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Dante's Little Apple Surprise

by Tatsurou

Chapter 11: The Race

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As Dante reached for the artifact, a voice halted him. "Wait!"

Dante paused. "Did...did Cerberus just say something other than Ball or Balls?"

"That neo-generator does not function properly," Cerberus warned. "If you hold it, it will drain away your soul...but in exchange, it will flood your body with demonic power. You must be careful when holding-"

Applejack swung her stetson, catching the sphere in it before putting it back on her head.

Dead silence greeted that. "Is the nature of her soul incompatible with the generator?" Nevan finally asked.

"It would appear so," Agni admitted.

"A fortuitous advantage," Rudra pointed out.

"Ball!" Cerberus agreed happily.

"Alright, I want answers!" Nevan snapped, rounding on Cerberus. "You've already demonstrated you can say more than Ball, so why do you keep saying it? It's weirding me out!"

Cerberus was silent for a time. "Do you remember being a child, Nevan?" When there was no response, Cerberus continued. "I didn't. I hadn't remembered that time for a long time. But when Applejack holds me in her hooves and swings me around her head...I remember that time. I feel what it was like to be a puppy again. Is it so wrong I want to embrace that?"

More silence greeted that. After a time, Dante reached into AJ's Stetson, pulled out the squeaky ball she had first distracted Cerberus with way back at the start of their journey together, and tossed it up lightly over Cerberus' three heads.

"Ball!" they shouted together, lunging for it.

Dante smirked. "Well then, let's get this ball to where it belongs before it figures out how to drink souls instead of eat them. Pretty sure, like me, it'd love the taste of a good Applejack."

"Excellent jest, Young Master!" Agni proclaimed as Dante raced out.

"Wondrous wordplay!" Rudra agreed.

Unnoticed to them, the Jester clung to the ceiling up above, looking rather freaked out. "Just what is that pony?" he asked in shock and a little fear.

"Balls!" Cerberus shouted out. Clutching protectively at his crotch, Jester warped away.


Racing back towards the bridge, the haywire generator seemed to call swarms of monsters in each room they passed through. At first, Dante was concerned about the time it would take to get through for fear the generator would start to drain Applejack, but somehow holding it greatly amplified the energy output she was able to generate through Artemis, Cerberus, and Nevan. He wasn't sure which was more impressive: Artemis generating a literal swarm of arrows that homed in on every vital point of every enemy in the area; Cerberus literally freezing the entire room solid, causing the monsters to shatter from the force of the cold; or the swarm of electrified bats summoned by Nevan eating the monsters.

"I hope she's not draining the generator to the point of being useless," Dante muttered after the last room clearing blast.

"Actually, the generator appears to be feeding off the destroyed monsters," Agni pointed out.

"A rather clever alternative!" Rudra affirmed.

"As long as it doesn't run out of power, that's fine," Dante grunted, continuing his race.

Returning to the bridge chamber, the orb flew forth from Applejack's hat to embed itself in its proper receptacle. The bridge then rotated, opening the new pathway.

"How you feeling, AJ?" Dante asked, glancing back at her.

She looked up at where the generator had flown, frowning. "No mo big boom..." she spouted.

Chuckling, Dante scratched her behind one ear. "Yeah, I liked the big booms too," he said soothingly. "But it's more fun when there's more of a challenge."

Smiling, Applejack picked up Nevan, strumming a few chords to get ready for a new battle.

The next chamber proved to be a spiral staircase heading deep into the Tower. Dante paused, though, since he sensed Nevan was concerned about something. "What?" he asked.

"The energies of the tower allow for a pocket space gate here," Nevan explained. "By that logic, there should be a portal to a boss chamber in this room."

"Wait, you mean like Jester used?" Dante asked, intrigued. "Doubt he'd face us again."

"Why?" Nevan, Agni, and Rudra asked curiously.

Grinning, AJ threw Cerberus as she had in that fight.

"Ballsballsballsballsballsballsballsballsballsballsballsballsballsballs!" Cerberus shouted as he spun through the air before returning to AJ's grip.

Agni and Rudra both winced, but Nevan laughed uproariously. Rolling his eyes, Dante descended the staircase.

At the bottom of the staircase, Dante found himself on a long bridge. Halfway across, a large swarm of monsters started to approach from the other side...and then a ghostly stallion bearing blue fire and dragging a chariot charged onto the bridge, smashing the monsters into nothingness. Dante braced himself, ready to play chicken with it...but as the stallion charged him, its eyes went wide and it swerved, the chariot smashing the bridge and causing them all to fall downwards to a massive arena.

To Dante's surprise, rather than having to brace himself for a hard fall, he landed safely on the back of the chariot, which somehow slowed its descent for a safe landing. Dante braced himself for a fight or any number of things, only to be surprised as the stallion turned to watch him with concerned eyes, the muzzle extending to sniff.

The events quickly made sense as Applejack reached out a hoof to pet the stallion, and he leaned forward to nuzzle her face.

"Geryon?" Agni asked in surprise.

"Is...is she yours?" Rudra asked, shocked.

The stallion merely continued nuzzling the filly. Applejack was plainly enjoying it, but she turned to Dante. "Pa?" she asked, plainly asking for an explanation.

Geryon visibly winced. Pulling back, he stared down at Applejack and took another deep sniff. Pain seemed to fill his eyes. Turning, he stared down Dante, as though demanding something.

Dante stared back into the demonic stallion's eyes. After a time, he nodded.

Geryon whinnied one last time, and his body collapsed in on itself. A strong blue flame infused itself into Dante.

"What...just happened?" Dante asked.

"That was Geryon," Nevan said softly. "He fought alongside Sparda in the war to seal the demon realm."

"He was once a mortal stallion," Agni spoke up, "with the power to speed up and slow down the flow of time in his immediate vicinity."

"He died, giving his life to protect his kin," Rudra continued.

"Sparda was touched at the nobility of his sacrifice, and asked the fallen soul if he would join him in his battle to protect the living from the damned," Agni added his part.

"Geryon agreed, after accepting a promise from Sparda that his family would be alright," Rudra elaborated.

"Sparda informed him that another fate had already marked his kin," Agni pointed out, "and Geryon was content to fight with Sparda as his battle steed."

"Geryon was the name Sparda gave him, though," Cerberus spoke up. "A strong name for a strong demonic steed. His name as written in the annals of the afterlife, though...was Gala."

Applejack nuzzled into Dante. Not sure what else to do, Dante saluted the slowly collapsing carriage, and carried Applejack out of the arena they had fallen into, continuing onward into the Tower.

Next Chapter: Confrontation Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours, 55 Minutes
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