Chapter 33 – Breaking Limits
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Across the plaza, Beta held his ground, shield raised and spear pointed threateningly in Cobalt's direction. The Incubus, though quaking from fear and adrenaline, did the same, fists clenched tight. Deep down the fire was flaring, and it was taking everything he had to keep a grip on it.

He vaguely remembered something that damned cat said to him. This bloodlust, this hunger... If he could somehow remain in control of it, then perhaps he could use it to his own ends. To hold the Devil off before help arrived. To protect rather than destroy.

To temper him into something stronger.

"Hellfire preserve me... Ocov et! Amra ilobaid!"

Plunging his arm into the rift formed by his magic, he conjured his iron chain into existence, wincing as he felt the rough metal clash off the bony spurs jutting from his hands. He wound it around his arm and faced Beta, readying himself for anything.

The Devil kept his stance, his blood-red eyes boring right into Cobalt. He carried none of the haughty confidence of Diate; just cold, steely determination. Lilith wasn't wrong about him being a cut above.

This man was clearly a professional.

"Last chance to down your arms," Beta called calmly, biting down on his cigar.

Cobalt flinched at his words, but held fast. Terrified as he was, he couldn't let that stop him. Not anymore. He already promised himself to be better back atop the mountain in Slomba; it was about time he held true to that conviction.

"No," he answered firmly, just about managing to keep his voice from quivering.

"Give up Omega and the Artillery, and I'll leave this town as is. I can promise you that."

Nothing about Beta's statement gave Cobalt reason to believe he was lying, but he still shook his head. No backing out now.

If he couldn't avoid bloodshed, then at the very least he could minimise it.

"Menidutitrof ihim ad! Orref!" the Incubus yelled, raising his free hand as metallic energy began to swirl around it.

Narrowing his eyes, Beta raised his shield and pierced the tip of his spear into the ground, anchoring him in place.

"Ollegalf!"

Dozens of strands of barbed wire sprayed from Cobalt's palms. They launched towards Beta with a high-pitched keening noise, fixing to shred him to bits. But the Devil was ready. With a calculated swing of his shield, he deflected the tangled mass, causing the wire to wrap around a nearby lamppost. As Cobalt struggled to dispel them, he pulled his spear from the earth and charged forth.

"Kid, look out!" Lilith cried, but her warnings came too late.

Closing the gap, he thrust the spear forward, slicing through the Incubus' jacket and leaving an angry wound in his side. Crying out in pain, Cobalt was barely given enough time to breathe as Beta slammed his shield into his chest, bowling him to the ground.

"I told you you'd be outmatched!"

"You think I don't know that?!" the Incubus hissed, scrambling to his feet before he found himself impaled on a Devil's spear again.

Barely dodging each of Beta's attacks, Cobalt grit his teeth and swung his chain in a downwards arc. It struck listlessly off the top of the Devil's helmet, doing nothing to deter his assault. He was relentless in his pursuit; constantly pushing the Incubus back in his effort to run him through.

Cobalt had to think of something and fast.

Gritting his teeth, he held out his free hand. Clenching every muscle in his arm, he briefly allowed his hold over the fire in his stomach to slip, sending a wave of heat searing through his veins. His blood vessels glowed brighter, his muscles writhed, and in a burst of super-heated blood, the teeth jutting from his flesh exploded forward, just as he had hoped.

Grunting in frustration, Beta was forced to raise his shield in order to avoid the spray of red and white, allowing Cobalt to raise his foot and kick the Devil back.

"What the Hell was that?!" Lilith cried in a confused voice.

Panting, the Incubus glanced down at his hand. It was bleeding heavily, but the wounds were already beginning to sear themselves shut.

"Same thing happened against Quinn... I think... I think I'm getting better at this..." he gasped, clenching his fist.

Another surge of heat, and a fresh array of teeth formed. Cobalt winced as his stomach suddenly protested, aching with a familiar hunger.

He was already running on fumes; he couldn't rely on this carnimancy.

"Civvie scum...!" Beta roared, slamming the butt of his spear into the ground.

