow sails through the barrel of his gun, the force of impact pushing him arm down and slamming the arrowhead into the gearshift, bringing the vehicle to a halt. The man panicked, scrambling out of the car and running down a backstreet. As the rest of the convoy rolled on to leave the empty husk of the vehicle, the mysterious assailant dove from the air, landing behind Dante.
Dante aimed Ivory behind him. Another arrow was poised for his neck. The assassin to be was a tall, picturesque woman. Her crimson hair poured in lulls and waves over her shoulders and across a blue denim jacket of a tight fit. The jacket was unzipped, exposing a dark leather corset. She wore a pair of dark jeans that terminated within the tall boots that traveled halfway up her calves. A cold, somber glare burned through a pair of opaque, cimmerian shades.
“Why did you let them go?” Her voice was smooth like a steady rainfall, but voltaic with an unspoken intensity loaded behind every word as they left her lips.
“I don’t kill humans.”
“They wouldn’t hesitate if they were in your situation.”
“If it’s their judgment you have a problem with, take it up with them. You’d probably be able to catch them if you get moving, Lightning Legs.”
Dante turned his head, and for a moment, he froze. A face he recognised, belonging to an adversary he didn’t. He regained composure before the end of that split second, and continued, “So, what’s your story? Figured you’d pick up some potshots on these militant clowns while you were up there?”
“I was looking for you. I don’t make a habit of losing a target.”
Dante turned completely forward, and crossed Ebony’s shaft with the bow, turning the aim from him and toward the ground with a casual collectedness, “If you intend to have that bounty for yourself, I suggest not making a habit of showing off. I’ve never seen a human make a one woman circus display before, and where these jugheads come from, freaks like us don’t quite garner the seal of approval.”
“Strange, I thought leading people like these would be in your blood.”
Dante squinted, raising his guns back to their aim upon her head, “What are you going on about. Talk.”
“Three years ago, two boys tore down the hierarchy of the world. One climbed to the top of the rubble, the other came down with it. Which brother are you?” Her eyes cut through the lenses of her glasses and through the threat imposed by Dante’s guns, looking into his eyes with an icy sobriety that no motion of violence could break.
Dante lowered his guns, disarmed by the brutal resolution of his opponent, “My brother, what do you know?”
“I know he vanished when the worlds of men and monsters came tumbling down. He left behind a coalition that views him as a martyr, and a story that keeps demons hiding in the dark when his name is spoken. He left behind his brother, left a scapegoat for his disappearance and a pariah in the eyes of human and demon alike-”
“Enough.” Dante’s composure was broken now, and he eyed her with an anger etched deep into his face, “Three years ago I kept the world from falling into the wrong hands. Twice.”
“Then why is the world still broken, Son of Sparda.”
“What do you want from me. You came all of this way so stop wasting my time.”
“I know where your brother is, Dante. The Order is a skeleton crew operating without a head. Letting mercenaries and cronies drag you to every conference you find won’t get you any closer. He’s alive, and he’s out there. You want to find him, I need you to reach him. I’m offering you a deal.”
“And what’s in it for you?”
“Whatever path your brother takes, he drags our world and so many others behind him. I cannot allow this world to stray from its path again.”
“You’re going to kill him.”
At that, the woman turned and stepped atop the roof of the truck, continuing her stride down the hood and onto the street, “My offer still stands, demon killer. Don’t bother looking for me, I’ll find you. I always do.”
Dante spoke out after her from atop the truck, “Who are you?”
Without turning, her voice rang out, “Call me Trish.”
The sky above had become a dark overcast in the time of their conversation, a crown of tumultuous turning hovering over her head as she moved further away. She snapped her fingers, and suddenly vanished in a blinding streak of lightning.
After all these months, an update appears. I had been mulling around where to go with the story, and I finally settled on staying the course with what I had initially written.
To anyone perplexed by Trish's use of a bow, I apologize. I hope it does not dissuade you from reading further.
Chapter 3: The Widow, The Hunter, and The Hand
A cutaway from Dante's latest encounter leads into the meeting of the dark forces conspiring to fill the power vacuum of the world.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The oppressive silence of a dilapidated parish sits like a solemn tombstone, a mourning wake of the life the city around it once held. The heavy oak doors are pressed aside by two men in blue military garb who stand aside as a woman in a dark veil and a funeral dress moves forward between them. She stops just short of the massive postern and speaks without turning her head,
"Stand guard. Nobody comes in, understood?"
The soldier punctuated his compliance with a sharp salute. The woman's cold and indifferent demeanor maintained her straightforward gaze as she stepped into the building. The muted stillness of the night was broken by the punctual tromping of her heels upon the aged marble of the antechamber.
