Gunfire rang out within the streets intertwining through the concrete jungle that was Limbo City. A lone police officer rushed down the sidewalk, turning back momentarily to fire off several rounds at her pursuers. It was hard to make them out in the nighttime, but the officer knew whatever they were they weren’t human. The bullets tore into black, leathery flesh, but otherwise did little damage to the figures chasing her, aside from an ink-like liquid spraying from the wounds. They screeched as they lumbered closer on thin legs, dragging large rusted blades along the concrete. The officer took off into a sprint again, reaching for the radio strapped to her shoulder.
“This is Officer Portinari requesting backup at the…south corner of Barghest and Fifth! My partner is down and the assailants are pursuing me!” she yelled into her radio as she rounded a corner, thinking it led to another street. Unfortunately for her, it led into an alleyway. “Shit…”
The officer slowed from a run to a slight jog before stopping entirely. The back end of a laundromat blocked her path forward. When she turned around, the pursuers were already filing into the alleyway, but they paused a few meters way, as if waiting for something. The officer raised her pistol, and finally got a good look at the figures underneath the light of a streetlamp. Vaguely humanoid, but with glossy black skin, the figures were gaunt, with slim limbs that looked like they were barely able to support their stocky torso. One arm was replaced with a large, rusted razorblade that pivoted at the elbow, and their faces lacked many features besides large tufts of feather-like hair slicked back off the top of the head, and a set of human-like teeth with no lips to cover them.
Although it had been several months since the monstrous disaster in Limbo city that leveled several city blocks, many still didn’t believe in the whispers of demons, chalking it up to mass hysteria. Not even in the face of them, like this officer was, could some come to terms with the fact that demons walked among the whole of humanity, still lethargic after being roused from the sleepy illusion the demons used to control the world.
The demons’ heads twitched ever so slightly, but they otherwise kept their “gaze” on the officer. She took a deep breath as the nightmarish figures moved to the sides of the alley, making way for yet another of her pursuers, the one who killed her partner moments earlier. It wore an elliptical, paraffin-colored mask with the engraving of a static, devious grin. Its toned body was much more human in appearance, and it wore only a tattered skirt, which brushed against the bloodied swords it held low in each hand.
The officer screamed, unleashing a volley of lead towards the masked figure, who simply swiped its swords back and forth in front of itself, deflecting each and every shot with little effort. The masked devil growled, and rushed at the officer, holding its sword to her neck as the other figures trampled up behind it. The officer’s gaze darted around her, and she swallowed hard in the realization that she would die there, surrounded by grotesque figures.
Suddenly, a three-pronged claw clamped down on the head of one of the dark-skinned figures situated in the back of the group, and it was jerked violently out of the officer’s view. At the mouth of the alley a man reeled the demon towards him with a dark chain, and as the monster came close, he caught it under his left arm, wrenching its neck in a chokehold. The officer watched as the demon fruitlessly struggled in the young man’s grasp. He had to be strong to do so, but who was he? She couldn’t make out his face; the hood of his black leather coat obscured most of his features, save for a subtle grin, lit up by the torched end of a cigarette between his lips.
“You should really be careful, miss, this is a bad neighborhood after all,” the young man said, tapping the tip of a silver blade he held in his right hand against the dirtied pavement.
The group turned its attention away from the frightened officer, and towards the hooded young man.
“Daaaaaannnteeeeeee…” the demons growled at the man.
“That’s me. Please, no autographs…” Dante replied with a smirk.
The demons took off into a quick stride and a shrill howl pierced the night. The man closed his arm tightly around his captive’s neck, and after a muffled crunch, the head fell off with a trail of black ooze. He released his grip on the rest of the body and let it fall limply to the ground.
“A bunch of stygians, though? This’ll be easy,” Dante said, a hint of disappointment accompanying his words.
The young man gritted his teeth, clenching down on his cigarette to secure it, and then he took off toward the group of monsters dragging his sword behind him. He quickly cleaved through the first demon’s torso, and it crumpled to the ground. Another immediately took its place, and swiped its armblade at nothing as Dante leapt forward, kicking off the demon’s head and boosting himself higher into the air.