As Cobalt recovered, a wave of ferromantic magic surged out from the Devil, sinking into the earth below. The ground began to shake before a water pipe suddenly burst through the cobbles, broken in two and spraying water everywhere. Cobalt hissed through his teeth as the rusted metal cut a gash through the side of his leg. With his blood running hot, the pain was blissfully dulled, but he couldn't afford to get careless. As more pipes burst through the churned-up ground, he danced this way and that, almost slipping on the broken cobbles a few times.

"Hah!"

Beta leaped forward in an attempt to take advantage of the Incubus' distraction. Swerving away from the spear point, Cobalt landed a few ineffectual punches against his shield before finally getting lucky and striking the Devil right in the chest. The teeth bit deep into his fatigues, but the cloth was thick, earning him only a few drops of blood for his efforts.

He didn't pay attention to Beta's shield until it connected with the side of his head. The hard iron struck Cobalt with such force that he was knocked completely off-kilter, his vision blurring and going double as a high-pitched whine filled his ears. Groaning in pain, the Incubus clutched his head and staggered back, trying not to fall in case he landed upon one of the uprooted pipes.

"Incubi... such pains in the ass to kill," Beta growled, stomping over to a truck left abandoned in the middle of the road.

Planting his boot on the rear bumper, he roared and kicked the entire thing toward Cobalt. Eyes widening, he could only raise his hands protectively as two and a half tonnes of steel barreled towards him. It smashed through the sections of piping and into Cobalt, cracking his ribs and carrying him forward towards the wall of a building. What few bystanders remained screamed and ducked out of the way as the truck screeched forward with the Incubus pinned to the bonnet.

Biting his tongue, Cobalt stuck his legs out, screaming as his feet were scraped against the ground. The soles of his shoes were torn out and his legs felt as though they were on fire, but somehow, he managed to slow the truck to a stop before it flattened him against the wall.

"How...?" Lilith murmured audibly.

The Incubus panted, gritting his teeth as he braced both hands against the vehicle. Despite the circumstances, the corner of his mouth curled upwards.

"Maybe I can..." he gasped, steeling himself.

Veins alight, Cobalt shoved the truck away with strength that surprised even him. It careened towards Beta, who merely smashed it aside with a swing of his shield. It crashed hard into a lamppost, its engine block crumpling as fuel began to leak.

Despite his burgeoning confidence, the Incubus' hunger pains grew steadily worse. If this fight didn't end soon, he was going to burn out.

"Hmph. This is the the power that slayed a Devil," commented Lilith, putting a dampener on his mood.

"Lilith, I don't wanna hear from you right now," Cobalt growled, raising his arms defensively as Beta advanced.

"I don't care. I thought what happened with the Imp girl was just a fluke, but this-"

"Lilith. Shut. Up."

With a yelled incantation and a swing of his arm, Beta sent a brace of magically-conjured iron flechettes screaming towards his opponent, which he countered by firing off another salvo of jagged teeth. Cobalt could feel it in his bones; he was finally starting to wrestle control of his body back from the infernal furnace burning deep within.

But that furnace was growing more and more pained, draining Cobalt's energy as his hunger intensified. His veins were gradually dimming, and his movements were growing sluggish.

He had to think of something...!

"Kid?"

"I'm thinking!" he cried urgently, avoiding another spray of metal projectiles.

What was it that Alison told him? The rapid healing, the increased strength, the sudden growth of new teeth... it all came from his stomach, right? She likened it to a nuclear reactor, and reactors needed fuel to operate.

Eyes wide, Cobalt glanced down at his arm. His sleeves had been torn open during the fight, exposing the scars on his forearm; jagged teeth marks, left over from his conflict with Quinn during her outburst.

"Like a reactor..." he murmured, ignoring Lilith's confused questions.

Just as before, he opened his mouth wide and bite down hard on his arm. His skin offered some resistance, but with a little increase in pressure, the Incubus's sharp teeth pierced his flesh and drew blood.

He had tasted his own blood in his mouth plenty of times at this point, but this... this was different. It was salty and sweet, hot and rich, delicious in every measure possible. It coursed down his throat, growing hotter and hotter as his hunger was satiated. Steam began to flow from his nostrils, mouth and open wounds as he drank, feeling a rush of euphoria as red petals danced at the edges of his vision.