The blue light of the early evening cut sharply through the palpable darkness within, itself parsed in twine by the sharp shadow of the woman. As the doors sealed behind her, she looked across the church's central chamber to the pulpit, its stark and euclidian geometry painted over by the moonlight pouring down through the dirty stained glass. The depiction of a maiden under a shaft of heavenly light was stretched over the podium, with the filth making her once tranquil face appear doleful as thick streaks of dross trail down her cheeks and resemble flowing tears.
She walked between the empty pews to the illuminated center of the chapel, and lit a lone candle upon the podium with a match. The dim blues were supplanted by a somewhat stronger light, that splayed out over her porcelain pale face and the veil of dark taffeta that hung over her eyes. The woman bowed down on the cold marble, and a second figure stepped into the light. He resembled a shadow in his imposing form and silent motion; a loose overcoat ensconcing his figure; and a pair of leering, feline eyes set deep in his ashen face. A wide, grevious wound intersected his torso; pulsating, grey grooves of flesh twisting around a single open wound that seemed to shimmer in an unearthly fashion. His breath seemed to be a chronic death rattle, and his face was a wiry smile drawn tightly over his skull. He spoke in a cool tone that shook with a trembling pain, "Hespera, at long last you've arrived."
"Lord Vergil. I take it these past months have been kind to you, wounds nonwithstanding."
"Naturally. Are all the preparations in place?"
"The Order lackeys have traced every instruction necessary from the excavation sites you outlined. We need only gather the provisions directed by the Enchiridion, and we will be ready to summon your precious tower."
"The Rahmet El."
Vergil ran a gloved hand over a faded mural on the back wall of the church, an image depicting golden men clambering a great stone tower. From below them, blue skinned demons ascended after them, and from above they were shot down with arrows by angels that circled the structure, "An eon ago, the Nephilim were born into an era of war. They were hunted by the demons that ran rampant, and ascended a bridge of stone and faith to plea with Heaven for mercy. Alas, the angels had no clemency for their unwanted children, and sank the tower into the Demon World. Those who weren't killed entombed themselves deep in the labyrinthine chambers of the tower."
"You really intend to open the Demon World?" Hespera inquired, her dark lips twisting with amusement.
"The demons of this world answer only to power, which I have in spades. Whatever breed of demon we release will simply learn to fall in line, or show the rest of them what happens to those who resist."
"A push for more troops? I'd think with the Order top brass under your thumb, you'd have all the soldiers you would need."
"Armies of men and demons work for the time being, but that isn't why I'm risking lives and time on this operation. That tower is ostensibly the last bastion of information on the Nephilim. If I can reach it, I can bring them back with the secrets within. A breed of beings with the power of angels and demons combined to serve as Generals and oversee the world."
"Interesting," Hespera chucked, "I remember the last Nephilim you conspired with wasn't so-"
A flash of light and the whisk of metal through the air brought the tip of Vergil's sword just short of Hespera's throat, "Remember your place, demon. I've let you live this long already, and it would be a shame for you to outlive your usefulness."
"A demon hunter then, a demon hunter now, hm."
Hespera's gaze was unbroken still, her face a satisfied smirk. Vergil drew Yamato away from the woman's throat, sheathing it once more, "Complete the operation, widow. Collect the Medium, and complete the Enchiridion's directions until the seals are broken."
"How do we know she hasn't been executed by the witch hunters?"
"I've had her under observation for some time. She's alive."
Hespera turned to walk out of the door, "You're as confident as ever, my lord."
Hespera stopped, and without turning, inquired, "Yes, sir?"
"Ensure the duplicate is found and detained. I'm certain you know the pain of losing your own flesh and blood."
Hespera turned once more to the door as Vergil pressed his fingers around the candlewick and steeped the church in pitch darkness. As the church door creaked open, the moonlight poured in on her and an empty church. She stepped out, her soldiers following closely. A soldier inquired, "What are the orders?"
"Find this girl. Kill whoever stands in your way."
The woman pulled a lone photograph from her blouse, handing it to him. A young woman with blonde hair was pictured. In the upper left corner, the word SARAH was stenciled in dark ink. Her lengthy, wine colored fingernail tapped on the girl's face just as she released her grip, "she's a powerful Medium the Order needs."
"And take special precaution, Lieutenant," Hespera said with a somber curtness.
She trailed off, "He who hunts monsters is liable to become one himself."
And with the inclusion of OCs, I see myself slipping further down the fan fiction rabbit hole. I tried hard to make sure Hespera fit into the universe without being an irritating latch-on or a shoehorned "mary sue". More about her will unfold as the plot rolls on.