Chapter One

“You called to see me, your Holiness?”

Sanctus drew a pale, long-fingered hand towards Credo as he signaled him to sit down beside him. Agnus peered back at Credo with contempt, his ridiculous monocle glinting as he did so.

“Ah, Credo. I was just leaving.” Agnus decided to say a little too loudly. “Your excellency.” He bowed dramatically as he exited the room.

Despite several attempts to take his place, Credo was almost certain Sanctus would never sway for the likes of Agnus. Agnus was an insipid, obnoxious brute who fancied himself a scholar. He was as bland as his poor taste in clothing. He was all but annoying, overbearingly analytical at times. Credo was sure Agnus was dropped on the head as a child. Simply put, Credo hated the man. He particularly hated that nasty glint in Agnus’ eye whenever he came around. It was clear he wanted his position. Had Agnus known what it took to be here at Sanctus’ side, had he known of the sacrifices Credo had given to be here… he was sure Agnus would never have the bravery to stand in his shoes.

Without question he took his seat by Sanctus, the figure head that the Order of Sparta revered. Their chapter had started here in Fortuna City, and it wasn’t until recently their campaign had expanded beyond Credo’s wildest dreams. Some had speculated about Sanctus and his motives. Credo had no time for speculation, especially with the demon gates popping up on the outskirts of the city. Like a loyal, trained dog, he did as he was told. He questioned nothing all these years until recently.

Credo had felt it for a while now that something was afoot. He didn’t understand how he knew, but he did. The things he’d seen… Sanctus was plotting something, and he’d been suspicious for a time. The commander knew that someday that fervent loyalty would be put to the test. Sanctus’ long gaze brought Credo at attention, stiffening at the look in that old fox’s eyes. Credo sat at the old man’s side, crossing his kid-skin gloved hands one over the other against the table.

“Credo,” He was firm, but age had settled into his voice. Credo listened intently just for that reason.

“Your boy, Nero, is it? I hear complaints…” It always took Sanctus a while to get to the point. It took everything in Credo’s body not to twitch. He’d heard of Nero’s raucous nearly enough already. And now his foolish sister was batting lashes at him. Credo was definitely not in the mood to hear even his Holiness.

‘You’d think he’d give a damn and show some respect to the other members. Now, I’m up to my neck in complaints. When I catch that brat…’ Credo thought angrily. He didn’t bat a lash as Sanctus’ rested his hand over Credo’s tightly clutched ones. No matter how many times Sanctus did this, Credo could never feel the warmth of them.

“I will take any measure to get him in line. I just need more time, your Holiness. He’s still a boy—“

“Yes, I realize that.” Sanctus interjected calmly. Credo held his tongue.

“He is your charge. His lack of discipline is a direct image of you. He has no respect for the sanctity of Sparda." Sanctus began.

“Now, Credo,” Sanctus whispered sweetly, the pad of his thumb brushing Credo’s gloved hand. The action made his skin crawl, but he watched Sanctus carefully. He swallowed down his resentment, finally speaking up.

“Yes, your Holiness?”

“You know what happens to those who cannot behave well with the Order?” Credo stared into his lap for a long time before he snapped his head up attentively.

“Yes your Holiness, I do.”

When Credo had finally entered his home it had been late. Credo rested his head at the door, feeling the heavy weight of the information Sanctus shared in private with him.

All this talk of a Savior from Sanctus was all he was thinking about. Sanctus had promised many things during this secret meeting, but Credo began to wonder if it was all the fantasy of a senile old man. Nevertheless, Credo was fascinated. Was it possible to become an angel?

He trudged up the steps slowly as he tugged open his uniform. A bottle of brandy and schematics of Blanco Angelo, a special guardian class that would be constructed to protect the city were littered about the messy floor of his study. It was his space of Zen, a place he could go to when things were out of control. Right now he wanted to tug off his strapped boots, and fall asleep on the divan in that room. Tonight’s choice of poison would be Cognac Brandy, a twenty-year old Delamain Pale & Dry that was given to him as a gift when he ascended the ranks to Commander.

His household was a respectively quiet place. Kyrie was hardly ever here now, constantly at the church to pray and sing and do whatever young girls her age did. Despite his beloved sister’s absence, Credo enjoyed the peace and quiet when he could. He wasn’t one for social interactions, and enjoyed being alone. Deep into his thirties, Credo had learned to befriend his loneliness. The job had no room for much of anything else. The rest was simply chaos.