But it wasn't enough. The hunger was gone, but some dark, carnal desire ignited deep within Cobalt, urging him to bite harder. His teeth were begging him to clamp down, his tongue was rejoicing in bliss, and all around him the tension of the fight was all but forgotten.

Deep down, something shuddered and cracked within him as Cobalt tore a chunk of his arm clean off.

Skin, fat and muscle stripped right off the bone, spraying boiling blood everywhere as he greedily chewed. Before he could stop himself, he swallowed the carnal mass whole. Lilith was screaming in outrage, but her words were drowned out.

In that single moment, a rush of satisfaction washed over Cobalt. He felt no pain, only growing euphoria as he reached criticality.

"GYEEEAAAHAHAHAHA~!"

That which he devoured was digested in an instant, kicking the Incubus into overdrive. Wounds knitted and cells repaired, cauterised in an instant by the intense heat coming from within. Muscle fibres reformed and grew denser. Blood vessels reconnected and swelled with scorching vigour. The malformed teeth jutting from his hands ejected, only to be replaced with a fresh array.

Sharp, jagged teeth grew from his hands and his forearms like scales, forming ivory gauntlets. Baring a reddened smile, Cobalt stared down at them, clenching his fists and clashing the jutting fangs against one another.

"I can beat him...!" he gasped with a smile.

He had no time to ponder what was happening. No time to let the disgust set in.

As red rose petals gathered at his feet, Cobalt turned his gaze onto Beta. He stood unbowed before the Incubus; shield raised, spear at the ready.

"Lilith, I can beat him!"

"Kid, you're not thinking straight!"

He shook his head.

"That doesn't matter! I can finally...!"

Wasting no more time, the Incubus ran full-pelt towards the Devil, feeling a surge of confidence as he sidestepped more water pipes that vainly attempted to impale him. He kicked off a pile of rubble, and with his wings spread wide, sailed directly into Beta with an outstretched fist.

The force of impact was enough to force the Devil back a few inches, but with a layer of bone protecting his hands, Cobalt felt nothing but the jarring recoil. Spurred on by his frenzy, he grabbed the edge of the iron shield and began to punch it over and over, his grin growing wider with every strike. The toughened metal held fast against the first few strikes, but as the pointed fangs bit into it again and again, the shield gradually began to buckle and crack.

"Son of a bitch!" Beta roared, bashing the shield against his head.

Cobalt didn't flinch even as the iron shattered against his skull. As Beta gripped his spear in both hands and prepared for one last stand, he raised both fists and went all out.

For every wound the spear left on Cobalt's body, the Incubus got twice as many hits in on the Devil. His padded fatigues were ripped and torn to shreds, and before long, blood was flowing freely from both parties. Rose petals swirled through the air all around them, and with a mighty battle cry, Cobalt swung both of his fists downwards, snapping the iron haft of Beta's spear clean in two. Before he could recover, he hit him with a haymaker, feeling bones crumple and crack through his protective carapace of sharpened teeth.

Covered in a spray of Devil's blood, the Incubus brought Beta to his knees, mercilessly beating him until his grey skin was stained a deep red. His helmet was cracked open, his uniform was shredded, and with one final roar, the Incubus booted him in the chest, launching him into the wreck of the truck.

"Gah! Ha... heh...!" choked Cobalt, staggering down onto one knee.

He was shaking all over, but it wasn't from fear anymore. Swallowing hard, he looked at his tooth-scaled hands, hearing them click and chatter with every movement he made.

"I did it..." the Incubus gasped, wincing as the pain slowly returned.

"...that you did..." Lilith responded, though she sounded much less enthused.

He looked up at Beta. He was lying motionless against the totaled vehicle, though he was still breathing. All around the plaza, demons were climbing out from their hiding spots, gazing open-mouthed at the victorious Incubus. Some were recording on their phones.

"...you gonna kill him, kid?" the Devil asked quietly.

The burning in his gut urged him to do so. But Cobalt kept the reigns on it, dampening it's fires as he shook his head.

"No. No killing, like I said... I'm gonna ask a few questions, though," he panted, staggering over to Beta.

The Devil looked up as he approached, still smoking the burnt-down cigar. One of his arms was bent at an erratic angle and he was bleeding heavily, but he was showing no signs of being in pain. The front of his fatuiges were tore open, reveal a large brand seared into his chest. A beta symbol.

