There was something about eschewing the extended hand of one’s twin brother and resigning oneself to falling into hell only to find oneself flat on one’s back on the ground below that—
That was a complicated sentence. Vergil mentally revised it.
There was something about a hell gate closing right before one hit it that inspired one to rethink one’s life. Retrace one’s steps. Reflect on one’s mistakes.
(Slink away stealthily. Hope one’s brother did not see it. Feel incredibly embarrassed.)
Vergil hadn’t really intended to rethink or reflect on anything, undignified fall or no— but he did retrace his steps, slowly, seeking further clues and further options along the way; and a few years later his trail saw him back in Fortuna, where reflection and rethinking came unbidden upon him.
He strode into the library with more confidence than he felt, and asked the old librarian at the counter if Lucrecia was in.
The slow smirk that twisted her face was evidence enough that she recognized him. Ugly, humorless woman. Lucrecia and he used to make a game of avoiding her; she would giggle under her breath, and he would giggle too but swear to himself that he was chuckling manfully instead.
(From the vantage point of his twenty-two years of life, Vergil had come to regard his eighteen year old self as, legally, a twerp.)
Of course, being older and wiser now, he was man enough to admit that he didn’t quite relish the idea of meeting Lucrecia, either. In an ideal world, he would meet some entirely new team of completely professional librarians who would behave with all the decorum due their position as keepers of knowledge. But between this old lady and Lucrecia he’d rather the latter, without a shred of doubt— she was witty and attractive and extremely passionate about researching old Fortuna, among other things.
She was also, according to the nasty witch of a senior citizen in front of him, long gone.
More precisely, she had fled the island with some other sexy foreigner (not his words).
“Ah,” he said, in Italian. It was bizarre, and probably—incorrect— to feel relief at the prospect of a completely wholesome and sex-free week of research. But the lady wasn’t done, and something about her nasty grin kept him rooted to the floor as the gossip flowed.
The girl had been a notorious rebel in a very traditional family, she disclosed imperiously to his confused ears. Oh, yes, a very religious family in high standing with the Order, although not any longer, because she’d brought such shame upon them, with a pregnancy out of wedlock she hadn’t even attempted to hide! Why, her parents had so helpfully arranged for her to be cloistered for the duration, under the cover of a religious retreat, only for her to tell all and sundry about the baby. How shameless!
Vergil nodded dumbly at the unfolding tale, too in awe of his ex-lover’s brazenness and the lady’s vitriol to inform her that he didn’t care. The family, he was gleefully informed, took custody of the baby and kicked her out of the house; she had kept her job at the library, however, at the insistence of an influential superior (emphatic eyebrow raise) who had praised her work (emphatic eyebrow wiggle). And then, not a year after being granted the continued privilege of a job, she had so ungratefully eloped. Disgraceful!
“And to think—“ the grinning woman set her elbows on the counter with a loud thump, her yellowed teeth in evidence against shrunken gums— “She was probably already with child at the time of your research! Can you believe it?” Her eyes focused on him with predatory intensity, almost as threatening as the look her subject used to direct to his bare chest. “The child was born nine months later, almost— to— the— day.”
She slapped the counter for each word, burning eyes burrowing into his. Quasi. Fino. Al. Giorno.
And he got it.
In halting italian he thanked her for her time, and stumbled out of the building in complete disorientation.
He had a child.
Or rather, an old fling of his had a child, and the timing matched their acquaintance. (He had a child.)
What the hell had happened? Where was the kid? Why would her family take the kid away from her?
If he’d ever known Lucrecia’s full name, he’d long since forgotten. But it was easily sleuthed by walking back into the library after a minute of hyperventilating and asking the old witch very politely after Lucrecia’s “poor”, “beleaguered” family. From there it was just a matter of browsing the archives in the very building for further instances of it. (His original research would keep.)
It came as a surprise to him that, at some point in the centuries since his father’s rule, Fortuna had evolved into a sort of Florence, complete with a succession of powerful feuding families. Nothing so romantic as Shakespeare would tell it; rather, they vied for indirect control over the ruling institution (not yet a church at the time, not an Order with a capital O) while maintaining a façade of cordiality and piety. Petty humans in their petty political games.
Recent documentation painted a much diminished picture of these once juggernauts, clinging to dregs of prestige on the strength of tradition alone. But the Order was greater than they were now. New families were rising into relevance. Most of the old names had packed up and away to new lands.
Lucrecia’s pregnancy featured loud and stark in the papers, starting months after his departure. The scandal of the decade, in the eyes of the isolated populace. She’d refused to be cloistered and refused to be shamed, calling her child a gift from Sparda himself; other members of the community had less flattering things to say about her honesty, her sanity, and above all else her modesty.
(He remembered implying, with all the subtlety of a horny teenager, that he may possibly have had some sort of personal relation to Sparda. He’d been staring at her completely opaque shirt at the time. He had already seen her naked by then, but he was still staring. She had gasped, loudly, in a manner he now recognized as completely fake.)
Late into the pregnancy, the reports took a wild swerve into the sympathetic. Order spokespeople approved of her, not because they believed the Sparda thing (he dearly hoped), but because… not hiding the inappropriate pregnancy was proof of moral fiber, or something. Embracing the bastard child was good! Sparda approved! Hiding the child was bad, Sparda disapproved.
The family, who had already disowned her by then, took her back in. The Order congratulated itself on mending this tragic rift, and the topic was forgotten until Lucrecia was kicked out again, sans child. The family claimed she was a bad influence. She camped out in their yard and set fire to a rosebush, holding a placard saying “Voglio Vedere Il Mio Bebè”. The Order invited her back to her assistant librarian job, assuring the paper that they would negotiate on her behalf once again; then they completely failed to make any significant headway, while the news consistently reported on the fact that they were trying very, very hard.
Throughout, the Order looked reasonable and good, while her family looked unreasonable and petty. Lucrecia herself alternated between dignified martyr and unhinged rebel at the paper’s convenience, until her announced disappearance, dripping with false concern, and the farcical discovery of her elopement. Even then her baby (his baby) remained a cypher— not a name, not a photo, not even a gender.
His teenage tomfoolery had been more political than he’d realized. Her (his!!) child was essentially a pawn in a game of influence, and in the hands of the losing side.
He browsed the remaining archives intently, but mentions of “il bebè” had petered out to nothing after Lucrecia’s departure. It was all he could do to not flip the table and all the old yellowed newspapers upon it. He didn’t care, he wasn’t scared, he wasn’t crying, and the baby wasn’t even his, probably, so he wasn’t even a little bit worried and definitely not horrified, and what he was was leaving this horrid little place to its demonic and human vermin, and may they have each other.
He sliced the air and stepped through.
Two minutes later, he stepped back in, returned all his research material to its shelves (in flagrant disobedience to the placard instructing otherwise), bid the nasty librarian a polite farewell and walked out of the building, calm and cold and inconspicuous.
In the minute or so it took him to recover his wits, a plan had already half-congealed in his mind. Lucrecia had had her (his!!) child stolen, and then fled the god-forsaken island, and he blamed her not. But the insult remained, as did the child (his!!). He needed to ascertain the gravity of both situations.
A trip to the mainland and back, and he was now the proud owner of an ugly shirt advertising a woefully-misinformed-on-demons rock band, a leather jacket, jeans, overwrought boots, a knit cap, and a ridiculous supply of bandages snugly wrapped around his head.
Thus disguised, he set about stalking one certain fancy manor among several others.
Scrutinizing the going-ons of a fading family putting on airs was pretty relaxing, all things told. It helped that Fortuna had its own decently-competent body of demon slayers, faithfully patrolling where the powerful could see it. For days he went unbothered in his vigil by demon and human alike, despite looking like a goddamn serial killer.
He considered acting the part the moment he failed to sense a whiff of demon aura within the manor, but. There were any number of explanations. Maybe Sparda’s blood was too diluted in a third generation. Or the child (his child) might not be his after all (it was, it was). He was not going to overreact. He was going to calmly and carefully evaluate all possibilities, and follow the governess into that seedy part of town she would sometimes frequent for suspicious reasons.
Alone in an alley with a blade at her neck, and the woman had the sheer gall to sneer at Lucrecia’s name.
“Of course!” she spat out, throwing her hands up despite having Yamato’s flat side pressed right up against her throat. “Forever causing trouble, that little hussy. Whatever she did, we don’t know about it and had nothing to do with it!”
He considered clearing up her misunderstanding, but… no. She wasn’t worthy.
“What of the child?” he hissed. “She had one. Right?”
“Oh, the boy,” she said, too casually, too dismissively (il bambino, HIS bambino). “He’s long gone—” his sword spasmed against her throat through no will of his own, and the woman gurgled out “orphanage!” several times before he found the wherewithal to stop choking her.
