The examination room was a relatively small space, with dirtied and yellowing tiles on the floor and walls. Rust stains formed streaks at the bases of metal pipes running along the room’s ceiling. A large mirror took up one entire wall, with a small surveillance camera in the corner trying to seem inconspicuous, despite its blinking red light. Opposite the mirror was a lone door in the center of the wall, the only way in or out of the room. The door rumbled with the sound of a sequence of softened knocks.
Dante stood on the other side of the door, holding what was left of a stygian’s body by the head, using its face to both knock on and push the door open. Dante tossed the stygian’s corpse aside in the hallway before he entered the room, examining the space while trying to withstand the source of the heavy waves of oppression, which emanated from just beyond the mirror. It made Dante want to curl up on the floor, and just surrender to whatever comes for him. Despite being older, the emotive suppression wasn’t all that much weaker than when he experienced it as a child.
In the mirror, Dante’s reflection was not his own, or at least…not of his age. A boy, no more than ten or eleven, stood beyond the glass, his jet-black hair unkempt, and his body, gaunt with hunger, covered in bruises. His visage was familiar, of a young Dante, his right eye swollen and covered with purpled skin. Despite his emaciated and battered look, his posture was straight, and he smiled at the white haired devil hunter at the entrance to the room.
“Welcome Dante…I hope you appreciate that I’ve kept our playroom nice and neat, just the way you left it,” the reflection said in an unbefitting, deep voice. “Were my underlings as accommodating as you had hoped?”
“Really dude, you thought some lackeys would stop me? I shoved my sword so far up your boss’ ass he was licking the tip before he died and you toss a bunch of smallfry at me?” Dante snapped.
The young Dante chuckled with a voice like an earthquake, and the door to the room slammed shut behind the devil hunter.
“Mundus? Mundus was a pissant we all suffered. He had some good ideas, but he had no business sitting on that throne. He was a demon king through no virtue of his own but a loophole. Sparda, though…now he was a demon king. Too bad he threw his chips in with Mundus.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Dante prodded, feeling awkward talking to a vision of his younger self. Seeing that battered young boy made Dante slightly angry. Minos sure knew how to rub at a raw nerve.
“You think you’re some hot shit because you killed Mundus? Mundus was a pushover! He was a megalomaniacal piece of shit that got his throne because he found the Hell Gate and duped Sparda into joining him. You only killed a conman, Nephilim…a conman with more power than he knew what to do with. Maybe I should be thanking you,” the boy said with an appreciative smile.
“Save it,” Dante growled.
“Aww, now is that any way to treat an old friend? Don’t you remember all the good times we’ve shared?” Minos said.
“Oh I remember…I remember every fist in my face,” Dante said, feeling a ball of fury swelling up within his chest.
“I remember every kick in my ribs.”
It came from deep, flaring outward with every beat of his heart.
“I remember the taste of blood in my mouth.”
The fury consumed him like a fire, and Dante’s eyes shone blazing red.
“But…most of all, I remember slicing through your demon lackeys. I remember breaking my chains and carving my way out of this shithole.” The shift in Dante’s tone helped quell the fury, saving his soul from total immolation. “I remember wishing I could cut your head off, and I think it’s high time I made that happen.”
“You still think you’re a match for me?” Minos growled.
In the background of the mirror’s reflection, the world twisted. The walls behind the young Dante blew out, sending tiles far into the distance as a fiery, hellish landscape of whirling black smoke whipped around, encasing the area in flame-tinted clouds. Flakes of Malice floated through the air on violent winds, smearing up against the mirror. On Dante’s side, the room was deathly still, wholly unaffected by the localized ruin the mirror reflected.
The reflection of young Dante grinned maniacally. “Welcome to the big leagues, Son of Sparda.”
Dante pulled Ebony from its holster under his coat, pointing it at the young reflection. “Let’s start the party,” Dante said.
A bullet screamed out of the barrel ahead of a blast of fire, crashing into the mirror directly between the young Dante’s eyes. The round spun in place, drilling itself into the glass as countless cracks appeared with subtle snaps, covering the whole of the mirror. However, the cracks didn’t stop when they reached the edges of the mirror, they continued past the frame, stretching out onto the walls and ceiling. With a sharp snap, the glass and walls shattered, blowing away into shards and leaving Dante to stand on a platform made up of what was left of the examination room’s floor. All around him lay the devastation first seen in the reflection; hellish clouds swirled violently, and debris swarmed about, forming into pillars floating at the corners of the lone platform.