"Get it over with, civvie," Beta spat, narrowing his eyes.

Cobalt hunkered down.

"No. Just wanna ask you something."

"I'm not telling you shit."

Cobalt furrowed his brow, his anger sparked by the Devil's defiance. No, he was getting answers one way or another. Even if that way was considered unsavoury.

"Oitanimod. Oge oebui et eretcelfuneg. Edualc idua em!"

He pointed at the Devil. Dark psychomantic energy formed a pulsing black collar around his throat, linked by an ethereal chain to Cobalt's finger. As the dark magic flowed around him like a shawl, the Incubus' gaze darkened. My Will Be Done. A despicable, sickening spell; one he couldn't remember ever learning in the first place.

But useful nonetheless.

"Beta, your will is mine. You will do what I say, when I say it, and you will like it. I will ask what I want of you, and you shall answer me," he commanded.

The Devil thrashed about as the magical fetter tightened. He was somehow resisting it; a testament to the man's willpower.

"Who are you? Who sent you?"

Beta forced a grin. A few of his teeth looked about ready to fall out.

"D- Designation; Beta. Second-in-command of the Alpha Corps, here on Alpha's orders," he guttered.

"Alpha... Corps?"

"Best of the best. Defenders of Pandemonium to the end. Angel slayers. Incubus slayers too, when pressed," Beta added, practically spitting out that last part.

He grunted in pain as blood spurted from his wounds, mixing with the gasoline spilling from the truck wreck. The magic began to weaken.

"Under orders to retrieve the prototype. Omega too, if it can be helped."

Cobalt furrowed his brow. He remembered Lilith briefly mentioning serving as a soldier.

"This 'Alpha Corps'... That's the name of Lilith's unit?" he asked.

Beta raised an eyebrow.

"So that's what she's calling herself? Heh. Omega's in a class of her own. She's a killer of the highest calibre. Makes sense why she'd contract an Incubus."

"You fucker...!" Lilith hissed.

Grinning, Beta fixed Cobalt with a deadly glare. The magical collar began to crumble, unable to completely break Beta's will.

"T- That's all you're getting from me, civvie! Glory to Pandemonium; may she live on!"

The Incubus' ears twitched as he heard the sound of a flame igniting. He looked down to see a lit match in the Devil's hand.

"KID, GET BACK!"

Beta pushed the flame down into the puddle of fuel that had formed all around him. In an instant, he was engulfed in flames, laughing as Cobalt staggered back. As the fire surged into the wreck of the truck, the fuel tanks ruptured and the entire thing violently exploded. The shockwave threw the Incubus onto his back as scraps of burning metal were scattered all over the plaza.

The stench of smoke and burnt flesh filled the air as sirens wailed in the distance. He could hear the pounding of feet and frantic voices as nearby demons grabbed his tooth-laden arms and pulled him to safety.

"He..." murmured Cobalt, feeling dazed and drained of energy as he was propped up against a wall.

People were clustering all around him, asking him questions and tearfully thanking him. Police officers were arriving on the scene, and some were already cordoning off the blast site. The entire plaza was in ruins.

"Beta was always the kind to take death over disgrace. That fucking idiot..." Lilith sighed, sounding upset.

Cobalt leaned his head against the wall, feeling a pang of guilt deep down. The threat was dealt with, but not in the way he had hoped.

As an ambulance rolled into the plaza, he took a deep breath.

"...Get it together, Trayer..." he told himself, shutting his eyes.

 

-----

 

"Panic and terror on the streets of Brimstone tonight as a Devil suddenly attacked the town. That's right, for the second time in just a few scant months, a so called 'higher-born' demon has terrorised the central Aporuean town, injuring several civilians and officers of the law. Thankfully nobody has been reported dead at this time, though many are still in critical condition."

As the new played on the TV in the hospital room, Cobalt sat on the edge of his bed, staring at his bare arms. It had taken the doctors over an hour to pull all the teeth from his flesh, and the process wasn't particularly pleasant for either them or him. Not only that, but one arm was swathed in thick bandages, where he had torn his own flesh out with his teeth. The majority of it had regrown, but his skin was still torn open.

Any wounds he gave himself didn't seem to heal as quick. It was worrying, but thankfully the doctors had disinfected, stitched and bound it well.