He stepped back and allowed her to cough to her heart’s content, the sound coming faint through the thick thudding in his ears. She swayed on her feet, and finally leaned against the moldering alley wall at her back; for all that she was a contemptuous specimen of her ilk, he conceded that she had kept her composure admirably in the circumstances.
“By Sparda’s Holy Blade—” she wheezed out, drawing a single, surprised bark of laughter from him. “What did you think we’d do? We’re not monsters!”
“Could have fooled me,” he hissed, raising the tip of Sparda’s Holy Blade right up under her chin. “Your employers went to such trouble to keep the child. Why an orphanage? Why should I believe you? It makes no sense.”
“You don’t think like a Lord of Fortuna,” the woman said, softly, and there was nothing on her face— no anger, no fear, not even contempt. “Why bother keeping him, once Lucrecia gave up and left?”
Yamato sang, and the alley bloomed red in the night.
Annoyingly, he forgot to ask the woman about the orphanage itself. There were a number around Fortuna, all run by the Order, and searching them one by one was busywork he would rather avoid. But back he went to the library, late at night with a penlight between his teeth, browsing through religious propaganda for a list of institutions and their locations; on a hunch, he selected the ones within walking distance of the family’s manor.
Lucrecia’s parents had had an already marred reputation to maintain, and the Order’s hungry maws to avoid. If they were going to be rid of the contentious child, it would have to be done quiet and fast, by a trustworthy yet non-essential employee who might be subsequently silenced, and in a manner that maintained all plausible deniability. Cars would be noisy, recognizable. Bikes too, and also how would one ride a bike and hold a baby? The risk of noise also meant the child would have to be medicated (they drugged his baby, they—), making him more inconvenient to carry around. Assuming the envoy in question hoped to avoid even the possibility of a demon attack, he or she would have to navigate along patrolled thoroughfares for at least most of the way, and possibly carry the child in a box or valise of sorts, out of sight (they put his son in—). Also due to the need for secrecy, the smuggling would have to take place at least partially during the night.
Somewhere within a few hours’ walk of the main residential district, accounting for pauses due to low human stamina, in patrolled but otherwise unpopulated areas.
He selected a likely three within a generous radius and, after a measured but not quite relaxed stroll to double-check his calculations, he set out to investigate the place. Unlike the ornate, marbled buildings of Fortuna’s elite, this section of the island was comprised entirely of narrow, unpaved streets; rain-stained houses stood cheek by jowl, shaded by a crisscrossing net of half-empty laundry lines.
It... had probably been charming, once. But much like the maidens and housewives bustling about with their laundry baskets, it was clearly ill-worn, uncared for. Colors were faded on the walls and dresses and curtains, and even the scraggly ferns and trees looked dusty, dull.
Unlike in the city proper, the passersby took one look at his bandaged face and foreign clothes and immediately gave him a wide berth. It suited him fine, as he’d wanted to investigate with the least amount of fuss; but it was not meant to be. Once night fell the streets were emptied of all respectable citizenry, while the unsavory crawled out of their holes in little bunches, gathering around the few lit lamps, and those ones had no qualms about staring and sneering.
A particularly contemptuous-looking bunch went so far as to abandon their leaning spots at a peeling wall, leisurely blocking his path. One of them sauntered forwards and pulled out a small knife, casually poisoning the blade with the filth under his nails. Vergil assumed he was the leader.
The leader committed a few mistakes. First was using an unknown word when questioning his identity— some sort of local lingo, Vergil assumed from context clues, and which sounded rather derogatory. The second was not leaving Vergil be when he ignored the question.
Even flat on his back, with a sword to his neck, and his friends unconscious or fled, the man still had the guts to commit to a third mistake.
“Lucrecia, seriously?” the man asked in flat disbelief. “Why do you care? She that good in the sack?” Vergil tensed his arm for the inevitable, but the man just chuckled ruefully under his breath. “I saw her at the harbor, you know, right before she left. She was wearing pants.” Never was the word for a piece of clothing imbued with such disgust. “Her hair was shorn below the ears, can you believe it? Guess she went full dyke—”
Yamato sang, blood pooled. Vergil cleaned the sword fastidiously with a piece of leftover bandaging. The man probably knew nothing about the child anyway.
But unlike the governess, this kill just brought him unease. He’d forgotten how backwards the island really was, how fundamentalist its people were encouraged to be, down to the most oppressed. They feared demons, but not humans, convinced of their righteousness as they were; even when so thoroughly outclassed, his two victims had remained almost casual in their defiance.
He wondered whether they just assumed a fellow “human” wouldn’t actually harm them.
Vergil dumped the man’s body in a smelly, shallow brook, carved deep under packed earth by a sad little stream. The channel should conceal him where the rivulet of sewage at its bottom could not— at least until midday, and assuming the corpse wasn’t possessed. He should probably… not kill the next one to badmouth Lucrecia, though, or he really would call undue attention to his presence.
He intended to call attention eventually, just... not quite yet.
The next tough wannabe to take offense at his foreignness was even more outmatched than his predecessor— he stood alone, red-faced even in the half-light, and had a physique more associated with booze-lifting than any actually strenuous activity. But when Vergil answered the man’s bellowed challenge with his own question, the man’s demeanor completely changed.
“Lucrecia!” He boomed out, face brightening. “Of course I knew her, the troublemaker.” His eyes went misty, to Vergil’s surprise. “Broke a mug on my head once. Tough little lass, she sure was.”
The next thing he knew, he was sitting at the grubby counter of a shitty little bar.
His new friend greeted the seedy, ugly barman with unwarranted cheer, asked for two mugs of a drink Vergil had never heard of, and introduced himself as Parigi. Vergil, who had expected this to come up sooner or later, answered with his own usual pseudonym, Gilver.
“Gilbert, eh?” Parigi clapped Vergil’s back, and Vergil nodded fast and emphatically, thinking, fuck. Goddammit. God fucking dammit. Gilbert is so much better than Gilver, it’s an actual fucking name and it sounds like Gilver, goddammit, I’m a dumbass— but Parigi wasn’t about to give him time to think, because he immediately followed that one with: “So you know Lucrecia? Met her out there or something? How is she?”
Well, that. That was something he was reasonably confident he could bullshit about. Vergil stared moodily at the mug that was being placed in front of him— he hoped his endurance had improved with time, but he wasn’t about to bet on it— and dove straight into his made-up backstory.
“I can’t say that I have, but my… employer—” he raised his mug with affected weariness— “He was doing some serious research, and it, uh, it finally paid off—” he sipped from the mug, trying not to look like he was doing it too daintily; lying was weird, it made him feel extremely awkward and downright transparent. He waved his hand vaguely, trying to summon some credibility out of thin air. “Well, he sent me to track her down. He owes her for her help, as in, his research would not have— anyway.” He tried to plow through to the part that mattered, god, he was so uncomfortable. “He wanted to pay her for her trouble, but couldn’t contact her. So… yeah.”
“Research, huh?” Parigi frowned to himself, his mug already halfway empty. “That sounds like library stuff, alright, but the lass has been gone a couple years already. You sure it was her your boss was dealing with?”
“Positive,” Vergil nodded emphatically. “It was three to four years ago. The material he sought was extremely rare, and foreigners were not permitted access to it. Where the others refused, Lucrecia offered her help, and researched all the information he required, within reason.”
He wasn’t sure how believable that was, but somehow Lucrecia snuck him in at closing time and they made fumbly teenage love on the tables for hours before cracking open any single tome didn’t sound… respectable. And he wasn’t about to further besmirch Lucrecia’s reputation, much less his own.
But Parigi’s face brightened, and he nodded along with the tale. “Oh, that’s our Lulu, always looking out for her fellows. Sounds like some hairy research, though, to be restricted.” He frowned, suddenly, and closed off. “No offense, Gilbert, you are a fine lad for sure, but if your boss is one of them nosy journalists who—”
Vergil shook his head emphatically, trying not to spill the drink he’d been about to sip from. “No, far from it,” he mumbled, and then hesitated. He was about to play his trump card a little too early, but it felt right. “You might still take this badly, but—” he braced himself for more lying. “You seem like a trustworthy and reasonable man. I will tell you this in strict confidence. My employer was looking into old family files, and found mentions of Sparda.”
Parigi understandably spat out the remaining half of his drink. Vergil just nodded in affected sympathy.
“You can tell then how this find would be cause for concern,” he continued, feeling more sure-footed. “It is a tall claim. My employer wished to ascertain its verisimilitude. That was all.”
“A-and?” Parigi asked, staring wide-eyed at him.