Dante glanced around, trying to sense where exactly Minos was hiding, although he didn’t have to search long when a hulking mass of tan flesh rose up from one side of the platform. He seemed a man, wrapped in an inky black toga that appeared to drip off his frame. Large clawed hands wrapped by chains clenched the edges of the platform, and Minos leaned his upper half forward at Dante. His face was more skull-like, with sunken, burning orange eyes nestled in the deep blackness of his sockets. Horn-like protrusions extended from his brow, circling his head to form a ghastly crown.
“That’s what you really look like? Glad you stayed behind that glass all this time,” Dante quipped. “Mighta given me nightmares.”
“Ever the joker,” Minos said with a fanged jaw. “Just like your father.”
“Glad to hear I got something good from HIERRUGH!” Dante’s quip was cut short by something wrapping tightly around his upper body.
Dante was lifted off the platform, and struggled fruitlessly while he was turned on his side in the air. As he was rolled back, he saw what had him: a large tail, sneaking up from the edge of the platform opposite of Minos.
“Yes, too bad you don’t have his intelligence,” Minos said.
Minos slammed Dante into the platform, dazing him.
“Hahaha! I can just hear your tiny Nephilim brain rattling around!” Minos laughed. “But this can’t be everything; I thought you were ‘Dante! The demon king slayer!’”
Minos whipped his tail back, sending Dante flying away. The devil hunter zipped past a floating pillar, and he gritted his teeth as he righted himself in the air, just in time to plant his hands and feet onto a floating piece of debris situated at the periphery of the area. Dante turned, forcing himself off the slab of wall, soaring back towards Minos and the platform, letting his angelic side afford him the lightness of weight necessary to glide through the air. Dante drew his sword as he sailed closer to Minos. He let out a battle cry, raising his sword to strike, but was slapped into the tiled floor just a few feet shy of the demon.
Minos let out a guttural laugh as he climbed up further onto the platform, the hem of his ink-like black robe brushing against the ground, creating a thin streak of Malice like paint on a canvas.
“Fucking…tail…” Dante grumbled, pushing himself up off the floor.
“You see, Son of Sparda…you’re nothing compared to me,” Minos growled. “You might as well be that angry little boy all over again, trying to put on a brave face while his teeth got kicked in.”
Dante took to a knee, loosely holding Rebellion in his right hand with a weakened grip. For all of Minos’ bluster, he was right; his attacks had as much force behind them as Mundus’ did, but this time he wasn’t getting punched by a building. Just a few wrings and slaps of his tail saw Dante’s vitality sapped. The young man looked up at his opponent, blood dripping from his right nostril.
“Yes! That’s the face!” Minos laughed. “I’ve missed it all these years. No one has ever put up as much of a fight as you did.”
Minos jumped from the platform, landing on a smaller chunk of wall floating within the chaotic torrent.
“Well…” Dante started, reaching under his coat. “…I guess I’m just that special.”
“I must admit,” Minos said, clenching his hands into fists, “beating you myself is much more satisfying than when I had the orderlies do it…I’ve really been missing out.”
Dante pulled the emerald star he received via the statue from under his coat, and held it firmly in his hand.
“Yeah, well get ready for Round Two,” Dante muttered, tightly closing his hand to crush the glass star. The star shattered into innumerable pieces, releasing a small wave of green that washed over Dante. Dante stood up with renewed vigor, and swung his sword in a wide arc, watching Minos listlessly floating around the platform.
“Still willing to fight? Then let’s change things up a little bit!” Minos said, sweeping his hand forward.
Shards of glass flew in from the clouds, forming into enormous mirrors at the four edges of the platform while the hellish clouds closed in, obscuring anything beyond the glass fixtures. Dante found himself surrounded on all sides, and he lost track of Minos.
“Does this remind you of anything, Dante?” Minos’ voice carried from everywhere, impossible to pinpoint its origin.
Dante scanned what he could; only seeing reflections upon reflections of himself.
