Pain. It filled him. Overwhelming pain. It defined his existence. The world spun and heaved around him. He fought to remember where he was. Magincia. Who he was. Durante. The acrid stench of burning pitch, the remnants of the immolated manor stung his nose and clogged his lungs with soot. Pain. Punishment. Perdition. He curled his fingers, attempting to stir life into the long, bruised digits, his fingertips scraping a thousand pieces of shattered glass. They bit up and bled his flesh of life, numbing him. Must get up. He inhaled, fire swelling through his breast. His ribs were broken. Must not remain here. He pressed his palms into the floor, a shard of bloodstained glass slicing painlessly into the flesh and meat of his palm. Is this Hell? He ignored it, the muscles in his arms swelling, heaving, shifting the collapsed beam off his shoulders. It was. Dante attempted to call up the memories, what happened. How. Every inch of his body screamed in violent agony, blood flowing from a thousand small wounds, his flesh burned and bruised. It had been the Carnivale di Maginus, he remembered, the Festival of Masks, when men and women, the poor and the aristocrat, adorn and disguised themselves beneath their riches. The one night when the pauper, the peddler and the patrician became one, equals, and the shameful became shameless. When girls danced through the streets wearing their porcelain facades and little more, when men drank and sang themselves comatose. It was the night the fool became Prince, and was praised above all others. Orgies would be held in the aristocrats houses, and drunken revelers would dance naked in the streets. It was in the bazaar, amongst the tapestried stalls and the merchants hawking masks and sugared treats, that he had met his betrothed, Helena Castor. He recognized her golden hair, unmistakable behind the disguise of gold and white feathers. But tonight he was not Dante, and she was not his fiance. Tonight he was the Devil, and she, the Angel he would see fall. He had drank from the horn she provided him, feeling the ambrosia slip down his throat, and the two made love. He had taken her behind the tavern, and again in the Temple of Pride, and a third time upon the white sands of the Magincian coast. He had noticed the glow upon the hill, but had thought it part of the festivities, a bonfire perhaps. He had heard the first scream in the distance, but had laughed as removed his mask and nuzzled her throat, assuming it to be some punk leaping out of the shadows to scare frightened girls. But then there was another. And a shout. The terrified wail of a woman who had beheld something truly wicked, truly horrible. And that is when a hush fell across the Isle of Pride. As if on queue, the warning trumpets blasted. And that could only mean one thing: invasion. And only one nation was interested in invading them, Britannia. The people began to scream and run. Pandemonium erupted in the streets. People searched for the first signs of attack. But it wasn't the Britannians, they would soon find out. No, it was something much worse. The daemonhost, a grotesque horde of mutated and gibbering aberrations spilled out of the woodlands and into the city. No one had been prepared. No one prepares to fight a demon. For the rational, logical Magincian, demons were no different than other creatures, something that could be bound, tamed and controlled. They were not the dark, vile creatures of scripture, nor the aberrant souls of superstition. The enlightened, rational man had nothing to fear, they told themselves. And how wrong they were. Drunken, and engaged in their feasts and orgies, the magistrates and magi that ruled the Isle had ignored the warnings until Hell was raining down upon them. The guards, fat and bloated in their excess, were torn apart like wet paper by the claws of these daemonic fiends. The Magincian Invasion had begun. Dante had grabbed Helena by the hand, leading her through the streets, fighting their way through the pandemonium and to the mansion he and his family called home. He locked and barred the double doors behind him, reaching for the ceremonial saber on the wall. “Peter and Marguerite are upstairs,” he told her. “You can take the back entrance to the sea. Get them, and get out of here.” She nodded, and approached him, planting a kiss on his lips. She lingered there for a moment, her lips soft against hers. Had he known, he would have lingered longer. Helena broke the kiss and turned, rushing towards the stairs. Dante looked towards the window, as a shadow fell across it. He could hear screaming outside. He could see something falling towards the house. Falling towards the part of the stair Helena was climbing. A feeling of horror gripped heart, and silence fell over the world. “NO!” He screamed, rushing towards her. But it was too late. The beams holding the roof collapsed under the weight of the beast, the sandstone walls crumbling inwards, as the whole house came down around them. He coughed, hard, attempting to clear his throat of the soot. There was no telling how long he had been there. Flames licked the beams of the collapsed mansion. Magincia was burning. The mansion was a gutted ruin. He coughed again, and tasted blood in his mouth. The flesh of his shoulder burned and bubbled, an evil red welt where flames had licked his flesh. Those violet eyes searched the ruin of the mansion for a sign, anything. “Helena!” he coughed out, as he pushed himself weakly to his feet. He used the ceremonial sword as a cane, as he searched the rubble. Golden hair stood out from the rubble. He could feel his heart beat in his chest, going light headed, weightless as the adrenaline rushed through him. The Prince dropped the sword and rushed to the pile, lifting the beams, digging her out. “Hold on!” he commanded, “Hold on, I'm here...!” He lifted the last beam, hurling it away. Kneeling, the young man grasped her shoulders, and rolled her onto his knees. A pair of blue, lifeless eyes stared up at him. Her flesh was pale, and unblemished, save for a bit of soot that smudged her cheek. Those red lips had turned a pale pink. She was limp, unmoving. Dante stared at her for a moment, his lips parting as he touched hers with a finger. His heart beat in his chest. It was as if the world ground to a halt. The sounds of battle, the faint tap raindrops upon the stone, the last flickering flames and the scent of smoke. Gone. And that is when something broke inside him. He bit back laughter. “You're alive,” he breathed, as he ripped open the front of her blouse. “You're alive!” He laughed, as he pressed his palms against her sternum, and pushed. A madness took him. “You're going to be alright.” He began to pump, attempting to stir her heart. “You and I are going to be together.” He pumped harder, feeling her ribs crack under the pressure. “You and I are going to move to the mainland.” He leaned down, opening her mouth, and breathed into it. “We're going to start our family,” he laughed, as tears flowed down his eyes, as he leaned up, and began to pump again. “What do you think? Two kids? Three...?” He laughed, a madness gripping him even as the tears welled up in his eyes and blinded his vision. He could feet the cold, swollen drops of the new rain begin to beat on his shoulders. “And Peter and Marguerite will join us. And we'll leave this all behind, I promise.” The Magincian reached down, grasping her shoulders, rolling up around her, bringing her head to his chest. “It's all going to be perfect, I promise...” But Helena was no longer there. She was in the rain. And that's the night Dante died, and someone else took his place.