“I… am not at liberty to divulge the results of his investigation,” Vergil said, carefully, and took a long, deliberate sip of his drink for effect. (It tasted foul.) “But my employer is satisfied with its outcome, and he holds Lucrecia’s aid to have been fundamental in its conclusion. Thus I am here, and now…” he opened his hands, indicating the tableau before him: the greasy counter, the nasty drink. “Now, I am out of leads. And I do not wish to return empty-handed.”
“No!” Parigi bellowed, slapping his back with entirely too much familiarity. “Of course you don’t! And you won’t! Old Parigi has the goods for you, my lad— I arranged for her boat ride meself!”
Vergil raised his eyebrows, more than a little surprised, and looked at the boozed-up sot with renewed interest. “You did?” he said. “The old librarian said she’d eloped.” And so had the papers.
“Pah!” Parigi threw his head back in disdain. “That old witch! Nasty, faithless curs, that lot in town, always digging around for news of good people’s misfortunes. But that’s good, that’s all good— she wanted to start over, the poor thing, leave it all behind.”
“You talking Lulu?” some other mustachioed guy sat at Vergil’s other side, to his displeasure.
“We sure are!” Parigi raised his mug, or rather Vergil’s, who had carefully edged the empty one out of the man’s reach. “The lad’s here looking for her, she done research on his Lord’s ancestry. Seems he’s got his roots in Fortuna! He wanted to give her his thanks.”
“Yeah,” Vergil nodded vaguely. Those sure were some convenient assumptions he was absolutely taking advantage of.
“Good, good!” The other man said emphatically, raising another spontaneously manifested mug. “Maybe if some ole houses move back in, that shit lot will get the fuck out. When’s he coming?”
“What?” Vergil started, and after chasing that wild tangent, he had to also catch a response. “He, uh, there’s. There are no plans for moving the household, that I’m aware—”
“Whaaat, tell him he’s welcome anytime—”
“Yeah! We need us a Lord what’ll do the little people right.”
“Is just too bad Lulu was a girl,” Mustache moaned, shaking his head to himself. “She had the might of Sparda in her soul, I tell ya. She woulda set her house to rights. Her brothers, though, all trash, the lot of ‘em, worse even than the Lord. But look at ye, lad, sitting there with an empty mug! Russo!”
To Vergil’s horror, the ugly scowling barman immediately attended the summons with an ominous green bottle trussed up in straws like a wild creature— a huge gallon thing that frankly needed a bigger name than merely “bottle” and which definitely looked like it needed restraining— and promptly topped his mug off with the unnameable swill.
“That one is on me,” said Mustache, the horrid, treacherous little bastard, with his dumb hairy smile. “Just be telling us what your Lord wants to know before he makes his decision.”
“There… seems to be a misunderstanding,” Vergil said carefully, measuring the contents of their mostly unattended mugs with his eyes. “My only duty was to locate Lucrecia, and inquire as to how best he could convey to her his gratitude. I did not expect to find…”
He trailed off. Their mugs were still, unfortunately, mostly full.
“Find she was dishonored and run off her own home, did you?” Parigi said bitterly. “Yeah, lad, if I were a Lord I’d want to learn what was up with that too, how come a good and nice lass gets done so dirty in this holy land and hellfire does not fall upon that cursed house as yet. This is a right shameful welcome to a returning Lord, that it is.”
“Preach,” Mustache said. “But tell your Lord this, my lad, Lucrecia was put with child and no father stepped forward, and like as not the father was a scoundrel who did her ill, but she raised her head high and called her boy god’s gift and her own house threw her out on the street for it.”
“Mama Regina took her in, bless her soul,” Parigi continued, “and our lass wanted to pay for her stay, all pride and fire that she was, what a lady she woulda made!” He shook his head, and to Vergil’s delight he threw his head back and downed his mug in one gulp. “So she actually came and served drinks right here, my lad!”
He and Mustache started laughing to themselves.
“Hah, yeah, best thing to happen to this dump,” some third guy said, just dragging his chair up to the group like his welcome was implicit. “Remember those little rats, trying to bully her, thinking she was easy pickings—”
“Hah!” Parigi laughed even louder, and, to Vergil’s dismay, raised his empty and still very firmly clutched mug for a newly manifested Russo to top off. “Bootlickers get their due, the bastards. We got a bunch here,” he turned to Vergil, conspiratorially, “think they can get them some table scraps if they kiss ass real hard and loud, and they came to give her a hard time when the Lord cast her off. She had none of it, lad, noooone of it.”
“I ‘unno what they feed their kids in them manors,” said Mustache, “but my good lord Sparda, it was a sight to behold.”
“I swear the bigger she got the tougher she was,” said the third, grinning. “She was tossing them bodily outside by the time she was due!”
The three clinked their mugs together, then looked expectantly at Vergil; he dutifully joined the ritual, and strove to swallow some of his mug’s contents.
At least there were three empty mugs at the ready by the time he lowered his.
“Yeah,” Mustache said a little morosely, “but you could tell all that work was getting to her, you know. The face of an angel, still—” the other two nodded wobbly, emphatic agreement— “but she was greying at the temples, there, and way before her time.”
“It’s not proper work for a lady, being here in this dump,” the third lamented, raising his empty mug for Russo. “We behaved, yeah, and any lad who did not, we taught them better—”
“An’ she taught them too—”
“But we’re all just some rustic, dirty folk blowing steam off after a hard day’s work, ya know.”
“She did done not a single word of complaining, though, right until her water broke, and even then.”
“Lucrecia was a goddamn heroine, like on the tales, that’s what she was.”
They raised their newly filled mugs again, and Vergil joined them, wearily. The drink no longer tasted like anything. (His taste buds may have shut down in self-defense.)
“It makes me so angry, hearing what some city folk say about her sometimes,” said a fourth drunk, who’d joined in god knew when. “And then you get some brats parroting it, here and there, they just don’t know how shit goes I guess…”
“They don’t know what shitty little lordlings do to nice clean young lasses, that they don’t—” some other voice joined in.
“Oh they do, they sure do, and they be doing it right along, the bastards,” Mustache growled under his breath, and for a second he was almost threatening.
“Someday!” Parigi shouted, slamming his somehow already refilled mug down on the counter, sloshing it generously. “Someday! I say that sad little twerp is gonna wake up in a ditch with his throat slit and we’ll all be the better for it!”
A chorus of agreements rose, with much clapping and whooping, and another toast was called; Vergil downed some of his drink, wondering if the twerp in question was the one he’d dealt with, and grinned. Parigi was more prophetic than he could possibly imagine.
“Haha, yeah!” Parigi pointed an unsteady finger at his face. “Gilbert knows what’s up! He knows what that kinda trash deserves! That’s—” he smacked the table again, thankfully with an empty fist. “That’s what a Lord oughta be teaching his men about, that kinda thing, right there, that I can get behind!”
“The Order’s gonna be cleaning house soon enough,” one of the newcomers crowed, his grin almost as nasty as Vergil’s own. “And we’ll be getting some new families for sure. And some new old ones, maybe!” He raised his mug at Vergil’s general direction, and Vergil nodded, wondering just when the whole Lord thing had spread to the rest of the bar. “People what actually hold the will of Sparda in their hearts.”
A new chorus rose, this time filled with amens, and another mandatory swig followed.
Vergil was enjoying the company, despite himself. It was nice to be around people who actually knew about Sparda, who spoke of him as a reality instead of a myth, even if they thought of him as belonging far to the past; more importantly, they weren’t being even a little bit shitty or self-important about it. Just some nice, hardworking bros praising his dad.
He nodded happily to himself. Lucrecia had been in good hands.
“Wait,” he said out loud, accidentally, then shrank a bit under the sudden onslaught of drunken attention it got him. “Did you just say, earlier, I thought I heard that. Well. I read in the paper though, and.”
He stopped and took one long hard look at the half-empty mug in his hand.
“Ah, the papers say a whole lot of shit, kid, don’t pay them no mind,” one of the drunks told him, amiably, while Russo once again manifested and topped off his mug uninvited. “What did they say, though,” the man turned and asked the sot by him.
“No, I mean,” Vergil raised a hand, then brought it back awkwardly, trying to regather his thoughts. “That the family took Lucrecia back, but then they disowned her again.”
A sour mood immediately descended upon the merry gathering, along with something almost like silence.
“The lad wouldn’t know, I guess,” one of them shook his head in disappointment.
“The Order interceded,” someone else confirmed. “But these Lords, well. They just feckin’ do what they want.”
“They disowned her,” Parigi clarified. “And then they re-owned her. But they didn’t let her back into the house. She just got to have a surname again.”
Something sour and hot started to rise up Vergil’s gorge, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t the drink.
