A few days passed, and Dante and Kat continued their slow, uphill battle against the demons. Small areas were liberated from demonic influence, and the Order again was a common whisper among the populace. FEMA was doing all it could to restore infrastructure to the city, while the federal government assisted the local emergency services as they continued cleaning up debris near where the Silver Sacks towers collapsed. In the wake of Mundus’ appearance and defeat, stories broke of a terrorist attack hoping to bring down banksters allegedly operating from the within the firm, among the accused was one Kyle Ryder, the human vessel of the overthrown demon king Mundus. Fortunately, with the late Bob Barbas’ propaganda network in shambles, the Order was mostly cleared from accusation. A few theorists continued to hold true that the Order was behind it all, most likely demonic sympathizers.
Rumors flew about how during the fall of the Silver Sacks’ wing-like towers you could see an inhuman face amidst the wreckage. Not many besides Dante were there to see the cobbled together construct Mundus used in his final attempt to crush the Nephilim, so it was difficult to corroborate the claims of the devil’s face, but the Order knew the truth. However, whatever demonic influence that still existed in the wake of Mundus’ destruction were fighting back tooth and nail, using whatever was left of the hellish dimension they ruled with. After nine millennia of sovereignty over humanity, there were few demons who would want that to disappear.
Dante and Kat operated out of a safe house the former leader of the Order had set up, just in case something had happened to their headquarters. It was situated close to the center of the city, perfect as a command center that allowed Dante to reach those in need of deliverance from demons still prowling the limping city. It was an innocuous structure, but thanks to the word Kat helped get out around town, anyone who needed the services of a demon killer knew where to look. A police cruiser slowly lurched up to the safe house, the driver inside watching as a delivery boy drove away on a motorized scooter.
Kat dropped a large, flat cardboard box down on the desk, and then set her fists on her hips, glaring dissatisfiedly at Dante, who sucked the last scarce drops of liquor out of a clear bottle.
“What?” Dante said, looking up at her from his reclined seat behind the desk.
“You owe me money,” Kat replied succinctly. “That’s the last time you trick me into answering the door without telling me you ordered a pizza.”
Dante smirked. “But I got us dinner!”
“No, I got us dinner.”
“How’m I gonna pay you back? I don’t have any money. I guess I could offer some of my…other services?” Dante raised his brow.
“Save that for your angel floozies,” Kat replied, sitting on the desk and opening the pizza box.
“Then I’ll owe you one.”
“Better start making some cash soon, I might start charging interest,” Kat said, taking a tiny bite of a slice of pizza.
“I can’t ask people for money. The last thing this city needs is someone charging them to keep ‘em safe.”
“Then maybe you should cut back on all the pizza you’ve been making me buy,” Kat said, smirking.
“No way, I can’t fight evil on an empty stomach!” Dante said, deliberately grabbing the largest piece he could find in the box. It was a habit he learned from years of never knowing when his next opportunity to eat was going to be.
“I’m not sure I’d trust the city’s safety to a guy who functions on pizza and booze,” a voice called from the entrance, the blinding light of the day outlining a slender figure with a brilliant corona.
Dante leaned back in his chair to get a good view past Kat, pointing Ivory in one hand at the figure while chomping down on the pizza in his other.
“You point guns at all your guests?” Officer Portinari asked.
“Only the ones asking me to spare moments to talk about lords and saviors,” Dante said, pulling back his arm to relent the sighting of his pistol on his visitor.
“You’ll find I’m not nearly as preachy,” Portinari said, taking steps further into the safe house after closing the door behind her. “You’re kind of tough to find, for all the rumors of you being a mercenary who’ll do the jobs no one else will.”
“I don’t have money for a big, pink neon sign, either. You women, always wanting me to buy shit for you,” Dante lamented sardonically.
“Some light reading?” Kat asked, noting the large file underneath the officer’s arm, pinched at the side of her torso.
“You could say that,” Portinari said, opening and leafing through the hefty file. “These are some things I’ve been able to find regarding the incident from six months ago.”
“Oh man, I bet there’s lots of great bullshit in there,” Dante said sourly, continuing to eat his pizza.
“Some accident reports, missing person cases, and one very particular personal record…” Portinari said, glancing at Dante at the end of her sentence.
“Sweet…” Dante muttered as he stopped chewing, a mouth still full of faux-Italian cuisine.
“Dante hasn’t done anything wrong,” Kat reflexively defended.