“C’mon up guys, there’s a great view!” Dante jeered, swinging a long, curved blade beneath him and into the rushing group of stygians. A burst of spiraling blue wind shot up from the ground, blasting the cluster of fiends up into the air, where the man then spun the weapon overhead. The curved blade of the spinning scythe ripped cleanly through the demons, the black ink that comprised their bodies splashing along the walls of the alley. As the wounded bodies fell to the ground, the man plummeted downward with his sword parallel to the pavement, cleanly bisecting a demon below him from skull to crotch.
Two more stygians rushed forward, and Dante tossed his sword high into the air. To avoid the stygian’s incoming attacks, he retreated with a hop backwards, reaching under his coat and producing two pistols from shoulder holsters. He aimed them squarely at the demons and peppered their torsos with gunfire, firing off rounds faster than any pistol should be able to. The demons staggered backwards, convulsing as they took the barrage of lead, while the hooded youth slowly swaggered forward. He quickly replaced the pistol in his right hand to its holster and caught his sword as is fell back to the earth, swiftly going on the offensive and cutting down the stygians.
Both stygians fell to the pavement, one dissolving into dark sludge, the other seizing as it attempted to climb back to its feet. Dante stabbed it through the chest, lifting it up off the ground with one hand, and then pressing the muzzle of the pistol in his left hand up to the demon’s head. Unleashing another volley of fire, the bullets blasted the demon’s head away in chunks, leaving a stump spurting murky ooze as the body fell limp. Dante swiped his sword to the side, tossing the stygian’s corpse off the end of it, and then raised his pistol to the masked demon.
“You’re next, chuckles!” he said, loosing a barrage of gunfire at the demon. Predictably, the demon spun its swords ahead, creating a solid wall of steel that deflected each round the young man fired at machine gun speeds. “Typical dreamrunner bullshit,” Dante muttered, relenting on his assault as he holstered his pistol.
“Alright, let’s do this the old-fashioned way. You wanna get cut in two? I can make that happen!” Dante pointed his sword towards the demon he addressed as a dreamrunner.
The dreamrunner’s head cocked sideways, and he rapped the tip of one of his blades on the concrete, generating a loud clanging noise. Splashes of the black ooze formed on the alley’s walls and pavement, and more stygians climbed out from the puddles. “Afraid to fight me on your own…? I would be too,” Dante said lowly.
The officer felt a slight wave of pressure fly past her, originating from the young, hooded man’s position. She swore she could hear a sustained, agonized wail, but it was so faint, as if it was coming from some far off place. The same blotches of black ooze that pooled on the alley walls appeared on Dante’s body. The red dress shirt he wore underneath his coat tightened to his form, with the collar reaching up over his neck. The hood covering most of his face tightened around his head, turning into a slick, pure black shape that dissolved features like his nose and ears. The brim of the hood itself formed sharp white teeth that reached the sides of the head, almost near the back, which met with a matching set that formed out of the red dress shirt that continued crawling over his jaw. The new set of demonic teeth chomped closed, biting the cigarette between the man’s former lips in half. As the lit end of the cigarette fell to the ground, it illuminated the now glossed and leathery skin the man’s coat became, with the hemline having changed into something resembling thick patagium, while the seams of the coat itself hardened into the digits that separated those membranes.
“Oh Lord…” the officer gasped.
The stygians surrounded the demon that stood where a man had moments earlier, and readied for attack. An extremely bloodshot left eye peeled open from the man-turned-demon’s pitch black head, and suddenly he was impaling a stygian with his silver sword, sliding them both into a wall. The stygian struggled against the blade in its torso, but didn’t fight long when the man-demon’s clawed hand clenched the demon’s face, and tore the head from the body, which immediately melted into a puddle of ooze. The man-demon swung his sword in a wide horizontal arc, hewing right out of the concrete wall and smashing away the group of demons that had huddled behind him.
The man-demon’s right hand twisted into a three-pronged claw, and he reached out for a stygian that had fallen against some trashcans. The man-demon’s arm extended grotesquely towards the stygian, where the claw closed around its neck. With a ferocious jolt the stygian was pulled close to the man-demon. After the other stygians rose to their feet, they swung their rusted armblades, but the man-demon held tightly to the figure he had around the neck, and used its body to shield himself from their blows. The stygians attacked relentlessly, hacking away at their own comrade as the man-demon raised it to meet their blades in the air. Black ooze poured from the stygian’s body, and its limbs soon fell apart, no longer able to take the punishment its allies involuntarily gave it. The man-demon dropped the broken stygian, and the silver blade reappeared in his hand, gleaming in the moonlight.