Parigi patted the hand he had clenched on the counter-top. “That wasn’t what the Order had in mind, you know,” he continued. “But to be fair I don’t think Lulu wanted to go back anyway. Her parents were pretty nasty. They were just going to treat her bad for causing them trouble.”
“You bet the deacons were in a right froth over their gall,” another added. “But it’s one thing to be dismantling the Lords in little steps. It’s another thing to pick a fight with them. And if you play dirty you’re just like them. The Order can’t make things right by doing things wrong.”
“And we don’t want the rest of ‘em to band together,” said a third. “They still own a lot of the island. They could make things real hard on everyone, us especially. So you can’t go in too thirsty, you gotta nick one a little then stand back and watch ‘em bleed. The other Lords will just watch, too. That’s how the Families work.”
Vergil was pretty sure the Order was not even remotely so weak as to need to rely on politics, and could have easily done a lot more for Lucrecia than they bothered with. But, although he was, admittedly, drunk, he was not so addled as to voice this thought out loud.
The Order had so much of these people’s loyalty, they were willing to make excuses for its obvious neglect of a clear victim. Saying so would garner him no friends in this bar.
“So,” he asked, his voice slightly slurred despite being awash in sobering thoughts, “They didn’t… Lucrecia. But how come the baby?”
“I mean,” he tried again. “The baby, and then they Lucrecia out, how did that work.”
“The birth was complicated,” some toothless old grandmother told him, looking completely sober and extremely out of place in the bar. “We sent a runner to the Order to ask for help, and her Family sent a car out.” As she talked, she covered his head with something, and he half-struggled drunkenly as she pushed his head through what turned out to be a little hood and cape, still smelling of laundry.
“We thought… we thought they cared about that, at least,” Mustache lamented, from his spot face-down on the counter. “That, that they wouldn’t let her die of child, out here alone in the gutter.”
“Stupid,” Vergil mumbled, bitterly, while the grandmother carefully adjusted the hood around his head. “They could… let her bleed.” He waved his hand vaguely. “Everyone would know. But no one would know. Because baby.” He flapped his hand again, feeling sour to the marrow of his bones. “Convenient.”
“Hah,” someone laughed. “As if Lulu would ever do anything convenient to anyone.”
The mood started to rise back up amid the drunks.
“Yeah no, but that explains it, I guess, they kept her for, what, two days?”
“They probably waited for her to die and she didn’t, hell yeah.”
“At least she got to breastfeed the baby a few times.”
“My cousin was friends with the nursemaid’s daughter, they arranged for Lulu to sneak in and feed the baby a couple times before the milk turned to rock.”
Wait, what? Vergil, whose head had been slowly meandering downward under the weight of his warm and comfy new hood, sat ramrod straight. He hoped he’d misheard it, whatever it was. He hoped to god he had. Or, at least, that it was just a local turn of phrase.
No one else seemed horrified by the notion of rocks in breasts, though. Instead, the suddenly packed bar was filled with the chatter of people, men and women, young and old, talking fondly of Lucrecia’s antics. She had, in fact, set a bush in her family home on fire, a favorite of her parents in fact. She had to be dissuaded by priests from going back and burning a different one for every following week without her son. She’d heard someone’s daughter was violated by a city boy, tracked the boy down, and brought back a handful of broken teeth. The boy in question was so terrified, his family moved out of Fortuna outright, leaving behind a lot of valuable furniture to be subsequently seized by the Order.
The “bad influence” excuse flew because, as it turned out, Lucrecia had been the local equivalent of a total punk her entire life— and, child or no, she simply had never stopped being one. Vergil had serious doubts, now, as to her qualifications to be a mother; but he was absolutely going to kill anyone who called her less than a fantastic woman.
When the next toast was called, he raised his mug with full intent and downed his drink in one entire gulp.
“Yeah!!” shouted out some rowdy teenager, who, Vergil was pleased to notice, was definitely far drunker than he was. “An’ when I come of age, I’m goinna Africa too!”
“Going what?” Vergil asked, a disbelieving little laugh bubbling out of him.
“Aaaaaafricaaaaa,” the boy repeated, while his presumed father laughed and said he sure as fuck wasn’t going anywhere. “I’mma join the Engo and go spread the good word!”
“En… Go?” Vergil repeated, slowly, and turned to Parigi in confusion.
Parigi was laughing to himself, red as a shrimp and covered in gross drunken sweat, but he somehow captured the question out of the noisy air. “Lulu joined something called an Engo out there,” he clarified. “Godless heathens, from the way she wrote, but their hearts were in the right place, they went around helping people and stuff, an’ she wanted to do good, yanno, our little Lulu.” He took another bracing swig of his mug. “She got the right of it, you don’t have to be knowing of Sparda, you just gotta be doing His work, so off she went with the Engo, she went to Africa.”
Vergil sat his mug down, very, very carefully, feeling soberer than he ever had in his entire damn life.
“The Engo, you say,” he repeated to himself. An NGO. Probably. “To… Africa.”
“Where?” he asked.
“To Africa!” Parigi repeated cheerfully.
“Where,” Vergil took a deep, slightly queasy breath, “in Africa?”
“Oh, I dunno,” Parigi said, still very cheerful. “The capital? She didn’t say when she wrote us last, and that was like a year ago. I don’t think they got mail out there, my lad, it’s all like, dust,” he waved a hand, “and wind and pyramids and people walking sideways. Needs her help for sure, I say.”
Vergil took another deep, deep breath, bracing on the counter with both hands. He couldn’t puke. It’d ruin his… “cred”.
“There are at least,” he took one more calming breath, “fifty countries in Africa.”
“Well, that’s just silly,” Parigi said, chuckling to himself. “These silly foreigners putting countries inside countries, they need Lulu alright.”
Vergil gave up. No, no, he had to believe that intelligent, informed, well-ahead of her peers Lucrecia had known exactly how many countries there were in Africa and which one of those she was about to get herself lost in. She was an adult woman with a chip on her shoulder and she could take care of herself.
He was here for another reason. He had gone around asking for Lucrecia not because he wanted to know about Lucrecia. He’d let himself be led into this absolute dump of a bar not because he desperately needed info on Lucrecia. It had just… been a nice and very elucidating bonus. He’d gotten drunk and lost his grip on his priorities, that was all.
“What of the child,” he murmured to the counter, hoping against all hope that whatever had just tumbled out past his tongue was intelligible.
But Parigi, once again, divined his question as if by magic; his face brightened in absolute delight, and he flung his empty mug at Russo with a victorious grin, his squinting eyes never leaving Vergil’s.
And just like that, the awful roiling sourness in Vergil’s stomach faded, and he took up his refilled mug with something almost like a song in his heart.
Awareness came to Vergil in two steps.
First came the awareness of his body, sudden as the turning of a light switch; the moist wall at his back, the packed earth under his ass, his legs stretched before him, the hood heavy upon his head. Yamato’s scabbard clutched in his hand.
Second came the awareness that, when they said “projectile vomiting”, they meant just that.
He stared in disbelief at the line of unmentionable gastric distress that ran almost completely straight from its starry impact puddle to a hair’s breadth from his crotch. Dear god. Bless whatever providence had inspired him to wear jeans for this sojourn.
There were a few bodies sprawled around him, a couple all but draped onto him, and Vergil had been puzzling the lack of blood when memories filtered back; and with a lurch in his soul and a curse in his lips he tried and tried in vain to remember— he had it until a certain point, he remembered the toasts, the tales, Parigi, but—
He slapped the wall at his back, feeling like a rusty marionette jerked around by uncertain strings, and plaster cracked under his hand. Getting his feet under him was a puzzle only solved once he gave up on avoiding his regurgitated drink. With ample aid from the wall at his back, he carefully rose, eyes squeezing shut against the dizziness.
He could do this. He’d fought demon hordes through worse, and won.
Mustache flopped down onto his old spot, while Vergil stepped over and around a half-dozen drunks, teetering and tottering like that one dog from that movie, it was animated, what had it been? He hadn’t watched movies in years, it made him feel weird to think about, but that was absolutely how he was walking at the moment. Like a damn cartoon fool.
This street had no lights, and there was only the white pre-dawn to throw its pale silvery glow around the decrepit houses and overgrown bushes that lined it. But it was enough to sketch the form of a run-down little church, right at its end.
Vergil stared at the tiny temple, unlike its city counterpart at every possible level, and it grasped him. He staggered a foot forward, and then another, not knowing what he was walking to, and tears blurred his eyes, unbidden.
“Bugl,” he said, and it was like another light bulb had lit within him.
It was lit, and it was small, and it was in there, and it was his son, and he was in there. He was there inside the tiny church and his demon aura glowed very tiny and very faint, like it was asleep, like it had never had to burst awake in defense of his little life. It was a little baby demon and it was his, and he was dying just from knowing it, from being a father and having a son, oh my god. It glowed. It glowed.