“Lately,” Dante quipped.
“Not helping, Dante,” Kat snapped.
“Lapis Manalis Asylum for the Betterment of Psychiatric Health; Young Offenders Rehabilitation Program: Subject 644-32B…” Portinari read.
Dante’s heartbeat jumped, pounding faster. He could hear a gruff voice, deep in his soul.
“Day 1 – Subject was brought in late last night in Limbo City Police custody. Having been charged with assault, but unwilling to cooperate with police, the subject was sent to our facility for psychological evaluation to see if he is fit to stand trial in a juvenile court. Subject has been silent, refusing to answer questions or participate in discussions with staff or patients,” Portinari continued.
The voice inside him persisted, despite Dante’s response of silence.
“Day 4 – Subject has become increasingly erratic over the past few days, instigating fist fights with orderlies. For his own safety, and that of the staff, subject has been confined to an isolated room, and is under constant surveillance by video.” Portinari recited lines from the file as she began to pace in front of the desk.
Dante’s heartbeat was like a machine gun, and the deafening voice unrelentingly demanded an answer to its question. He could feel a sinking sensation as an unbridled anger welled up inside, flowing like lava through his veins.
“Day 10 – Subject continues to become aggressive, particularly to selective staff members, as if he carries a personal grudge against them. Subject has begun refusing to eat.”
What. Is. Your. Name? The voice asked, booming in Dante’s mind.
“What the fuck is your point?” Dante asked angrily as he leaned forward in his chair, interrupting Portinari and the voice scratching inside his skull like a dull, rusted knife.
Kat looked back, wanting to calm her friend, but relenting for a moment when she saw his eyes burning red like brimstone. Portinari didn’t quite notice, with her pacing back and forth while reading the file.
“Day 13 – Subject finally responds to questions asked by staff, divulging his first name. Upon being taken back to his room after an evaluation, the subject Dante, who still refused to give his last name, broke free of his restraints, violently subduing orderlies before escaping the grounds.”
“So Dante was in a psychiatric ward…weren’t we all once…” Kat said, trailing off as she tried to steer the conversation some place a little less nerve-racking.
“When I met you two the other night, you mentioned something about ‘hot spots’,” Portinari said, closing the file.
“Areas still controlled by demonic influence, yeah.” Kat nodded in response.
“What is this demonic influence? Violence, murders?” Portinari asked.
“Among other things; pets are probably disappearing, too,” Kat explained.
“Pets…why?” Portinari’s face curled in confusion.
Kat shrugged as she continued to eat her slice of pizza.
“Mmmm, cat guts!” Dante remarked, chomping down on another slice.
“There’s also a tell-tale sign of foreboding when you’re in one,” Kat said.
“Really? How does that work?” Portinari asked, you could tell she was attempting to memorize what she was hearing, using small responses and listening intently, despite Dante’s distracting asides.
“You just feel like shit. It hits people in different ways. Some turn into sad sacks, others just get…uh…super pissed off,” Dante said, finally adding something useful to the conversation.
“Others become greedy, or…really, whatever the demons want people to feel. That’s what Malice is. Demon’s run on it. It’s what pretty much makes them up. The stuff spreads in an area, and then it starts to affect the people there. The influence used to be much stronger, but with Limbo in pieces, the demons are just defaulting into the easier emotions they can get people to feel,” Kat explained.
“But what’s all this gotta do with my psych record?” Dante asked, crossing his arms as he leaned back in his chair again.
“Crime is getting worse around the Lapis Manalis building; assaults on the streets, domestic violence, thefts big and small. I mapped out the activity, and at the center of it all is that old asylum.”
What. Is. Your. Name? Dante reached for the pack of cigarettes at the corner of his desk.
“Once I saw what was in the center of this ‘hot spot,’ I did a little digging…and came up with Dante’s psych record. Considering how integral he has been to bringing down these supposed demon forces, the link seemed a bit too strong to ignore,” Portinari explained.
Dante lit a cigarette and inhaled heavily, the tip burning a bright orange that drew attention away from his smoldering eyes.
“So, you believe us now?” Kat asked.
“My partner is dead, killed by a bunch of demons. I also looked into those missing person reports you mentioned, and you were right; a lot of people that have been missing over the last couple of years showed up looking for their families. I’m still skeptical about all this, but…all I know is something is going on and you might be the only ones who can help,” Portinari said.