There was a low growl, and the dreamrunner leapt into the air with its blades raised, jumping over the other stygians, finally willing to take part in the battle. The man-demon stepped back as the tips of the dreamrunner’s blades sang past his face, and then listlessly swiped his sword in front of him to parry the dreamrunner’s follow-up attack. A stygian attempted to flank the man-demon and strike at his back, but he quickly turned on his heel, cleaving through the stygian’s torso and immediately turning back to face the dreamrunner in one swift motion. The dreamrunner and the man-demon continued their attacks, sparks flying as the clash of metal echoed through the alleyway. Another stygian attempted to flank, and the man-demon turned, piercing its torso with his blade. The man-demon pressed his hand down on the stygian’s shoulder as he twisted the blade, and then slowly raised the sword up through its chest, past its collar, into its neck, and then quickly sliced through the skull with a quick snap that started at the chin.
The stygian fell, melting onto the pavement as the dreamrunner let out a long growl, and dove headlong into a distortion in the air between it and the man-demon. The alley fell silent as the man-demon’s head sharply twisted about, surveying every direction possible with quick, seizure-like motions. The sound of rushing wind came from his left and the man-demon raised his free hand, catching the dreamrunner’s sword at the blade as it reappeared from another distortion.
“…Get some new tricks…” Dante’s distorted voice emanated from the man-demon as it stared down the dreamrunner with its bloodshot eye.
Bright red blood seeped out of the man-demon’s clenched left palm as the dreamrunner jerked its hand back, unable to release its sword from the man-demon’s grasp. The man-demon chuckled as he swung his sword cleanly through the dreamrunner’s arm, severing the limb from its body with a wet snap. The demon stumbled back as inky slime gushed from its shoulder. The man-demon flipped the dreamrunner’s sword, still clenched by its severed appendage, and then caught it by the forearm. He lurched forward with an unsettling titter, holding both his silver blade in one hand, and a severed arm holding another sword in his other.
The dreamrunner swung its remaining blade, but it was easily slapped aside, knocking the demon off-balance. With his opponent defenseless, the man-demon rained down a series of unrelenting blows, hacking away at the dreamrunner with both blades, alternating between them as he did so. Each attack sent the dreamrunner lower onto the pavement, while each raised blade, which made way for the other to come down, threw black ooze into the air. The man-demon grunted with each downward strike, and carried on doing so until the dreamrunner was little more than chunks of leathery flesh and a pool of black goop.
“Holy…shit…” the officer stammered under her breath.
The man-demon’s featureless head turned sharply towards the utterance, glaring menacingly at the officer with its one, bloodshot eye. The officer slowly backed up in fear, but the man-demon noticed the attempt to flee, and saw it prevented by throwing the dreamrunner’s severed arm and sword into the wall next to the officer. The tip of the blade pierced the wall, and the arm dangled lifelessly from its grip dripping ink on the ground.
“Oh God! Please…don’t kill me!” the officer fell against the wall behind her, sliding down and raising her hands between her and the snarling creature as it took an awkward step forward. “Please! Whatever you are!”
The man-demon halted at the plea, and stepped backwards holding its free hand over its face. His head shook violently in protest as he growled, and he slammed the silver sword in his right hand on the pavement. The man-demon reeled his head back and screamed shrilly into the night air, its gaping maw opening wide. So wide in fact, the officer could clearly see the second, human pair of teeth behind the first set. The man-demon continued screaming skyward, and the exclamation grew less shrill as the figure’s jaw opened ever wider, revealing the face of a screaming young man inside. The top of the demonic jawline slid past the young man’s nose, then eyes, and continued over his forehead until it slipped off the top of his head like a hood, resting at the nape of his neck. The demon’s crimson bottom jaw slid off the man’s chin as it turned into a black liquid, just as the rest of the figure’s skin did, falling to the concrete with a gelatinous splash.
The man-demon was gone; nothing more than a quickly dissipating puddle of black ooze in the alley, and all that remained was the hooded young man, Dante, from before. However, with his hood hanging off his shoulders now, his pale white hair shined in the moonlight. He cocked his head to the side as he stopped screaming, and then violently spit a wad of the same black liquid from his mouth.