He stood rooted to that spot, blubbering drunkenly, until the silver gloom started to transition into gold; and when Parigi stumbled up to giggle at his side, he pointed at the church and cried harder.
Parigi nodded and nodded, blabbering on in Italian, a language Vergil was entirely too far gone to manage at the moment. How to let him know? How to let the world know? Oh no, the world couldn’t know, no one could know, but Parigi was an okay guy, and he wanted to tell Parigi, for reasons.
He pointed again at the church. “Bum,” he said, trying to remember, trying to figure out how the word went. “Bam,” he tried again, louder, and that felt right, that felt like he was going somewhere. He pointed again and again, dredging his sauced brain for his drowned Italian, the word for boy, it was easy, it was—
He pointed once more, victoriously. “Bambi!” he proclaimed, and laughed uncontrollably. Parigi, who was one hell of a guy, laughed right along, clapping his shoulder heartily, nodding at him; and Vergil nodded back, took a wavering step forward, pulled Yamato out of its scabbard in a wide and slightly wild sweep of his arm.
Yamato glowed faintly. He loved it so, so much.
He looked back again at Parigi, laughing in disbelief, and Parigi was still laughing, still nodding; he nodded again, and then Parigi nodded again, and then he nodded again, but to himself, and he thought he saw Parigi nodding as well, but he was looking at the church, brightening under the sunrise.
He was too drunk to pick up his bambi, and also he was pretty sure there was a plan he was working on, but it was fine. He knew where the bambi was now. He would be back, and it was going to be so awesome.
Vergil sliced the air in front of him and tottered through, happy as a clam. And Parigi kept on nodding cheerfully at what he thought was one hell of a hallucination, for sure.
His drunken ass had teleported him all the way to fucking Australia.
Not on purpose, and not that he’d even noticed it at the time. He’d just stopped crying and boggling at the reality of parenthood long enough to recover something almost like wits, and finally took notice of the fact that he was in a desert. Was this Africa? He’d thought fuzzily. Did Yamato take him to Lucrecia?
And then an asshole kangaroo came up hopping with its giant scythe claw and tried to bite him with its three poison tusks and that sobered him enough to savor the annoyance.
Fucking poison-tusked kangaroo. He turned away from its disintegrating corpse and didn’t stumble even a little bit.
He kept on walking at what he thought was a straight line, flinging himself ahead at times (he didn’t dare use Yamato’s space-slicing; however he’d managed this long a jump, he doubted he could accomplish it again). Eventually his meandering led him to a road in some disrepair, which he proceeded to follow for an approximate eternity, alone with his progressively more sour thoughts. How could he forget the word “bambino”? Bambi was, like, a cartoon dog, or something. Nothing to do with a bambino. No wonder Parigi was laughing.
He was still mostly drunk by the time a flatbed truck rolled past, its riders helpfully shooting the second poison-tusked kangaroo he’d been trying to shoo away. It still took a couple swipes of Yamato to put the thing down, but soon he was riding along in the back of the truck, bouncing up and down the cracked asphalt.
He clutched the side of the truck and tried not to look queasy.
“Yeah, that was different,” one of the truck riders told him sympathetically.
“It all happened so fast, but I could swear it had tusks, man.”
Vergil nodded from his clutching spot.
“I bet it’s all this pollution. It’s mutating our critters.”
“Last thing we need…”
Someone handed him a bottle, from which he chugged with wild abandon, and it definitely helped him feel more okay with whatever the hell was happening. They pointed at Yamato and asked questions, and he clutched it defensively, but they just laughed; this display of good humor reminded him a bit of the drunks in Fortuna, and, feeling relieved despite himself, he settled back to enjoy the horrible rattling ride and the chattering company. For some reason they took to calling him “Taco”, and went in a weird tangent about some “Annie May” woman, but she didn’t sound like Lucrecia or anyone he knew or cared about, so his mind slowly wandered away from the conversation— into memories of Lucrecia, Lucrecia hiking her skirts with a knowing smirk, Lucrecia crawling under a disgusting cobwebbed shelf to pull out her hidden snack stash.
He came to when the truck stopped, and somehow refrained from emptying his stomach again. The sun was a miserable blister pushing down on his eyelids, and his limbs were rubbery and distant; whatever had pierced his skull, he couldn’t seem to find it or pull it out, and it was annoyingly painful. But the truck Australians very kindly helped him down from their bouncing monstrosity, at least, and propped him up as he took each flailing little step towards the whatever building that was over there.
There was some conversation, foolish human exchanges he didn’t care about, and he was helped up a flight of stairs before being laid horizontal, then turned on his side. That was… new, and different, but he felt no demons— not even precious, adorable little lightbulb demons who were asleep and were also so important.
He could deal with whatever prison he was in later; snuggling with these nice fuzzy feelings came first.
He resumed his half-dreamed memories of Lucrecia, deliberately this time, tried to imagine her with the child, the three as a family... but his brain wouldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t retrieve the image of a baby for him. He wasn’t sure he had ever seen one. And Lucrecia seemed unwilling to hold even the wrapped bundles he conjured, they became snack stashes instead, she opened them to retrieve tightly bundled little bread rolls, set them on a towel by the piles of books. She frowned when he let crumbs fall on the ancient pages, still a librarian despite her everything else. She went to the lounge to heat up water and brought back a teapot, and she poured for herself before pouring for him; she ranted about Order precepts and he half-listened, half-read, his attention wandering despite himself, amusement bubbling up at how she poked holes in the doctrine like a machine gun.
Are you going to open a gate to hell? she’d asked, when he focused on mentions of Temen-ni-Gru, but then she said— Great, I can’t wait to see the world burn, before he even opened his mouth to give a half-answer, and it made things clench in his underbelly, the dryness in her voice, the casual nihilism, and she didn’t know, of course! But in that moment, with scorching heady heat flooding his veins in a burst, he was sure she would’ve said the same had she known. She was ready to fuck a stranger in a library, and she already had several times, and she would do it again, and she would set roses on fire and travel to Africa, and she would probably break a mug over a demon’s head if given half a reason for it, and he dumped his book on the table and stood up, feeling feral— but she just raised a sardonic brow.
“Again?” She asked, smirking, and—
They were tangled on a towel, possibly dug out of the snack stash, and Vergil felt gross and tacky and hoped he also felt manly, he wasn’t sure how that worked. And she had told him she was a virgin the first time around, and he had told her that he was not, and he hoped she couldn’t tell he had been lying (and years later he could tell that she had). But she was snuggling against his chest, just as sweaty and just as tacky, breathing deeply with her nose against his neck, and again, and again, until it turned into a sniff and he noticed she was crying quietly—
She laughed and said Oh, it’s not you, it’s me. And she messed up his meticulously combed hair, rising on her tiptoes to do so, a smile bright on her face. But the anxiety in his chest did not abate, even when the lights came off and the building closed down, even when she straddled his thighs and pushed his coat off his shoulders, he asked her again and again: are you okay, are you okay, is this okay, and then hugged her (to stop her, to surprise her, was all). And she hugged him back and said Trust me.
You are the most okay I have ever been.
And in his heart Vergil hoped that it had been on that night, that his son had happened. Of the weeks they had together that had been the kindest and gentlest they ever were with each other, two angry youths ready to watch the world burn. And although he was now aware that he was asleep, that he was dreaming, he could no longer stop the intense action replay that his brain was subjecting him to, his body and mind both; her breath on his shoulder, her tears on his chest, his on her hair, her heat around his waist, his own, overwhelming.
His body heaved and he threw up, and at once he got why the Australians laid him on his side.
He rolled to his other side— then off the bed in a heap, sweaty, pathetic, simultaneously drunk and hungover, and... just sat there, lightly swaying along with the rest of the bedroom.
Lucrecia was in Africa, provoking Sub-Saharan warlords and making things worse, probably; his son was in Fortuna, in some shithole orphanage where his loathsome relatives could get to him at any given moment; and he was drunk in Australia, presumably, unless there were kangaroos in New Zealand. He was too drunk to be sure.
Pathetic. Pathetic, pathetic.
He rose to his feet and hobbled around the tiny motel suite until he found the bathroom. It was cramped and awful, but it had a mirror, and Vergil glared at himself through a light patina of rust. The bandages around his head were absolutely disgusting— every inch under his nose was stained with alcohol both coming in and going out, and the rest was rank with sweat and brown with dirt and dust. He vaguely remembered having worn a knit cap over them, but it was gone.
He let go of his vise grip on the sink and, in a feat of sheer, absolute willpower, remained on his feet even while untangling the repugnant linens away from his face.