Kat tried to hide a smile. It felt good to be acknowledged for the work they were doing. She was happy to have not heard herself referred to as a terrorist these past few months when the Order was just trying to help. Kat was more than happy to give the Order a better public image, for them to do what was truly right, despite what Vergil had…
“What do you know about this place, Dante?” Portinari asked.
“Food sucks. Room service was terrible. Bed was uncomfortable. I give it zero stars outta five,” Dante replied.
“Dante…c’mon,” Kat’s shoulders sank in exasperation.
“Place is definitely run by demons,” Dante said, taking a long slow drag from his cigarette before continuing. “It’s why I fought back so much. All those orderlies they said I targeted? Demons. When I was younger, I tried to make sure I wasn’t hurting regular people, so I only acted out against the ones I knew were demons. Luckily, they usually made it pretty fuckin’ obvious that they were; if you were able to see that they were demons, they would treat you like shit.
“I didn’t refuse to eat, either – they were starving me, probably some of the other patients, too. Those ‘evaluations’ weren’t really all that comfy either, getting chained up and beaten while they asked their questions, all while they keep trying to reinforce how crazy you are,” Dante explained.
“Yeah…the demons love doing that. Make everyone, including yourself, think you’re crazy, and no one will ever believe you when you tell them demons are corrupting the world,” Kat said, remembering her time before she was delivered from the Hellfire Prison.
“Hmph, well ‘the devil’s greatest trick was convincing the world that he didn’t exist,’ right” said Portinari.
“Was it just the orderlies? Seems like there would have to be someone pretty high up in the staff for them to be that cruel to the patients,” Kat asked.
“Ho yeah,” Dante chuckled. “A real asshole, some guy named Minos. Heard the demons talk about him a couple of times. Never saw him myself, always talked to me from behind some mirror, let his lackeys throw all the punches.”
“How do you know this Minos is a demon, then, if you’ve never seen him?” Portinari asked, skeptical.
“I could feel it…whenever I got pulled down into Limbo I could feel this power pushing against me,” Dante said, thinking back to a time when he was chained up in a dirty room, feeling immense hatred wash out from his reflection in a two-way mirror.
“That’s Malice, alright.” Kat nodded.
“I got that same feeling whenever I was in that dinky little room, whenever he talked, whenever he asked his stupid questions.”
What. Is. Your. Name? Dante inhaled heavily, as if he was trying to suck the ash straight through his cigarette and past the filter.
“Despite losing its funding from Silver Sacks, that place is still running. Do you think this Minos is still there?” Portinari asked, rapping two fingers on the file in her hand.
“Probably, I didn’t kill him when I left,” Dante answered. “Would have loved to, though…”
“From the sound of things, he’s trying to grow his influence with Mundus gone,” Kat said, sliding off the desk. “A lot of these warlords are popping up these days.”
“What…you think the demons are engaged in some sort of civil war?” Portinari asked, pushing some of her blond hair behind her ear.
“Demons are power-hungry by nature, without a leader to control them it’s very possible they’re trying to carve out their own territories,” Kat said.
“Doesn’t really matter to me; demons are hanging around my city, and I don’t like it. I think it’s time I paid ol’ Minos a visit,” Dante said, standing up from his desk and grabbing his coat from the back of the chair.
“I can take you there,” Portinari said. “You should be able to get in easily to do what you need to with my help.”
“Oh, a police escort, huh?” Kat said with a smile.
“No way am I sitting in a crown vic.” Dante shook his head. “Not even shotgun. I’ll make it there myself.”
“You remember where it is?” Kat checked.
“Could never forget…” Dante replied sullenly, flicking his burned down cigarette into the trash bin. He could still hear whispers of Minos in the back of his mind.
Everyone stood around the doorway for a moment, gathering their effects. Kat placed her cantripped sprays into her belt, and Dante grabbed a short-bored shotgun sitting on the counter near the door, placing it under his coat. Portinari shot a glance at Dante after noticing the firearm. Dante sighed. “No permit for this one either, officer; you can fine me later,” he said.
“Well, I suppose we’re going to be working together for a little while, huh?” Kat held out her hand to the officer. “Welcome to the Order, Officer Portinari.”
Portinari shook Kat’s hand, and then turned to Dante. “Uh, thanks. You can call me Beatrice,” she said, holding out her hand for the young devil hunter with an uneasy smile.