“Ahh, it got in my mouth,” Dante complained.
“Are you okay?” a soft voice asked from the inlet to the alley.
Dante turned to address the voice, reaching behind his back and placing his sword there, where it firmly hung without any regard for gravity. “Yeah…shit’s nasty, though.”
A young woman covering her own head with the hood of a pale blue sweatshirt cautiously stepped inside the alley. “That’s not what I was talking about,” she said, pulling a can of spray paint from her belt.
“No, I got it,” the young man replied, scanning the area for any more hostiles.
“You looked a little…upset there, for a moment,” the girl said coquettishly, shaking the can vigorously as she approached a bare wall in the alleyway.
“Nothin’ I can’t handle.” That was a lie he’d told himself far too often recently.
The girl reached up as high as she could with the spray can in her hand, and started painting a large red circle on the brick wall.
“H-hey!” the officer said, climbing to her feet. “You can’t do that!”
“Easy there, chief. I wasn’t kidding when I said this was a bad neighborhood. All kinds of demons hang out in areas like these. Some spots are still a little closer to Hell,” Dante explained.
“Demons…? Hell? You can’t be…” the officer trailed off incredulously.
“What? You thought all that crazy shit that happened here six months ago was a bad dream or something? Demons have been screwing with us all this time, for thousands of years. We just got out of from under their thumb.”
“I…just got transferred to this city a couple months ago…” the officer stammered.
“Yeah? Well, believe me, this city is crazy with demons,” Dante alleged.
“Sure, and what the hell are you? Huh?” the officer asked, scowling.
“Heh…I’ll let you know when I do.” The young man snickered.
“Don’t mind Dante, he gets cranky when he’s hung over,” the young woman said, continuing to paint smaller glyphic designs inside the circle she formed.
“And what the hell are you doing? That’s vandalism, y’know!” the officer turned to the girl.
“Fuck lady, we just saved your life, and you wanna cuff her for drawing on a wall?” Dante scoffed.
“I could probably slap you with a vigilantism charge…”
“…for chrissake.” Dante shook his head and rolled his eyes.
“You got a permit for those weapons, too?”
“I don’t think they hand out permits for magic weapons…” the girl chuckled, turning away from her completed painting: a circular pattern with smaller designs lining the inside of its circumference, with a multi-pointed star at its center. “Look, Dante wasn’t kidding when he said this was a ‘bad neighborhood’, officer.”
“Don’t bother, Kat,” Dante said dismissively.
The young girl Kat ignored her companion’s half-hearted protest. “Demons used to control us from a dimension halfway between our world and theirs. Once we took out the demons’ leader that dimension fell apart, but there are still these hotspots all over the place, where demons like to hang out. If we don’t do something about those hotspots, the demons will spread their influence and it will get bigger, which will just be more work for us, and put more people in danger.
“This thing I painted is a warding glyph, it’ll suppress the demons around here so they won’t show up again; or at least nowhere near as many will. I’d appreciate it if you guys would try to hold off on painting over them, it’s really not helping. We need to get a lot of these put up all over the city, and it’s gonna get annoying having to go back and redo them when I thought we were done.”
The officer scanned the area nervously as she half-listened to Kat’s exposition. In her head, the officer was hung on a name she had remembered hearing.
“Wait…Dante…? You’re that terrorist!” the officer declared, her face taking on a determined countenance.
“Yeah…I get that a lot.” Dante smirked.
The officer raised her pistol in earnest, but as soon as she pulled the trigger, Dante was already standing face-to-face with her. Dante gripped the officer’s pistol tightly, aiming the bore into his chest, where the round loosed itself.
“You think I’m a terrorist…? After I just saved your sorry ass?” Dante growled, ignoring the sharp but fleeting pain the bullet left him with.
He slowly started to lift the gun upward against the officer’s protesting struggle, tearing it from her hands and then swiftly taking a step back.
“Y’know who reported all that shit about me being a terrorist? Bob Barbas – demon.” Dante sneered. “They didn’t like that I was getting so close to taking them out…tried to plaster my name on the air and get me locked up.”
“Bob Barbas, the news giant? A demon?” the officer questioned nervously. “You expect me to believe that?”