The sight under them was less filthy only by dint of being less absorbent. His face was a tapestry of reddened lines and wrinkles, with the occasional sunburned patch where the bandages had come loose. Nothing he would worry himself with— tanning was something that happened to humans, not to him, and the cloth marks would fade; it was just another notch on the Pathetic tally. The lank and sweaty clumps of hair stuck to his scalp were best not examined too closely.
He staggered into the microscopic shower stall and got himself blasted with icy cold water before he thought to undress. And then, as he squelched out of his shoes, reasoning to himself that they had been filthy anyway, that it was for the best… he remembered what Bambi actually was.
He dropped to his knees and cried with his forehead against the wall, exactly as he had once done, years and years ago, buried under his mother’s arm with Dante wailing on her other side.
When Vergil next came to, he was finally, blessedly sober for real.
He had some vague, disconnected memories of stepping out of the shower, stashing his sodden clothes, digging up extra bedding; otherwise, the fact that he’d been sleeping naked on the floor wrapped in a mix of towels and fitted sheets would have alarmed him deeply. Yamato stood undisturbed against the door handle, at least, further proof that his privacy had gone undisturbed. Even drunk and crying over a cartoon, he’d had that much sense left in him.
Once on his feet, he finally took in the… damage.
The room had not been very glamorous to begin with, but it must have been clean before he occupied it. The bed was a lost cause, as was the small decorative carpet before it, and water rivulets still trailed on the floor, half-dry. The closet was open, and his “disguise” hung damply within, wherein he had, rather ineptly, put them to dry. Assorted single-pack snack items lay unconsumed but scattered along his presumed path, and another handful of towels lay soaked on the bathroom floor, one specimen still hanging from the lip of the cracked sink. The shower was still running.
He resolved at once to, should it come up, introduce himself as Dante.
Emboldened by that decision, he set out to bundle the scattered towels and fouled bed-linens, then took his damp clothes back to the bathroom; he rewashed them with bath soap, wrung them mercilessly over the toilet bowl and attacked them with the room’s rattling electrical menace of a hair dryer. The inky darkness outside of the window had turned to daylight by the time he deemed his jeans wearable— still mostly damp, but wearable. He’d wasted enough time on tomfoolery, and dearly wished to feel efficient again.
He stepped back into the shower for a proper bath. It had no hot water settings whatsoever. He endured it anyway.
Thus refreshed, dressed and combed (with his hair over his brows— he was Dante now), Vergil finally gathered enough dignity to brave the outside of his suite.
It was, as he’d surmised, a roadside motel, and a particularly small one. There was no elevator, and the single flight of stairs led directly to a small lounge, which was more of a repurposed living room than anything. An old TV chattered inanities, its bubble screen flickering with green ghosting. Outside, the windows displayed a few parked trucks, a gas station, and a small nondescript store; everything else seemed to be desert and a strip of asphalt.
“G-good morning!” someone stuttered once he strode into the lounge; a chubby human behind a counter. The human was clearly studying him, his eyes focusing on Vergil’s wrinkled shirt and its flaking print, his even wrinklier and possibly shrunken jeans, his bare feet, and then back to his limp Dante hair. The man’s mouth gaped open, and Vergil didn’t have it in him to take offense. The getup appalled him just as much.
After some internal debate, Vergil decided he didn’t really want to act like Dante, and took refuge in his usual refinement.
“Good morning,” he greeted back, with a nod of his head. “I seem to have made an inconvenience of myself.”
His memories were… compromised, but this man, or his employers, had taken his wreck of a body in. The man did seem stunned, however— he might not have been present for his shameful arrival.
“You—” the man squeaked, and took an obvious calming breath before continuing: “You did not! Uh, sir, please. You’re no— no inconvenience, no sir.”
The man shook his head feebly, eyes still focused on Vergil as if hypnotized. That kind of obvious gawking wasn’t stellar customer service, exactly, but having pegged the motel as low-class, Vergil had lowered his expectations accordingly. He almost surprised himself with his even temper.
“You might change your mind once you see the room,” he said, feeling a hint of humor. “And speaking of, I must inconvenience you further. Do you have a phone I can use? I’m afraid my wallet is lost in the desert.”
Lost in the desert, lost in Fortuna, same difference.
The chubby human yanked a drawer open with such desperate hurry, Vergil almost raised Yamato’s scabbard to deflect a possible projectile; but instead the beleaguered receptionist grabbed a fistful of coins and shakily deposited them upon Vergil’s palm, while his other hand pointed feebly to a couple of pay-phones on the wall opposite.
Vergil nodded in thanks and turned around, only to hear a whimpery sigh at his back. That was really starting to get annoying.
He walked past the haunted TV, which was being attended by a sleepy-looking, greasy human and his coffee cup. The man’s eyes followed Yamato lazily, and then he seemed to jolt awake.
“Whoa, whoa!” he called out, and Vergil looked up from his study of the rotary phones. “Are you the oh-taco guy from yesterday?” And then he whistled.
“Please don’t call me taco,” Vergil said dryly, and the man laughed.
“Good one, dude,” he said, for no reason Vergil could fathom. “Wasn’t expecting a pretty face under those bandages. Rowdy cosplay party?”
“You could say that,” Vergil mumbled, distracted. He was in Australia (or something)— therefore, any number he knew would be an international call, right? There was a sticker on the phone with instructions, but it looked somewhat… ancient, and peeling, and stained, and just generally unreliable at every possible level.
Not to mention, the establishment he was contacting was of a certain persuasion, and may well be above such petty restrictions.
He confidently inserted two coins and dialed his intended number without bothering with area codes.
If one were to wander around the commercial center of Red Grave, and had a keen eye, one might spot a certain small building nestled between two modern high-rises. It had the curlicues and narrow windows of historical constructions, but it looked brand new, almost freshly painted. The crown of the building sported a coat of arms molded directly into the wall, and underneath it the number 1289.
And above its perennially open front door was a placard engraved with Moravec & Sedlacek.
Moravec and Sedlacek were… they were. As a child keen on keeping up with the adults, Vergil had often heard those names spoken in the context of household finances; and before… before, Eva had sat Vergil and Dante on her knees and bade the two memorize their address along with the family vault’s number.
Dante had clearly forgotten, but he had not. The Family Trust, and the two… weird ancient lawyer-accountants who were in charge of it: their fortune, vacation homes, secondary manors, stocks, documents, all fell under M&S’s immortal and all-knowing (but only on matters that fell directly under their extremely boring specialties) purvey.
They weren’t demons, Vergil could tell, but they were certainly supernatural in some undefinable way. And, although they respected the name of Sparda, it was Eva’s that carried their full loyalty. He was the son of Eva, and the family assets were Eva’s assets. Sparda had merely added to them.
Vergil usually avoided them, to curb both his curiosity and the associated ache. But… priorities changed. It was time.
As always, the call was picked up after two perfectly timed rings.
“Master Vergil,” said the unctuous voice at the other side of the line, crisp and clear as if transferred across brand-new cables. “How may we be of help?”
“In many and varied ways,” said Vergil, “to be discussed at length at a later opportunity. For the moment, however, I find myself lost and with an embarrassing lack of funds.”
“Unacceptable,” said the voice, as if personally offended by the mere idea. “You will find a bank account in your name at the nearest city, stocked as befits your station.”
“Appreciated,” said Vergil, nodding at the phone. No further information would be necessary; whichever bank he walked into would turn out to be the one with his new account, because that was how M&S worked. “Also—”
Vergil glanced at the receptionist, who watched him fixedly, wide-eyed, and forced himself to remember that the man’s concern wasn’t unwarranted. The place was poor.
“Despite said lack of funds, I have been graciously accommodated by a small establishment,” he added. “I would see them paid for their trouble.”
“Very well,” said the voice. “How much?”
Vergil hesitated. How much was a motel room, usually? And how much was an Australian dollar? What was the conversion rate? How much would cover the damage he had caused?
He lowered the phone momentarily. “How much was the stay?” He asked the chubby human.
Chubby human froze, then raised his hands in a pacifying gesture, making assorted demurral noises— and it suddenly hit Vergil that, with his Dante hair and… Dante clothes, he probably looked somewhat menacing.
Actually, what the hell. He definitely looked like a disgusting hooligan. No wonder the man was panicking.
“Five hundred,” he told the voice. “Actually, make that a thousand,” he amended, upon spotting the alarm on the chubby one’s face. “I have caused them a great deal of inconvenience.”
“Understood, Master Vergil,” said the unctuous voice. “It shall be transferred at once.”
“Thank you,” said Vergil, hanging up with no further pleasantries. He had no idea what the motel was called or what its financial information was, but experience told him that its bank account had received a thousand dollars on that very second. M&S were nothing if not extremely efficient.