Entering his study (which was adjacent to the master bedroom) Credo tossed his uniform top across the divan, settling in an old wooden chair with a sigh. There were simple pleasures in life, and this chair was certainly one of them. The crystal snifter of brandy sat untouched at the messy desk beside him as he contemplated drinking to boost his denial at what was going on. It was always a choice he had no problem making.

Until now.

Credo was always known to be self-sufficient. Since the time his parents passed away, he’d stepped up to take care of his little sister, Kyrie. Things had been very hard at first—he was only fifteen years old when Sanctus took power of the Order.

Credo’s brow creased. Those times were well beyond him, now.

“Do you know what your name means, my son?”

“No, your Holiness, I do not.”

“It is a statement or belief; a creed. Remember to walk uprightly in this world, my dearest Credo.”

The soft sound of Sanctus’ voice ebbed away into the back of Credo’s mind as his memory faded away. Credo reached for the snifter without hesitation to pour himself a glass. It had been years since he’d remembered that conversation. It was one of the turning points to his career as an acolyte to the order, and a pivotal moment into adulthood. He had no idea he would become a target of Sanctus, nor become his right hand.

The things he’d done to get there haunted him—foolish, stupid things.

‘I did it for Kyrie, for our future.’ But, deep down that was never the real reason. The heat built up in his chest and stomach as he leaned back with his legs spread. I could use one more glass, Credo rationalized as he poured another. Just as he was about to take a sip, a soft rap at his door caused him to reach for his sword on impulse, but eased when he saw Nero’s white head poke through.

‘Damn. Just like Nero to interrupt my plans of self-pity.’

“How’d you get in here?” Credo barked; Nero barely took into account how grumpy Credo was. Perhaps he was so used to Credo’s abrasive behavior, or was simply unaffected by it.

“Kyrie gave me the key.” Nero’s brow rose in amusement at Credo’s almost confused glare.

“You and my sister have been awfully close. Did you steal it off of her?” Credo sneered as he downed his glass. Nero leaned in the doorway, arms crossed.

“I just pointed out that she gave—me—the—key.” Nero reiterated, rolling his eyes. “You’re drinking this late, again huh?”

“Go away, Nero.” Credo grunted, not amused by Nero’s game of twenty-one questions. But the boy strode into the room regardless as an open act of invading his privacy.

‘Nero, be damned.’

Not anyone could be in this room. Kyrie wasn’t even allowed in here. What made Nero think he was more deserving? Credo sat back and reached for the glass grumpily.

“He has no sense of self-control, Credo. You know what happens to those who’re unruly, don’t you?’” The soft titter of Sanctus’ laughter echoed at the back of his mind. The hair on Credo’s neck stood on end. Sanctus could not get a hold of Nero. Credo felt ill at ease at the idea. He was sure Nero knew nothing of those “initiations” the Order did in secrecy. Credo wanted to keep it that way. He would protect Nero for as long as he could. Not that he really needed it, now that he was a capable fighter for the Order. In fact, perhaps he was one of the best. His attitude on the other hand…

“I spoke with his Holiness, today.” Credo let out tersely as Nero tumbled haphazardly into the divan. Credo watched him with furrowed brows as Nero’s muddied boots draped over one of the arms. Credo rubbed the bridge of his nose as he barreled on.

“About?” Nero dug a finger in his ear. Credo seemed affronted by the act.

“Your inability to cooperate with the Order, it seems.”

“Look, it’s not my fault those assholes have a problem with how I do things. It gets the freaking job done. Case closed.” Nero made hand gestures as if to wipe his hands of something, tossing his hair out from his face. Credo’s eyes narrowed before downing another glass.

“I get that you are doing all this to prove something. But, don’t be an idiot.” By the fifth cup, Credo could feel the velvety burn of the amber liquid coat his insides. He felt right where he needed to be, almost ready to ignore Nero’s presence.

“Gonna give me a taste of that?”

Credo had almost forgotten about Nero for a moment, swiveling slowly in his creaky wooden chair. Credo regarded Nero’s crouched sitting position on the couch. The boy was staring at him openly with that curious gaze of his.

Credo curled his lip. Just what was he looking at, anyway? Credo’s eyes wandered lazily over Nero’s facial features. He’d grown so much in these last two years alone. Nero had always been quite the pipsqueak in his younger years, constantly following the older male about. He’d been so taken to Credo as a child. It was borderline ridiculous how much time they’d spent together. In some ways Credo was like the brotherly figure Nero enjoyed looking up to. The boy made no secret about it. Credo never wanted to admit it, but Nero looking up to him was an experience he did not like at first. The same snot-nosed brat he’d encountered on those orphanage steps was no longer a boy. Nero was fast becoming a man. Unable to hold their gaze, the older man averted his eyes elsewhere.

