Dante's Little Apple Surprise

by Tatsurou

Truth Will Out

After the group had finished eating the jambalaya - which proved to be delicious, as expected - Dante noticed a glowing sphere having removed itself from the wall...which was now revealed to be another demon gate. Holding out his hand, the sphere of light flew to him and took shape in his hand as a suitcase covered in runic circuitry. At the center of the front was an emblem of a three eyed demon.

"What's this?" he asked curiously.

"That is Pandora's Box," Virgil replied. "The demonic version. Unlike the old myth, this one is a weapon. It can transform into a number of different forms to inflict massive damage on enemies. The more damage it inflicts, the more powerful the forms grow. When it builds up enough energy, it can be released in a massive destructive blast."

"How do you know so much?" Dante asked.

"Someone has to do the research for our work," Virgil replied snidely. "And Applejack's in school most of the time."

"Valid point," Applejack admitted. Dante grumbled under his breath, and turned dismissively away, making Kyrie giggle.

Continuing onward, the group entered an old graveyard. Cloaked demons began flying around, the only thing visible of them under the cloaks being red insectoid faces with blue eyes and large red claws.

"What're those?" Applejack demanded in confusion. "They look kinda like Hell Vanguards..."

"Mephistos," Credo replied. "They're really only giant insects, but getting their cloaks off-"

There was a swooping sound as Griffon dove, followed by two loud crunching snaps. Griffon settled on a fence as he chewed. "Rather crunchy," he commented, "with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. A bit like cream filled cookies. Would go good with milk or hot cider. Good idea to eat them, Kyrie."

Everyone turned to the woman who had given that order. She blushed. "Well, Credo said they were bugs...and he is a bird..."

Applejack and Dante snickered a bit at that. Nero grinned widely. "Good thinking," he complimented her, making her blush brighter.

"Let's move on, shall we?" Virgil growled. "I'd rather get this over with sooner than later."

"Want to show Trish how much you like her new look?" Dante teased. Virgil promptly backhanded him across the graveyard.

Reentering the castle, the group fought their way through more possessed armors, but they proved little threat, especially with how vastly outnumbered the foes were when they showed up.

"Hey Pa?" Applejack whispered.

"Yes?" Dante replied.

"Next big incursion...could we take it? Just the two of us?" She glanced around at the gathered group. "While family outings like this are nice...fightin' demons just ain't as fun when we outnumber 'em and outpower 'em, ya know?"

Nodding, Dante ruffled her mane. "Promise, AJ. Next big incursion, it'll be just you, me, and whoever recruits us that we leave in the dust."

Smiling, Applejack nuzzled Dante...just as Nero completed a Gyro Blade puzzle that sent the entire group falling towards the basement. They fell very slowly, however, as Griffon simply expanded to catch them all, hovering slowly down to the lower levels.

Once at the bottom, Griffon ate two more Mephistos, allowing Nero to acquire a Wing Talisman, which activated jump plates...which were useless to the group as long as they had Griffon.

"I think Griffon should stay unsummoned for that next trip unless we need him," Dante whispered. Applejack nodded in response as the thunderbird lifted them back to a higher level.

The group continued onward along available paths. With Griffon eating the Mephistos as soon as they appeared, the rest of the group focused on taking down the Scarecrows, possessed armors, and other enemies that showed up. Before long, clues led them to behind a massive painting of Sanctus and into an underground laboratory.

As soon as she saw this, Nevan whispered something in Applejack's ear. Applejack's eyes widened in response. "...Nero? You go on ahead. The rest of us'll catch up."

"Eh?" Nero asked in surprise. The others also turned to her in confusion.

"Ya want answers, right?" Applejack asked. "They're up ahead. Best if ya see them for yerself...without the rest of us around ta hold ya back or push ya onward. Make up yer own mind about what ya learn on yer own."

Nero stared at her for a time, but then nodded. "A-alright," he agreed.

As he turned to continue, he wasn't sure why he was listening to her so willingly. It wasn't that he believed her story completely, not yet. And it wasn't any sense of familial ties. What could possibly make him so willing to do whatever she said? Was it how cute she was? No, Kyrie was breathtakingly beautiful, but never managed to bend him over backwards like that.

...it was the jambalaya. Eating it had filled him in a way that wasn't at all related to food. It had felt warm...like family. Something he hadn't felt for a while. And he could far too easily picture Applejack responding to a refusal by saying, "Do it or no supper."

After a time, Applejack nodded. "Alright. Now we follow him," she said simply.

"Huh?" Kyrie asked. "But I thought you said-"

"I sent him on ahead because Yamato is ahead," Applejack replied. "Nero needs to encounter it first, and alone. It's the only way he'll understand what's really going on. We've given him just enough time to get up there, so now we need ta go meet up with him."

"Why do we need to meet up with him?" Credo asked.

"Cause in all likelihood, Yamato's gonna activate Nero's Devil Trigger," Applejack explained. "And with all the demon power he's absorbed from all of us without any way to safely vent, if he burns himself out the way Pa and I did during our first Devil Trigger, he'll likely die. So we need ta get Kyrie there ta calm him down so he can control himself."

"What can I do?" Kyrie asked.