Coffee guy whistled again from the couch. “Damn, so you’re a rich kid? No wonder you have a cool katana—”
Vergil gritted his teeth, tried not to turn on the man and do something stupid and pointless like scream that the Yamato was far more than merely a “cool katana”. This was just some ignorant human chattering again about Annie May, and whom he’d never meet again.
“—and I bet you have some crazy rich kid internet, like, five hundred kah-beh-peh-ass, that sounds so great for torrenting. Speaking of, did you hear, they’re making a Nar-oo-toe Annie May?”
“I don’t care,” Vergil snapped. “Where is the nearest city?”
“Down the road that way,” the man pointed. “I can give you a ride, I’m going there in a couple hours.”
“No need,” Vergil said, putting his leftover coins on the now catatonic chubby receptionist’s table. He wanted zero Annie Mays in his trip.
“You sure?” the man asked, when Vergil strode past him again. “It’s a three hour ride, man. Wait, are you barefoot?”
Vergil didn’t answer. He had just opened the door, and then stopped.
“Is that an emu?” he asked in surprise.
(It was a demon-possessed emu. Vergil killed it, and left the truck man and receptionist to their conversation about pollution, mutants, and Annie May.)
After two months of intense preparations, Vergil immediately did not go back to Fortuna. It had never been his intention to do so, from the very beginning; that had been the plan. Any possible connection between him and an inhabitant of the city, former or current, was best buried and forgotten.
But one Mr. Virgilio de Padua Botticelli did happen to make quite the stir with his arrival. He had acquired all the necessary permissions for official entry at a record time; this was a man of means, which had sped the process considerably. His gracious and ample donation to the Order of the Sword had rather endeared him to the authorities, while his sole stipulation— that part of it be directed to the Order’s orphanages— endeared him to the religious. On the fifth page of the local paper, where his visit was publicized, praise for his piety was doled out in shovelfuls.
No one cared, of course, outside of the town’s political center. Order members and Secular Lords may gawk at Virgilio’s rental of the entire last floor of the island’s sole licensed hotel (due to the lack of a penthouse, his aides had explained), but the comings and goings of powerful foreigners were beneath the notice of good, honest people with actual work to do.
That outlook changed when his vintage, filigreed convertible rolled into one of the poorest parts of the island, squeezing into residential streets, politely waiting for housewives to raise their laundry lines, before parking itself in front of the neighborhood orphanage.
A few locals may have been energetically yanking at each others’ sleeves as the chauffeur opened the door for the silver-haired Signore Virgilio. If the visitor took any notice, he gave no signal other than, perhaps, a twitch at the corner of his mouth.
“He’s so young,” a woman whispered— and handsome, too, others might have added. And by god was he rich; his blue coat was embroidered both in discreet blue filigree and in bright silver, sparkling under the morning sun. His boots gleamed. An exotic sword hung at his waist, just as adorned.
He was princely.
Bodyguards posted themselves around the two cars of his convoy, armored and looking not unlike the Order’s own Knights, and a less extraordinarily dressed aide followed his Lord past the hand-wringing Sister and into the church.
Thus had “Mr. Virgilio” arrived upon Fortuna: in a chartered luxury barge, with a profusion of luggage and a pair of ancient Rolls Royces aboard (for the narrow streets, Moravec had said unctuously) complete with a homunculus chauffeur. And homunculi bodyguards, and homunculi secretaries, and homunculi aides— not that a normal human would be able to tell— half of them with actual personalities, all courtesy of M&S. Virgilio had to appear as a man of undeniable power and means, surrounded by loyal servants. A man like a Lord of Fortuna, to strike fear upon the Lords of Fortuna.
Vergil had walked down the lowered ramp, surrounded by his useless guards, sparkling ridiculously under the sunset. And he had shown no trace of shock at the profusion of dirty urchins milling around the docks, no, not “Virgilio”, a human man who absolutely used normal means of locomotion such as barges, and who was inured to the sight of starving children dragging his suitcases and being paid a pittance by his homunculi aids.
(Vergil had set a trail, just in case. He had even climbed into a plane. Nothing had ever instilled him with as much respect for humanity as that half-hour of clutching Yamato and clenching his ass; knowing the thing moved via applied physics was completely different from existing inside of it while it floated kilometers above the ocean on nothing but physics.)
The ride to the hotel had been another insufferable, but necessary, spectacle. The more people who knew about the rich foreign visitor, the better. At the hotel, his homunculi aids had efficiently dealt with the bureaucratic side of checking in, while he’d greeted some local dignitaries who had just happened to be around at the foyer, for reasons. And he had accomplished that task with perfect poise— he’d subjected himself to coaching from Sedlacek, in anticipation of its need. Unlike Vergil, “Virgilio” had absolutely grown up under the tutelage of his high-class parents, and could never be suspected of so much as nicking a member of a single hellish horde.
(Yamato remained, as it should, a priceless family heirloom he could and would not be parted with— although, on Sedlacek’s counsel, he introduced it as “Nadeshiko” to the curious.)
The outrageous opulence had a purpose, even if it had somewhat slipped from his control. But Moravec and Sedlacek had been justifiably concerned by the uncharacteristic extravagance of his initial requests. In his annoyance, he had allowed some of his intentions to slip, and then… then he’d told them, as much as he could tell while maintaining his own dignity.
And in reaction, Moravec & Sedlacek had come through beautifully. But how could they not? Eva’s grandchild was at stake. The two were as incensed as a pair of stilted, possibly mummified accountants could be, and had approved wholeheartedly of his scheme. Moravec went so far as to improve upon it, while Sedlacek set out to investigate even more deeply than Vergil had.
Perhaps his failure to— contain— his emotions during his abridged retelling had impressed the gravity of the situation upon them, but then again, maybe not. They held Eva and all matters related to her under surprising esteem. Or maybe any decent being would be outraged, human or not. The crowd at Russo’s had certainly been.
Whether the aging nun acting as the orphanage’s Director was even capable of outrage was unclear, but her smile did seem stiff as she introduced him to the institution— carefully not mentioning the water stains on the walls, the huge moldering patch behind a frayed sofa, the one lamp which flickered maddeningly. The empty stares of the older kids as they studied him.
Sedlacek’s investigation had pinpointed this orphanage as the destination for children of notable undesirables. It saw all sorts of things, but never a proper budget. His own donation had, most likely, passed it right by.
Revolting, yes. But to the benefit of his revenge.
“Sister,” he raised a hand, interrupting the nun’s very heartfelt attempt to guilt-trip a direct donation from him. “Please. I am here for my child.”
The Sister stopped, took one good look at him. Whatever she saw, she didn’t say; but she did draw a breath.
“I have not been informed of any impending adoptions,” she said, in her very proper Italian. “Do you have the paperwork?”
“I refuse to wait even one more damnable second for paperwork,” Vergil snapped, loudly, in newscaster-perfect diction. “It took me this long. I will have the son that was hidden from me!”
Shock twisted the Sister’s face, there and covered just as quickly.
“A son, hidden from you?” She asked, affecting a different, more socially acceptable sort of shock. “Sparda have mercy!”
“Yes, may he have mercy,” Vergil growled. “Because I certainly will not. My son, now.”
A small crowd was gathering at the church’s entrance, of orphans and neighbors both. Let them look. Let the tale spread.
Let the Family quake in its boots.
“But— what of the mother?” the Sister asked, intently. “Signore, yours is a very serious claim. Why would she conceal your child?”
Vergil drew himself up. “It is my understanding,” he said emphatically, “that she had no say in the matter. My wife-to-be was exiled. I sent for her and instead learned of a discarded child, of which I was kept unaware. Enough stalling!”
Assorted gasps rose from his back.
(In truth, he had no intentions of wedding Lucrecia, even should Sedlacek manage to locate her. Her trail had crossed roughly seven countries in three different continents before fading— possibly due to the still extant bounty on her head, courtesy of a human trafficker and several drug lords. How she went from humanitarian work to foiling crime rings, not even Sedlacek had figured out yet; but along the way she had apparently joined a polyamory cell, liberated laboratory specimens that turned out to have been infected with some truly gnarly diseases, organized an entire small country’s mass strike, and camped out inside some prime minister’s office.
It was all quite admirable work, of course, but it kind of painted the picture of a hot mess. Definitely not parent material. She was better off just visiting every once in a while, maybe when she needed to lay low.)
“Do you have a name, at least, Signore?” asked the Sister, looking very shocked and intimidated still.
“Line up your charges,” he said, waving imperiously at the brats scattered around the room, “and I will pick him out.”
The Sister stared at him, and, unexpectedly, laughed. It was a relieved, undisguised laugh, and she all but skipped to a back door, shaking her head to herself. From past the door her voice came in faint: “Nero!” she called out, cheerfully, and again: “Neroooo!”