“Real cute, Minos. Shouldn’t be surprised though, hiding is where you feel safest,” Dante taunted.
Minos’ tail lashed at his back, and Dante stumbled forward, cursing in frustration. He turned sharply, looking back at the mirror behind him; a reflection of young Dante laughed maniacally before a flash of white swept across the glass, and Dante was staring back at himself again. His frustration grew, just another spark in the already raging fire swelling inside. If he wanted to get through this, though, Dante knew he’d have to keep calm.
Dante took a deep breath, trying to focus on the oppressive wave of Malice pushing his emotions down, crushing any positive feelings and leaving nothing but despondency and anger.
What. Is. Your. Name? the voice echoed in his head again.
It was risky, letting that Malice push on him; it could intensify his broiling anger, he could lose control, succumbing to the man-demon’s bloodlust. Unfortunately, it was the only way now. Dante reached back into memories he usually liked to forget, of himself chained up in what used to be this very room.
What. Is. Your. Name? Dante try to keep the anger in him from boiling over, choking it back down like seething bile.
Dante thought about how he could feel Minos’ presence behind the mirror, how he knew for certain the man was there, even though he hadn’t ever seen him.
“C’mon out, Minos! Grow a pair, so I can tear ‘em off and shove ‘em down your throat!” Dante yelled.
“Ha! Son of Sparda, you disappoint me – you talked such a big game, I thought you’d be better than this!” Minos gibed.
And there it was! Dante felt the source of the wave of despair to his left; a sort of pressure driving against his perception. He spun on his heel and thrust Rebellion ahead of him, sliding forward into a mirror reflecting a younger Dante in an examination room not twisted by Limbo. The boy reeled back in surprise. Dante’s silver blade crashed into the mirror, blowing shards of glass forward with the force of the thrust. The other three mirrors exploded in kind as the storm clouds too receded, and Minos recoiled as shards peppered his body, his cover blown.
“Damn you!” The demon roared.
Minos swiped his right fist towards Dante, who parried the blow, brushing the chain-covered hand aside with his sword. Minos threw a left hook, and Dante rolled under the swing. As he rose to his feet, Rebellion’s metal wrapped around his hands, and Dante hurled a straight punch forward, colliding with Minos’ own left fist. A loud crunch echoed out from within Minos’ clawed hand, and the chains wrapped about it fragmented and scattered from the power of the blow. The demon wailed as he pulled his hand away, and Dante slid backwards as his metal gauntlets reverted into the shape of a sword, which he dragged across the floor to stop his backwards motion.
“Just needed a chance to warm up!” Dante called, raising his sword in one hand, and beckoning the demon forth with his other.
A snarling Minos threw a volley of punches and chops with his one good hand, and sparks flew off the chains as Dante effortlessly parried each attack, using Rebellion to guide his blows off course.
“Ooooh man, you’re slippin’ Minos. Mundus packed a better punch than this!” Dante laughed, swiping his sword to nonchalantly parry the demon’s attacks.
Minos leapt forward, slamming the platform where Dante had been standing a split second before. His tail flew in from the side, and Dante jumped up, flipping over the tail as it swept across the floor, peeling tiles from the grout and throwing them precariously into the air. Dante caught a glimpse of Minos’ clenched fist coming from overhead, and he raised his sword to meet it. The chain-wrapped fist clanged against Rebellion’s broadside, but the blow still shoved the airborne Dante downward, and onto the platform. Dante landed with both feet firmly set, pushing against the demon’s hand crushing from above. The platform buckled under the pressure, thick cracks escaping from under Dante’s feet, scarring the grout and tiles.
Dante gritted his teeth, bearing against Minos’ strength. With a flick of his wrist, Dante tilted his sword to the right, letting Minos’ fist slide off, but not before delivering a quick slice that cleaved through the demon’s hand. The blade cut cleanly through the middle of Minos’ hand, passing through the chains and severing the last two fingers. The now-injured right hand scraped across the dirtied floor, leaving behind a small trail of dark red fluid. The demon growled in pain, retreating to the end of the platform opposite his adversary, who grinned triumphantly.