“You can believe what you want, but that’s the truth sister. Barbas even ran his own personal prison,” Dante said, swaggering back and forth in the alley with his explanation.
“Barbas was a blowhard news anchor; he wasn’t connected to any prisons.” The officer shook her head.
“None that you know of,” Kat replied. “I suppose you probably heard about the reappearance of hundreds of people from unsolved missing persons cases? Those were Barbas’ prisoners, and if you ask them what happened, you’ll probably get similar stories about a prison. They won’t be pretty either.”
“Half the shit those reports say about me isn’t true…” Dante interrupted.
“I know it might be hard to believe, but we’re – The Order – we’re the good guys. Everything we had been saying for years was true, but the demons didn’t want you to listen. They wanted you to stay asleep…thinking you were going insane if you ever believed the truth,” Kat muttered, her glance darting away as she put a comforting hand over her arm.
“Maybe do a little more detective work before you start pointing your gun at people, huh lady?” Dante said, offering the officer her sidearm.
The officer hesitantly took the piece. “I have a name, you know,” she said snidely.
Dante glanced at the nametag on her vest; B. Portinari.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Officer…Ordinary.”
“‘Portinari’…it’s Italian,” she corrected.
“Oh! Awright, I like pizza,” Dante said matter-of-factly.
Officer Portinari furrowed her brow while flashing an uncomfortable smile. “That’s…congratulations.”
“Okay, we’re all done here Dante,” Kat interjected, saving his companion from embarrassment. “You’re okay, right officer?”
“Uh…yeah…I…” she responded, trying to take in all of events of the night.
“Good! And like I said, please try not to clean off those wards, it’s the only thing keeping this city from going to hell again,” Kat said walking past Dante and out of the alley.
“Yeah…sure,” Officer Portinari said.
Dante gave the officer a lazy salute and then quickly followed behind his hooded friend. The officer watched as the sword on Dante’s back slowly disappeared in a dull swarm of light, and then she glanced at the ward Kat had painted on the alley’s wall. She could have sworn the red paint was glowing slightly, but she preferred to believe it was her eyes playing tricks on her in the failing light of nighttime.
“Well, that could have gone better,” Kat said as she and Dante walked down the sidewalk.
“What are you talking about? I killed the demons, you put up the ward. We’re all good, aren’t we?” Dante said, reaching into his pockets and pulling out his cigarettes and lighter.
“I’m talking about that cop. You could have been a little nicer to her,” Kat lectured.
Dante brought up a cigarette and pinched it between his lips. “Pft, so could she,” he said, lighting the tip of the cigarette, and then snapping the top of his lighter closed.
“I mean it Dante. We’ve been having trouble as it is, maybe we could use someone like her working for the city. We could find way more hotspots a lot faster. The Order hasn’t been operating at well as it could, not since…” Kat stopped herself from finishing the end of her sentence.
Kat tried tirelessly to keep the Order together, despite the deaths of most of the members at the Limbo branch and…his disappearance. Dante remained the Order’s sword, cleaning up demons wherever they reared their heads, but the organization lacked much of its previous intelligence gathering capabilities. For now, they operated mostly on rumors heard on the streets. Even though demons were working out in the open less since Mundus’ defeat, they were still visible to everyone. The problem arose when people refused to believe the things they saw, and the demons capitalized on that disbelief. It resulted in a cold war between the Order and the remaining demons, waged in the city struggling to get back on its feet after a disaster.
“Yeah, sure…” Dante said, inhaling deeply on his cigarette, letting the warmth of the smoke burn and choke the fury that still bubbled in his chest.
“How are you doing?” Kat asked, trying to inquire about Dante’s hidden concern without making it important.
“Fine,” Dante lied. It was getting increasingly more difficult to smother the rage that swelled up inside him whenever he used his Devil Trigger. It was getting difficult to stomach the hate-fueled violence the man-demon performed with Dante’s body. He was worried he was losing control, and he was worried what the man-demon might do if it ever broke free from him.
“You know you can talk to me about anything, right Dante?” Kat said, looking his way.
“I know, and when I’ve got something to talk about…I’ll let you know.” Dante took another deep drag from his cigarette, trying to ignore the flashes of the man-demon’s grinning countenance that appeared in his head.