"The situation would have likely escalated had it not been for the actions of one unlikely hero. Just as before, the Incubus known as Cobalt Trayer leaped to the town's defense, beating the Devil at its own violent game and saving the lives of potentially hundreds more victims. The following footage was captured on a bystander's phone; viewer discretion is advised," the TV continued.

Glancing up, Cobalt watched as he was presented with a video of the fight. He saw himself manically bite into into his own arm, before sprouting gauntlets of sharp teeth and blasting red steam everywhere. From an outsider's perspective, he looked veritably insane.

As the footage rolled on, the newscaster kept speaking.

"While the violence was horrifying to all, witnesses are nonetheless thankful for Trayer's intervention. After his triumph over the Devil known as Diate, many have reported viewing the unassuming schoolteacher as something of hero, citing that-"

Cobalt shut off the TV. He couldn't listen to this.

Leaning back, he shut his eyes and sighed. He felt conflicted, and it was playing havoc with his head. One the one hand, another Devil lay dead because of his actions. Aggressor or no, Cobalt had no desire to end anyone's life, and that worm of guilt was slowly gnawing at him from the inside out.

On the other hand, he felt... stronger. Like he stood a fighting chance for once. The changes that had been ravaging him for weeks; they could be controlled. With enough willpower and focus, he could potentially use them to his advantage. To protect others, rather than hurt them.

That's...

That's what his father would have done, right...?

When he opened his eyes, he saw Lilith brooding over by the window, her arms folded as she stared outside. Her brow was furrowed, and she looked upset.

"Told you to run," she murmured.

"You were the one who hijacked my body in order to take him on," Cobalt retorted, in no mood for her nonsense.

"Because I thought I could smack some sense into him at first. But Beta is... was... always a leadheaded fool."

She buried her face in her hands.

"Fuck..."

"Lilith?"

"Don't deny me the right to mourn, okay?! I know he was gonna kill you; Hell, I know that more than anyone! But-!"

She took a deep breath.

"...He was my friend. Once."

Cobalt peered down at the floor, the feeling of guilt growing stronger.

"I'm sorry for your loss," he said after a few moments of silence between them.

The Devil sighed again.

"Don't be. He was a soldier, and soldiers die. I just wish it was for something worth dying for," she said, pacing back and forth.

Cobalt cocked his head.

"The Alpha Corps were founded for one reason; to protect Pandemonium. But it's gone, and yet they're still fighting for it. They're fighting for a dead dream, and I don't know why," she muttered, more to herself than to him.

"You said yourself it was a paradise," Cobalt said.

"I know. But it was a paradise we hoarded, one we denied to the lower demons. And we were punished for it. Pandemonium... isn't something that can ever be brought back. And I'm the only one who sees that."

She scoffed.

"Fitting for a destroyer, I suppose. With nothing left to break, all I can do is shit on my ex-comrade's dreams..." she added, staring at her boots.

"Destroyer...?" the Incubus asked.

With a heavy sigh, Lilith opened up her spectral military coat. Undoing the first few buttons of her uniform, it too was pulled open, much to Cobalt's alarm. Though initially shocked, his attention was quickly grabbed by something unexpected.

There, branded onto Lilith's chest, was a symbol much like Beta's. To a layman it almost looked like a horseshoe, but Cobalt recognised it for what it was; an omega symbol.

"The Alpha Corps was kept small, but it's members were the elite among the elite. We shed our names and we were granted new ones, alongside a brand, a designation and a field of expertise. Beta was a master tactician trained to take over for our leader on the battlefield," she explained, buttoning back up.

"What was yours?" Cobalt asked, almost afraid to.

"Aside from leading them into battle in the first place?"

"Y- Yes."

The Devil took another deep breath. She sounded... regretful.

"...Destruction, plain and simple. That's what I was good it. It's what I was trained to do. Me, a demon of Creation, taught to lay waste to the world I was raised to protect. Salted earth, assured annihilation, shows of overwhelming force... zero survivors permitted."

Cobalt's eyes widened at her words. He knew Lilith well enough at this point to see her as cold and arrogant, but after their conversation in the Sunmos monastery, he had begun to see a different side of her. But this... he had no idea.