Dante spun the sword in his hand as it shrunk in size, morphing into a three-pointed throwing star. He wound his hand back and then swept it forward, unleashing a large, blue disc of angelic energy from the throwing blade he held. Minos slammed his limp left hand down, smashing the disc against the floor. As Minos picked his hand back up, Dante leapt on top of it, piercing through the back of the hand and pinning it to the platform with his silvery blade.
“Stick around for bit, Minos!” Dante called, twisting the sword in the demon’s hand.
Dante pulled his shotgun from underneath his coat, and blasted Minos’ torso with buckshot. Black ink sprayed out from his toga, mixing in with specks of demonic flesh and blood that exploded from Minos’ chest. The demon wailed, swiping his tail forward to whip Dante. The devil hunter, more prepared than the first time, took the blow from Minos’ tail while holding Rebellion’s broad side along his body to take the brunt of the hit. Dante, firmly gripping his sword, flew off Minos’ hand and away into the hellish storm surrounding their small battlefield.
Dante righted himself in the air, holding his sword out as it extended and curved into a glimmering blue scythe. In his other hand, gold streams of magic funneled from his arm and into the shotgun’s frame. Dante soared past another floating pillar made from debris, and then hooked it with the inside of Osiris’ arched blade. Dante’s momentum threw him into a spin about the pillar, turning him right back around. Unhooking from the column as the scythe returned to its sword form, Dante slingshotted himself right back towards Minos, where he landed feet first on his skull-like cheekbones.
“Time for the money shot!” Dante yelled, shoving the bore of the energized shotgun into Minos’ deep eye socket.
Dante pulled the trigger, firing a charged ball of energy into his adversary’s eye before he jumped off, flipping backwards down onto the platform. Minos fruitlessly pawed at his eye with his damaged hands, he could see the unstable ball of energy stuck to his eye. A flash erupted from Minos’ brow, consuming the left side of his skull in a fiery burst. Minos fell to his knees, screaming in pain, his hands catching a flood of ichor that poured from his skull.
The floor quaked, and the hellish winds and crimson colored storm clouds weakened, stuttering into an uneasy calm while debris that flew around the area collected haphazardly on the platform. The significantly injured Minos was losing control of his Limbo pocket, and this would be the Order’s chance to find out what was going on in the city.
“Hey, Kat! Now’s a good time to get everyone out of the building! Meet me in exam room seven when you’re done!” Dante called, using his extraplanar abilities to hail his companion from across the dimensional veil.
The fire alarm blared through the empty hallways as Kat and Trish surreptitiously made their way to the examination room. The halls were empty with Trish having pulled the alarm to evacuate staff and patients, and all that remained were the two women. As they reached the exam room’s door, Trish took front while Kat scanned down the end of each of the halls, making sure no stragglers stole a glance at them. Trish pulled her pistol from its holster and held onto the door’s handle, pressing her shoulder up against the door.
“Are you ready? The fire alarm should give us enough time to interrogate Minos and still make it out without anyone seeing us,” Trish checked.
The witch Kat nodded her head in response, and Trish turned the handle, immediately smashing the door wide open with a shoulder check. The officer swiftly entered the room with wide steps, her firearm raised and sweeping through the enclosed area. There was no one, no Dante, no Minos, just an empty room with dirtied tiles and a pristine mirror.
“Dante…?” Trish holstered her sidearm. “Where are you?”
The sound of scuffling arose from behind the mirror. A deep grunt and a wail of pain followed. The low thud of blows landing on a body, and indiscernible yelling became louder. The mirror shook once, then twice, then thrice. The mirror shattered as a portly man flew through it, tumbling through the air along with shards of glass both large and small. Trish slid to the right, and Kat backed up against the closed door. The chubby fellow landed on the floor, and Dante stepped over the frame of the broken mirror, rotating his shoulder.
“Ladies…say hello to Minos,” Dante said.
Minos’ human vessel cowered on the floor, his left eye horribly bloodshot, with blood and Malice leaking from the socket. Minos deep voice and demonic form betrayed the human vessel that kept him tethered to the human world – a stocky, balding man dressed in the average blue collar uniform of a dress shirt and tie.
“Kat, throw down a ward. Don’t want him opening up his Limbo pocket again,” Dante ordered, looming over Minos.