“Aren’t you too young to be drinking this? Don’t ask again.” Credo chuffed.

“I’m not a little kid anymore, Credo.”Credo pausing at Nero’s intense gaze. The older man looked away again, the awkward silence filling the space between them. It was true that he was no longer a child. Credo also understood the rift between them was due to them being generations apart. He just didn’t understand teenagers nowadays. He wondered if he had been this moody and insufferable at that age.

Credo’s stomach coiled. His childhood had not been the best. Perhaps he had poor judgement in what kids were “up to” these days. Maybe he was just getting old.

“I suppose you aren’t.” Credo finally said as he reached for another glass atop the shelf, pouring the glass to the brim. Nero’s ears perked. Credo pretended he didn’t see that as he poured the glass. Surely there was a law out there somewhere he was breaking.

Story of my life, Credo thought sourly.

The soft shuffle of Nero’s leather-strapped boots behind Credo made his shoulders tense. Nero sat at the edge of the desk, plucking the glass from Credo’s hand, their fingers touching. Credo looked up slowly to watch Nero drink down the amber liquid, a trail of liquor dripping down his throat. Nero watched Credo reach for the snifter, stopping the older man from getting it. There was an almost teasing smile about that young face of his—Credo gave him a suspicious glance.

“Why are you here, anyway?” Credo asked. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t ask sooner.

Nero instantly seemed withdrawn, cocking his head to the side to shrug nonchalantly. “I don’t know, to be honest. I hoped you’d be here, so I came up.”

He came for him? Credo shifted in his chair, slightly guarded by Nero’s confession. Working for the order had kept Credo pre-occupied most days. There was a time when they hardly saw one another, both of them pre-occupying themselves with the swarms of demons occupying the outskirts of Fortuna City. His cheeks colored a bit, clearing his throat. It had been quite some time since they even sat in the same room together. To do so now was more uncomfortable than anything. He hardly recognized the young man sitting just a hair’s breadth away from him.

“I suppose I’m glad… you came.” Credo leaned back into the chair, placing his glass down.

“You do?” Nero sounded genuinely surprised, his cheeks tinged pink. Was that hope he’d seen? Credo decided not to look at his face. It was nothing to be excited about, honestly. He didn’t know why Nero had to act so… he didn’t know how to describe it, really.

“Well, I mean—“ Had that been uncertainty in the boy’s eyes? “Err… never mind.” Credo watched him do his trademark nose-scratch. He found himself a bit irritated.

Yes, it was definitely time for Nero to leave.

“It’s time for you to go.”

“Aw, c’mon Credo!” Nero’s head shot up, standing up to lean on the arm-rests to Credo’s chair, barring his way from escape. The older man let out a sound, curling his lip at Nero’s closeness. Credo gripped into the table. Something about this was wrong.

“You’re making me uncomfortable by just being here, so if you don’t mind—” Credo let out, clasping his hand over his mouth as soon as it left him. He had way too much to drink, deciding upon blaming the copious amounts of brandy he’d devoured for its effects. Nero’s eyes lowered as he moved closer until they inhaled each other’s exhales. Nero’s pink, parted lips were in Credo’s vision.

Wait a fucking minute. What is happening here, exactly?

“Credo, I—” Credo’s eyes widened, glued to his chair as Nero bit his lower lip. The sound of the door closing downstairs sent Credo rushing out of the chair. Nero gave a soft curse.

“Kyrie’s here.” Credo whispered out.

“Let her come, then?” Credo heard from behind him. The older man whipped around to stare at the boy, brows furrowed.

“You’re the one who said she never comes up here!” Nero whispered harshly, his cheeks red. The boy’s cheeks lit up brighter than a Christmas tree at Credo’s reprimanding glare.

“Yes, but—“ The hamster wheel in his mind was finally beginning to turn. This was probably the first time in a long time since he’d seen Nero embarrassed with himself. It still reminded him that Nero was still so very young. Way too young.

‘Too young for… stop it.’

The noises died away, both of them standing at the door as if they’d committed murder, uncertain as to why they were both hiding like mice in an attic.

What was Nero going to say back then had they not been interrupted? Later on the commander pondered on it but decided to let it go. Deep down, he didn’t want to know. It was just better if Nero did him a favor and kept his mouth shut. Another glass of brandy would help douse his brain free of whatever odd and guilty feeling he had about their little interaction.

He hoped, anyway.