"Lilith, I-" he began.

"Out of the twenty-four members of the Alpha Corps, only a quarter of us survived the Rapture. Aside from myself and Beta, that leaves four. One is in indefinite lock-up, and the other... I can't imagine dirtying his hands for the likes of me," she spat, clenching her fists.

The Incubus thought it wise not to ask. He could practically feel the resentment radiating off her.

"So if Beta was here, then realistically the other two will be coming for us as well. An expert in shock and awe, and an assassin specialising in long-range assaults. Fuck... I was really hoping I'd have more time before they caught on... and if he gave the others any special toys like Beta, then... shit..."

Cobalt frowned. The thought of more Devils showing up did not make him feel any better.

"...sorry about the shit I yelled at you. It's just... this is a high-stakes game you're in, kid. And I can't afford to lose."

He nodded solemnly, not knowing what to say.

"I'll think of something. In the meantime... I dunno. Work on yourself a little, I suppose."

Without awaiting a response, she melted back into Cobalt's body, leaving him alone in the hospital room. A scant few minutes passed before heard a knock on the door, however, denying him the chance to reflect.

"Mr. Trayer? Are you up?" called a familiar voice.

"Y- Yes, come in," Cobalt responded, still a little startled.

The door opened, briefly revealing the chaos of the hospital hallways as a stout Glutton doctor stepped in, holding a polystyrene box and a clipboard. Shutting the door behind him, he set the box down on the bedside table and adjusted his glasses.

"Doc Elliott!" the Incubus piped, relieved to see a familiar face.

Looking rather exhausted, his doctor smiled.

"Good to see you doing okay. How are you feeling?"

"I'm alright. Um, all things considered."

He inadvertently scratched at his bandages, earning a sigh from Doctor Elliott.

"Yes, well, that's what I wanted to speak with you about."

That piqued Cobalt's interest. He sat up in the bed.

"After wrestling with the mayor's office and cutting through more red tape than I'd like to admit, I managed to crack open a few old medical files from twenty years ago. Ones pertaining to a certain Incubus patient of this hospital," he explained, flipping through the board in his hands.

"...Brass...?"

"The one and only. I've cross-referenced some of his results with the various samples and test results we got from you and, well..."

He sighed and looked up.

"Cobalt, have you had any trouble eating lately?" he asked bluntly.

The Incubus froze, unsure of what to say. Noting the look on his face, Doctor Elliot nodded and pointed to the box, gesturing for Cobalt to open it. Inside was a fresh meal from the hospital canteen; chicken cutlets, and a lot of them.

"You'd best eat while I explain. You've expended a lot of energy," he urged.

"I- I appreciate it, but meat isn't really my-"

"Please. I insist."

Frowning, Cobalt nodded and popped one of the cutlets into his mouth. He expected it to be little more than bland poultry, but as soon as he took the first bite, he found it to be anything but. Like his olfactory system had intensified, he was almost staggered by the sudden onrush of flavours, scents and textures, spurring him to begin eating with reckless abandon.

"Something similar was reported in your father. He found foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables to become steadily more unpalatable as time progressed, all the while his affinity for animal products like meat, fish and dairy increased almost tenfold."

Cobalt paused for a moment, his mouth stuffed with chicken. So tasting ash every time he tried to enjoy his favourite sandwiches and salads... that happened to his father too?

"In short, I would recommend you increase your consumption of these foods, and not by a little either. Considering your abnormal rate of regeneration, your body is gonna require a lot more protein and calcium required to repair any damage it sustains. As for anything not derived from an animal...

Doctor Elliot sighed.

"...It pains me to say this to a patient, but you're a special case. You're going to have to cut them out of your diet entirely."

"What?!" Cobalt cried, almost spitting out his food.

Another knock on the door. It opened as a nurse stepped in, quietly excusing herself as she went about tidying the room.

"I'm serious. In time, your body will simply cease digesting these foods altogether. If you keep trying to eat them, then they could rot inside you and potentially cause infections, not to mention a great deal of gastric distress. It's not worth the risk, Cobalt."

"But vitamins and minerals! Fibre too! What about-?"

Doctor Elliott rose his hand, cutting him off with a sigh.