Kat nodded, pulling a spray can from her belt and quickly beginning to paint a red circle on the dirtied floor around Dante and Minos’ beaten vessel. She did her best to brush aside broken glass as she completed the circle, then moving on to form squares inside the ward.
“Alright,” Dante said with gritted teeth, kneeling on top of Minos. “You had a lot of power running through this place, a lotta souls – how’d you get ‘em all?”
“What…? I…Mundus is the one who does that! Not me!” Minos cried.
Kat shook her spray can after finishing the larger portions of the glyph, proceeding onto the smaller characters that lined its circumference.
“Bullshit! Mundus is gone, and souls are still getting sucked around here. We know that only a demon king can steal souls against a person’s will, so how the hell are you doing it?! Are you a demon king?!” Dante yelled, grabbing Minos by the collar.
“No! I wasn’t…as high up in the hierarchy, I swear!” Minos said, trembling.
“C’mon you pudgy fuck, talk! How are you sucking souls if you’re not a demon king?” Dante demanded, gripping Minos’ tie and wrapping his hands about the man’s neck.
“There’s a…a…a lawyer…he’s been helping me for over a year now…we’ve been skimming souls off the top of the cut we gave to Mundus. Now that he’s out of the picture…AH! Now that he’s gone, we’ve been keeping them all! AH STOP!” Minos cried.
“What’s his name?! How were you doing it?!” Dante growled, tightening his hands around Minos’ throat.
Minos struggled, flailing helplessly within Dante’s inhuman grasp, and brushing shards of glass across the floor.
“Dante stop! He can’t answer if you’re choking him,” Trish said, setting a hand on Dante’s shoulder.
Dante glared at Trish, and she could see his pupils starting to glow a dull red.
Minos turned his head to the side and gasped for air, noticing a larger piece of broken mirror he had pushed away during his struggle. A red line was painted on it, which would have matched up with the warding glyph Kat had hastily painted before. However, the painted shard was far from the rest of the ward, leaving an incomplete circle on the floor.
This was his last chance.
Minos let out a labored yell, and a wave of anger pushed out from his chest. The blast sent Dante, Trish, and Kat away. Trish slammed into a side wall, Kat was shoved backward into the door, and Dante fell against the frame of the broken mirror. The Limbo pocket was weak, with only a subtle wave of oppression emanating from Minos, while some of the tiles listlessly floated inches above the floors and walls. It seemed as though they were only halfway between Limbo and the human world. When Dante climbed to his feet, Minos’ vessel stood huddled behind Kat, whom he held by the throat with one hand.
“Not another step!” Minos’ hissed. “One more…and I slice her neck open!”
Minos raised his other hand, pressing claw-like nails on his index and middle fingers into Kat’s neck. Dante looked to his left, where Trish sat against the wall, seemingly doubled over in pain, gasping and coughing, wincing with each small motion she took. There was no way she had the constitution to do anything.
Dante suddenly felt helpless. Confronted by Minos in that tiny little room, once again Dante was a child, powerless against what oppressed him.
He couldn’t stand it. Not this time. He wouldn’t let history repeat.
Dante clenched his teeth, letting a deep sigh escape from his nostrils as he relinquished himself to the fury burning him from within. Dante took a step forward, crushing glass beneath his boot as he unleashed his own wave of anger, which easily eclipsed Minos’. The sound of breaking glass was sustained, a minute clap stretched out through time. Dante’s body quickly transformed; his hands turning to claws, his coat tightening to his frame like a second skin, and the hood rising up to consume his head, leaving behind a featureless face with only a toothy grin.
The man-demon growled lowly, raising the silver sword in his hands as he rushed forward. Minos wouldn’t have time to react, and how could he? He was in the man-demon’s world now. Rebellion sang through the air as the man-demon swung it horizontally from the left, level with his shoulders. The blade met little resistance when it found the skin on the side of Minos’ neck, and passed through it quite easily. The muscle was slightly tougher, but the blade slowly cleaved through that, too. In this world of crawling time, the man-demon could feel each of the veins giving way to tension as his blade passed through them, and the spine separated with a satisfying snap. A gasp of air escaped the esophagus as it was rent open. The other side of the neck was no different, and the man-demon relished in the distinct visceral nature of this stretched moment in time.