Dante stared at her hand, and then lightly slapped her palm with his as he walked past. “Welcome aboard, Trish. Club meets on Thursday nights, bring your own beer.”
The officer nodded to herself, thinking she shouldn’t have expected too much. “Trish” pulled out her keys and followed Dante out the door of the safe house, with Kat in tow.
“Let’s meet a block away from the asylum, I have a plan to get us inside,” Trish said.
“Whatever,” Dante acknowledged, immediately mantling over the hood of the police cruiser parked out front and jumping high into the air.
I will ask you again. Minos’ voice growled in Dante’s head as he dashed through the streets. He soared through the air, gliding quickly between two buildings from an alleyway. The force of his passing blasted out windows as he rushed by. On the street below, a group of stygians gathered, and it was for this express reason that Dante chose this route through the city. He needed to let off some steam. He could feel something boiling up inside him, and he didn’t want to percolate around Kat, or this new person, whom he called Trish.
Dante screamed, his hands wrapped in twisting metal as he shot down to the pavement, smashing through the concrete with a demonic fist, the destruction enveloping a portion of the Stygians and blowing them away. Dante jumped up from the rubble, reaching out for a stygian with the chain-like claw, pulling it into the air and then whipping it into the ground with so much force that it instantly crumpled into a pile of limbs and black ichor.
What. Is. Your. Name? Dante cursed the voice, lashing out at the world around him. He dropped to the ground with a crimson battleaxe gripped tightly in his hands. The blade cleaved the ground, sending a tremor of blood red energy splitting through the concrete as it crawled forward, popping a stygian into the air as it moved underneath the demon. Dante released one hand from the axe and pulled out the black pistol, Ebony, from its shoulder holster, unleashing a flurry a bullets into the airborne foe. He heard a screech behind him, and immediately spun around with the axe, smashing a stygian away and into the fender of a van in the corner of the lot.
You can end this. Just give me your name, Minos demanded in memories. Dante remembered the beatings, the fists crashing into his face, the feet smashing into his ribs, the blows to his stomach leaving him breathless and cringing. He tried to keep a straight face despite the pain, with teeth clenched, seething in anger, but bound by chains, forced to endure whatever punishment they doled out to him.
Another stygian approached from his side, and Dante holstered his pistol and swung his silver sword across its chest, hacking away as the other demons began to rush in. Dante spiraled with sword in hand, severing the stygian’s torso from its waist, and then he turned to a car parked in the lot. He thrust his sword forward, the blade morphing into a segmented chain tipped with a claw, which clenched around the car’s frame.
Give me your name and this will all stop, Dante heard in his head. An adolescent and bruised Dante pulled on the chains shackled to his wrists. He tested their tensile strength, tugging against where they were bolted into the gritty, yellowed tiles of the wall. Days of starvation left him too weak to pull against the bindings. He knew his flesh and bone body couldn’t hope to match the strength of the metal chains, not now. However, he acknowledged that flesh was weaker, and it was flesh he would have to fight against if he was to ever escape this torment.
Dante gritted his teeth, livid at the young boy in his memories. He yanked on the chain in his hands with insurmountable strength, pulling the car squealing on its tires towards him. He flicked his wrists and twisted his body, throwing the car over his head, rolling across the parking lot and crashing into the stygians as they mindlessly advanced on their target. Inky black Malice sprayed over the parking lot as the stygians exploded upon impact with the car. The car crashed lopsidedly into a far wall, and Dante felt no other presence but his.
No other Malice, but his.
Dante stabbed his weapon into the pavement as the blade turned back into a solid, sharp piece of blinding silver.
What. Is. Your. Name?
Dante pulled his pack of cigarettes from his pocket as another voice rang out in his head, one that felt more familiar to him. Rebel, it told him. It gave him the strength to escape, to rebel. Dante lit the cigarette between his lips and inhaled deeply, the sweltering smoke burning away the rage in his heart. The tip of the cigarette burned a bright orange as the red smolder of Dante’s eyes subsided.
My name is Dante, the boy of his memories said, Dante exhaling a thick puff of smoke. The young boy’s words, however, were not those of compliance, but of defiance.
Dante pulled his silvery blade from the pavement, resting it across his shoulder as he strutted calmly out of the destroyed parking lot, blithely stepping through puddles of black goop without a care in the world.
I gave you my name, Minos, Dante thought. Now I’ve got something else for you.