"I... don't know. The body of an Incubus is still a thing of mystery, yours most of all. I don't know if it gains those nutrients from other sources or if it produces them itself, but all I can say is-"

The Glutton stopped talking as the nurse caught his attention. Raising an eyebrow, Cobalt turned to look at her too. Her back was turned to them both as she changed the hand sanitiser dispenser over by a wall-mounted sink.

There was a bird sitting on her head, nesting quite comfortably in the centre of a grey horn that circumnavigated the diameter of her skull. It was a pigeon, and one of its wings was in a cast.

"Nurse? Care to explain why you've brought a wild animal into the hospital?" Doctor Elliott asked sternly, planting his hands on his hips.

She turned around, revealing herself to them both.

Cobalt went pale.

"Columba is not a wild animal, doctor. She is a respected colleague of mine, and has personally been granted a writ of protection by my patient," Elya Yalfre explained calmly, pushing her steel-rimmed spectacles up her nose as she pointed at Cobalt.

"Wh- Who are you?! When did you start working here?" Elliott cried, flinching at her piercing gaze.

"I am a school nurse employed at the Brimstone Institute of Demonics, and Mr. Trayer here is my star patient. I have as much right to be here as you."

She turned her gaze onto Cobalt, protectively held the sheets up in front of him. Atop her head, the pigeon - whom Elya had named Columba for some reason - stared at him with equal intensity.

"I must ensure that you are adequately taking care of his... needs..." the Fallen panted, licking her lips threateningly.

"Now you listen here, young lady! I understand you seem to be passionate about the medical field, and while I admire such traits, I cannot condone this! For one, bringing a pigeon into a sterilised environment!"

"I bathed Columba myself, doctor. And it is both my right as Mr. Trayer's caregiver and the future bearer of his children to be here."

"The bearer of his what?!"

"I need not repeat myself, doctor."

"Y- You can be serious! The violations of the doctor's code of ethics alone are-!"

Leaving the pair of medical professionals to their vocational debate, Cobalt quietly slipped out of the room and into the hall, taking care not to bump into anyone as they rushed past. The entire hospital had been kicked into high gear with the sudden influx of patients left in the wake of Beta's attack.

Like Magnus. Cobalt was relieved to hear that the Oni survived, but from what snippets he overhead from bustling nurses, the outlook for him was not good. Those bullets had torn up his insides something terrible.

Shaking those thoughts from his head, the Incubus turned a corner in the hallway, and walked up to a public phone mounted to the wall. He felt strange looking at it. The last time he used one was when he tricked Jelli's stepbrother into returning to Hell to see his family.

He still felt a little guilty for doing that.

With a sigh, Cobalt lifted the receiver and began to dial a number. He remembered it well.

It had been scored right into his chest, after all.

"Hm? Who the fuck's this?" answered the surly voice of Izzbelle Suyas, clearly irritated by the unknown number.

"Hey, Izzbelle, I-!"

"FUCKIN' HELL, DUMBASS; WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY IT WAS YOU?!" the Oni roared, damn near deafening the poor Incubus.

Holding the phone away from his ear, he smiled a little. They must have been worried.

"S- Sorry, I was a little-"

"HEY, MORONS! GET OVER HERE, IT'S HIM! YOU TOO, JELLI!"

Again, Cobalt was treated to an absolute cacophony as half a dozen voices suddenly began to clamour at him all at once. He could hear Karazelle trying to tell himself something as Whitney and Quinn asked if he was okay. Lottie appeared to just be trying to say hi, and Jelli was sobbing to herself in the background. Eventually, Izzbelle managed to shut them all up with another yell.

"I- It's good to hear from you all. I'm doing fine and I'll be back soon, I promise."

"'Fine?!' You just killed another fuckin' Devil!"

He swallowed hard.

"Well, um, let's just put a pin in that, okay? Izzbelle, I have something I need to ask you."

"Huh? What?"

"Is that offer to go to the gym with you still open?"

He heard a short, sharp gasp, followed by the sound of Quinn giggling, which was in turn followed by the sound of the Imp getting painfully elbowed in the ribs.

"Uh, y- yeah, sure. Why, what's up?" asked the Oni, sounding like she had been caught off-guard.

Cobalt took a deep breath.

"I want you to teach me how to fight."

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