The man-demon’s blade stopped as it pressed against Kat’s neck, and the world returned to its natural time. All the broken glass, along many loose tiles from the floor shot to the right wall, carried violently by the force of the man-demon’s sword swing like a blast of air. Minos’ vessel’s body fell limp as his head rolled off his shoulders, his slapdash Limbo pocket quickly collapsing as well. Kat yelped, feeling the blood-warmed blade against her neck as the man-demon stood perfectly, unnervingly still.
“Dante…?” Kat stammered. “It’s okay…it’s me. It’s Kat.”
The man-demon’s shoulders shook as they rose up for a deep breath, and a low, guttural pant escaped from his mouth. His lone, bloodshot eye, however, did not move, staying set on Kat’s fear-stricken face. Kat could feel the blade slowly pressing harder into her neck.
“Dante…please, it’s over,” Kat muttered.
“DANTE!” Trish cried out. “Dante…STOP!”
The man-demon’s gaze darted to his left. Trish sat leaning against the wall, breathing heavily, but this time holding her pistol with trembling hands. She tried to sight in, but her vision was blurry, and her hold unsteady. The man-demon lowered his blade from Kat’s neck, and she fell to the floor with weak knees, breathing a sigh of relief for herself, but all the more concerned about Trish, who had the man-demon’s full attention.
“Grrraaaaaangerusssss…” the man-demon growled, taking a step toward Trish.
His footsteps were heavy, heavier than they should have been, carrying the weight of an insurmountable anger. Trish pulled the trigger, spraying bullets into the man-demon’s chest. Rounds flew past his body, cracking the wall beyond him, while others pierced his torso, splashing into his flesh like raindrops on water’s surface. He paid the shots no heed, and continued lumbering towards the incapacitated Trish. With a swipe of his sword, he slapped Trish’s pistol from her weakened hands.
“Dante no!” Kat pleaded, but there was no Dante, only a devilish man driving his twisted body.
The man-demon’s head twitched and he soon loomed over Trish. He plunged his sword deep into the wall next to Trish’s head, and inched ever closer to the officer.
“Mmmmrrraaaalakiiiim…” the man-demon snarled, his toothy countenance inches from Trish’s face.
“Dante…Dante please stop…” Trish whispered, slowly laying a hand across his cheek and staring into his eye.
The man-demon’s great mouth opened wide and he growled loudly, covering Trish’s face with a steamy breath. The growl slowly turned into a scream, rising in pitch and ferocity. The flesh on the man-demon’s head loosened, slowly turning back into a hood as black ichor poured from Dante’s face and chest, and onto the cowering Trish, still holding a hand to the young man’s cheek. Dante’s vision cleared, and he found himself staring into Trish’s icy blue eyes.
“Oh shit…I…” Dante fell back from Trish, releasing his grip on Rebellion embedded in the wall.
Dante backed away, sliding across the floor until his back pressed against the opposite wall from Trish, sitting amongst all the debris blasted aside by the man-demon’s one swing. Kat jumped to Trish’s side to comfort her, and Trish assured the witch that she was recovering easily.
“I’m sorry…I…I didn’t…” a frantic Dante stammered, reaching trembling hands into his pockets to get his cigarettes.
With a cigarette lit, he inhaled sharply, smothering the devil inside with a thick gray smoke. It did little this time; he could still feel the man-demon’s urges tugging at his soul. Dante’s gaze sank down to the floor as he simply apologized repeatedly. Kat and Trish shared a look of concern before turning to Dante from their position in the cleaner side of the room, free of debris made from Dante’s scuffle. The devil hunter sat cowed against the far wall, cracks in the tiles behind Dante forming the shape of horns above his head.
Minos’ decapitated body trembled, and a swarm of light blue energy escaped it, listlessly fluttering over to Rebellion, still embedded in the wall. In a flash, the sword was gone, and a blue chain topped with a small curved blade lay across the frightened Dante’s lap. He paid little attention to it, instead brushing his hood back from his head, running his fingers worriedly thought his hair. His cigarette was almost gone, more a stick of ash than anything now. Dante could think of nothing better to do than slam the back his head against the wall in frustration.
What’s happening to me…?