"No idea," Applejack admitted. "Hopefully, you'll know when we get there."

With those words in their ears, the group quickly made their way downward after Nero, following the trail of destruction he'd left behind.

At one point, they reached a room that required they play some sort of dice game to move a piece representing their group across a board in order to unseal a gate. Applejack used Beowulf's Sacred Light to blast a hole in the wall directly above the sealed door, and the group rode Griffon through the hole.

Behind them, the dice and statue pouted.

On the other side of the wall, they found Nero standing on one side of a broken glass wall to one side, his eyes glowing red. Yamato sparkled in his hand as a blue silhouette of Sparda surrounded his body. Massive wounds across his entire form were rapidly healing. Across the room, a figure that seemed to resemble a humanoid ladybug someone tried to make look angelic by covering it with white feathers huddled, staring at Nero in disbelief as he staggered towards it.

"How?" the figure demanded. "Not even I succeeded in restoring it!"

"From that day forth..." Nero spoke, his voice echoing, not seeming to address anyone. "My arm changed...and a voice echoed...Power...Give me more...power!"

"What?" the creature demanded in confusion, slinking away.

"And if I become a demon, so be it!" Nero proclaimed as power erupted from his body, sending the demonic creature blasting through the walls to vanish into the sky. "I will endure the exile..." His voice grew softer. "Anything to protect her..."

Before anyone could stop her, Kyrie leapt off Griffon's back and rushed to Nero's side as his power started to flare wildly out of control. "Nero, I'm here," she whispered, cupping his face in her hands. "I'm safe...you can stop now...you can rest..."

He stared at her, hearing her voice but plainly not seeing her. "K...Kyrie...?"

Gently, Kyrie lowered Nero's head to rest against her bosom, gently stroking his hair. His arms wrapped gingerly around her, Yamato vanishing into the Devil Buster, absorbed, as the demon power slowly subsided. Nero then slumped into unconsciousness.

Applejack nodded solemnly as she watched this. "Nero's got his answer now," she muttered softly. She then turned towards Credo, who was staring at the tableau, his face unreadable. "Do you have yours?"

Credo turned to look at her. "What...what was that?"

"Realization," Nevan explained, manifesting to lean against a wall. "Sparda explained it to me once. The power of his bloodline - the Dark Knights - is immense...but few of the bloodline could access as much as a fraction of it. In order to unlock the true power, they need to sink beyond the moment of death, entering a state between life and void...and in that state, discover the truth of themselves. In doing so, they will find the answer of why they desire that power. For Sparda, he discovered it when he chose Earth over Hell, fighting to protect the mortal realm from demons who sought to despoil it. For Dante, it was trying to protect Applejack from Virgil." Seeing Credo's confused expression, she waved her hand. "Don't ask."

"For me, it was when the Order of the Sword stole my son away," Virgil said softly, not meeting anyone's eyes.

"Mine happened in Hell, when I wanted ta prove myself ta Pa, that I was worthy o' bein' his little girl," Applejack mumbled, pulling her hat down. "Had a bit o' help unlocking it from Sparda himself, so I kinda skipped over the having ta be almost dead step...though I nearly killed myself venting the power before it could kill me."

"And now Nero has had his," Nevan concluded. "And he told you himself what his power is for...to protect Kyrie."

Credo was silent as he took this all in. "And...what does that mean? For Nero and my sister?"

"It means that there is literally nothing Nero can't do, if it means keeping her safe," Dante explained. "And I feel real sorry for anyone who tries to keep him away from her, as long as she wants him near."

"If'n yer worried about 'em getting up ta somethin' they shouldn't, don't," Applejack said, interpreting Credo's hesitation. "I'll keep 'em on their best behavior."

Credo turned to her. "I...have your word on that?"

Nodding, Applejack drew Sparda forth. "On Grandpa's sword," she agreed.

Nodding, Credo's body flared with light. When the light faded, he had changed. Most of his body was covered with white feathers, except for the center of his torso along his sternum, his arms below his elbows, and his legs below his knees. Those areas were covered with blue scales. His feet now ended in eagle-like talons. The sword in his right hand had expanded to massive proportions, and a huge shield was gripped lightly in his left. Angelic wings spread from his back, and his face had transformed into an avian war mask.

Kneeling, he laid his massive blade across Sparda. "And on the sword of the Legendary Dark Knight," he intoned ritualistically, "I so swear my blade is yours to command. Keep your faith with me, and so too shall I with you."

Sparda's eye stone flared brightly as the oaths were recognized.

Nodding, Applejack returned Sparda to the dimensional pocket in her demonic aura where it normally rested. "Ya can return to your human form, right?"

In response, Credo resumed his human shape, releasing the demonic/angelic transformation.

"Good," she confirmed. "Now help us get Nero somewhere he can sleep this off."

Nodding, Credo scooped the unconscious Nero into his arms. "If we go this way, we'll be able to open a path through the falls," he explained, heading for the door. "Griffon can give us a shortcut up there."

Following Credo's directions, the group arrived at the top of a cliff overlooking a vast, primeval forest. With no explanation for the situation - and nowhere safer to rest - the group set up camp until Nero awoke.