The floor lurched alarmingly under him, and his homunculus aide touched his elbow in concern. But it was just— it was just a name, and he was fine, he was steadying his knees just fine, and his son had a name, and it was Nero.
He took a breath, and another, and one more, and then stopped because it was making him light-headed. He touched his face, it was tingling for some reason, and his hand found some wetness— but he wasn’t sad, he was fine, he was calm, he couldn’t understand why there were tears. Was he freaking out?
The evidence strongly suggested he was freaking out. He had just learned his son’s name, and was now about to meet him, and that might just be a little too fast for him to handle. A little too emotionally charged. He had prepared himself the whole night, meditating on Yamato to control his anger, his hatred, his overwhelming desire to paint the city red, but now— now he was actually going to meet his son, who was called Nero, and he was suddenly feeling completely different feelings, and it was all a bit too much.
“Lord!” his aide said hurriedly— a favorite of Moravec, he believed; the old lawyer had fussily adjusted the construct’s lapels and rubbed a spot of ink from its face before they left— “Collect yourself!”
Vergil tried to pat its hand on his elbow in a soothing matter, but clung to it instead. “It’s my boy,” he tried to explain, but— was that his voice? That breathy little whimper? This was like Russo’s all over again, but at least there was no shitty beer. Instead there was a small, steady little demon presence, growing progressively closer.
“Lord, please!” the homunculus called, more insistently. “You’ll alarm the child!”
The cold focus of battle flooded Vergil’s mind in an instant, and he found his strength at last; he wiped his tears, locked his knees, straightened his back, schooled his face, and when the Sister returned it was exactly as if he had not burst into tears in front of a bunch of unimpressed orphans and gossipy peasants.
Clinging to the Sister’s skirts was a sleepy little toddler, rubbing at his blue eyes. And the Sister’s hand rested gently on a crown of soft silver hair.
Of course she had laughed. He’d spoken true— he could pick out that little aura from any lineup— but there was no need, not when his son (his son!!) was his spitting image. The Sparda blood shone through and true!
And who names a white-haired child Nero? Clearly— and he glanced at the nun with renewed respect— someone aware of his relatives’ predilection for ancient Roman names. Someone with the balls to make sure they knew she knew.
That thought gave Vergil the strength he needed not to fall over like a jenga tower when his son (his son!!) stopped rubbing his eyes long enough to see him.
His son (his son—) froze on the spot, and somehow it was the easiest thing ever, to not collapse in a faint. Vergil could guess what the child saw, what had him so shocked; it was silver hair, blue eyes. For the kid’s first time ever, perhaps.
“Nero,” said the Sister, and Nero (Nero!!!!) looked up at her, wide-eyed and adorable. “That’s your papa.”
Nero (oh my god) looked back at him, still completely poleaxed (oh my god—). The Sister nudged him, and he took a few hesitant steps— not so much approaching him as he was circling him, studying him. Then he shot back another uncertain, questioning little look to the nun.
Is this really for me? Those eyes seemed to ask. Are you sure?
Vergil felt a smile stretch his face, unbidden. He’d steeled himself for this encounter, sworn to himself he would smile even if he wanted to scream, and he would absolutely take part in whatever run-and-hug ritual his son(!!) chose to instigate, exactly like the corniest possible movies, for the child’s sake and for his audience’s sake. But now it hardly felt like he was forcing himself to do anything other than not bounce on the balls of his feet, so energized he felt; and for the first time in over a decade he was considering the possibility of a hug without any lingering anguish.
And even then, he was immensely amused by his son (HIS SON)’s reaction. Because the boy wasn’t running up in tears, or laughing in squeaky little giggles, or anything remotely cinematic. He was examining Vergil, intent and confused— not like an orphan who’d dreamed of a parent, but like a poor automobile enthusiast who’d been dreaming of a car, any car, only to wake up one morning to a gleaming Lamborghini on his front yard and his name on its plate.
Vergil was the Lamborghini, and his little Nero was circling him and wondering if this was a wildly mistaken delivery.
“Chi...” the child asked, hesitantly. “Chi sei tu—”
Who are you, but with no questioning inflection. His son (his son!) heard the Sister, and he was no fool (of course not!!). He wanted to hear it from him. There was an awesome Lamborghini in his yard and he wanted confirmation from the Lamborghini itself that it came to the right house.
Vergil raised his chin, cheeks cramping from the grin he couldn’t wipe from his own face. “Sono tuo papà!” He announced, bombastic, prouder than he had ever felt in his entire life; he threw his shoulders back and felt toweringly tall, tall and invincible.
Nero took in his answer with wide eyes and an open mouth, and then, glancing at the floor, he whispered to himself: “Wow.”
Vergil had the most strange urge to explode. Just... just burst in a shower of energy. Was this joy? Was this why human parents went jogging in the evenings? His son (SON) had just reacted to his announcement in the dumbest possible way, and it was the best thing ever— it was hilarious, and he loved it, and he felt an urgent need to run a few laps around the world.
Nero toddled a few more steps close, still circling warily. The Lamborghini had confirmed its delivery address, but still, was this real? His son (his baby son look at him)’s eyes seemed to be asking. Was this really really real for true?
“Sei...” he begun again, cocking his adorable little head up at Vergil, “...sei mio papà?”
Vergil dropped to one knee like a toppling monolith (whoops, there went the parquet, he thought as a shard of wood flew past) and opened his arms— not in expectation, but in sheer unadulterated excitement.
His voice came out a little rough, a little on the threatening side, but what really mattered was what Nero made of it; and the cheeks under his wide eyes started to flush, and his open mouth widened in a shy little smile, and once again he glanced away in wonder and whispered to himself— “Wow.”
Some other kid nearby piped up— oh right, yeah, there was a bunch of other kids around, he’d forgotten about them— with some fast-clipped toddler-tongue commentary. It was a snide little mutter, too low and too fast for Vergil to pick anything up but “capelli”, but Nero’s little grin immediately soured and—
And he clocked the little bitch right in the mouth like a total champ.
“Nero!” chided the Sister, glancing nervously at Vergil, and then stopping. Possibly because Vergil’s smile had turned into an enormous smirk.
His son (his son) was defending the family honor. “That’s my boy,” he all but sang to himself, lowering his arms and leaning forward to offer that long-awaited hug.
Well, the sucker-punch was probably Lucrecia’s genes, but who even cared? They were awesome genes anyway. And the little smile came back to his little boy’s face, and oh my god, his little boy, his boy, he was toddling up to him with arms raised. Vergil do NOT fuck this up—
Vergil picked the child and hugged him without fucking it up. Yessssss.
And from there, Vergil rose back to his feet, turned to the enraptured audience at the door and windows, and waited for them to open way to his cars (he should have rented Lamborghinis instead). It was time— time to go back to his hotel floor and let Nero trash it in whichever way he felt like, then depart with great pomp and circumstance and some veiled threats.
It was time to let Lucrecia’s household stew in humiliation and anxiety. This could have been your son-in-law. Think of the dowry. Think of the returned prestige. But now you have an enemy. Think of the reckoning that awaits you.
And then it would be time to consider which revenge would be sweeter: to let them wait and sweat and fear indefinitely, or to crush them utterly and then replace them. Maybe force them to watch as he demolished the manor, just for kicks. Fortuna was a shit-show, but they did have a competent body of demon-hunting knights, and it would be nice to have other people mopping demon trash for once.
He hiked his boy (his BOY) up in his arms, then sat him on his lap as they climbed the convertible. Nero’s white head turned to and fro, taking in the old view from his new height. The crowd was cheerful and full of smiles, and he thought he saw Parigi, but tried not to look too hard.
Maybe this neighborhood deserved better management. Did he want to be a statesman? It wasn’t appealing, but temporal power was still power, and there was Nero’s stability to concern himself with. Decisions, decisions.
“Oh,” said Vergil, turning to his homunculus aide. “Do inform the Sister that we’ll be investigating what came of my donation. Later—” he stopped the overly helpful construct from, apparently, jumping off a moving car. “This is just a reminder. Could I act against the Order, should they turn out to have disobeyed my sole stipulation?”
“It’s certainly a breach of contract,” the construct said, back to acting like a sensible human being with limbs capable of breaking. “But you’re not influential enough at the moment for open litigation through the local sanctioned methods, I’m afraid.”
Vergil smirked to himself, and absently planted a kiss on the back of his son’s (precious) head. He was the son of Sparda, and this was the grandson of Sparda. Wouldn’t it be right, for the Order to serve both?
Wouldn’t it be the sweetest revenge, to reveal to Lucrecia’s abominable family that her claim of Nero’s parentage had been literal all along?