The Devil You Know...
Writer : Jamie Delano
Art : Richard Piers Rayner
Art : Mark Buckingham
Cover Artist : Dave McKean
: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters : Todd Klein
: Art Young
: Karen Berger
Issue Synopsis : It's a dark day in the Inferno for Nergal - despite their shared blood, John Constantine remains hidden from his gaze, and if he cannot find the errant magus soon he will have to answer for his failure. Then he has an idea, a last chance to force Constantine out of hiding...
The subject of Nergal's search lies asleep in a small caravan on the Casanova Car Breakers' lot. Surrounded by masking sigils and protective spells, Constantine has spent a week trying to formulate some kind of plan to defeat Nergal, but all of his friends are dead or in hiding, and his research has turned up nothing but dead-ends. Now the only respite he can find from his fear is in sleep, but even that is to be disturbed by a strange sensation that steals across his face and under his skin. Waking with a jolt Constantine lights a candle and looks in the mirror, and is horrified to see that his skin is bubbling and blistered, his face covered with hundreds of swellings and pustules. With John's body hidden by magic, Nergal's playing his last card, using the demon blood in Constantine's veins to warp his body, but as John points out it's bad psychology - nobody would want to leave the house looking like a leper!
With his nerves on edge, Constantine decides that a medicinal cigarette is in order. He reaches into his trenchcoat but instead of the cigarettes he expects, he finds an old gas bill that he'd absent-mindedly picked up before fleeing his old flat in Paddington. He opens it up to show that he somehow owes British Gas over twenty thousand pounds! His confusion becomes even greater when he reads the message that has been typed onto his bill: "Constantine you treacherous bastard, I can get into your bank account too. Phone this number - pronto. R.S.". Realising that Ritchie Simpson is somehow still alive in the computer reality, Constantine runs to the phone and calls the number on the bill.
He's immediately put through to Ritchie, who floats around in the strange mathematical construct of the computer reality. Ritchie complains that John left him all alone and John is forces to explain why - after Ritchie got too close to Heaven, his body spontaneously combusted. Ritchie begs John to get him out of there, explaining that he's got everything planned - all John has to do is tell Ritchie where he is, and the computer magus will send over some specialist computer equipment that will allow John to join him...
Nergal continues to look into the living world for Constantine and still he cannot find the mystic. His situation becomes even more dire when Agony and Ecstacy, slave twins of the Inquisition appear. They deliver a message from Hell's ruling triumverate of Lucifer, Beelzebub and Belial who demand Constantine's soul by dawn.
The sun rises on an unusually excitable Constantine as he signs for the computer equipment that Ritchie arranged for him. John sets up the equipment as per Ritchie's instructions and is soon in contact with the trapped hacker. Ritchie says that now the computer is up and running, all he needs is for John to find him a new body. John notes the dodgy ethics of the situation, but says that he needs to talk to Ritchie in person before they can arrange anything. Ritchie shows John how to project his consciousness into the computer reality and soon the pair are face-to-face. John explains that he needs Ritchie's help to destroy Nergal and in return he'll find him a vacant body. Ritchie points out that he doesn't really have much choice...
In Hell, Agony and Ecstacy have returned to claim Nergal. They say that Constantine has defeated Hell three times (Destroying the UK soul market, killing Ironfish and escaping Nergal), and so has won his freedom and Nergal must take his torture. Typical Constantine luck though; just as Agony and Ecstacy wrap their barbs around his body, John's voice echoes from the ether, goading Nergal into confronting him in Newcastle. Agony and Ecstacy agree to a stay of punshment until the contest is over.
Nergal wraps himself in his physical form and teleports into the Casanova Car Breakers. He smashes through the window of the caravan and just as he is about to tear off John's head, he senses something strange - the soul that inhabits John's body is not his own, but Ritchie's! Nergal demands to know where Constantine is, and a familiar voice calls from the PC, demanding that the demon join him in the computer reality. As John mocks Nergal's technophobia, Ritchie connects the demon up to the PC and explains how to download his consciousness.
John's taunts end abruptly as Nergal's spirit form rips its way into the matrix. John flees, watched on the monitor by Ritchie. It seems that they're now playing a high-tech and extremely dangerous version of Pac-Man, with John running down a series of three-dimensional pathways to escape the demon. As he's correctly surmised, Nergal may have unlimited knowledge of arcane practices, but he knows nothing at all about technology. Neither does John, of course, but he's got Ritchie on his side. All he needs to do is follow the red paths and let Ritchie take care of the rest - sending Nergal down alternate paths and dead alleys. Finally, John sees a glow ahead of him and runs straight into it. At the same time, Ritchie drops Nergal through a "trapdoor". As John clings onto some strage glowing clouds, Nergal realises where they are - the edge of Heaven! Nergal slips and falls closer to paradise as a dozen angry angels grab hold of him and begin to tear him apart. Nergal pleased for his life, but it is no good - the angels rip him to shreds. With Nergal finally dead, John flings himself away from Heaven and begins to seek out his body - only to discover the exits are all shut off!
John asks whether Nergal's body burned up like Ritchie's, and he explains that he detached it before the demon reached Heaven. John asks him what he's talking about, and Ritchie says that he's taking command of John's body, and Constantine is getting evicted. John bluffs and says that Ritchie can have the body - it's almost useless anyway. Ritchie asks him what he's talking about, and John explains that his body is dying and that he has three days at the most. Ritchie feels the boils on John's face and realises that there really is something wrong with the body. John suggests that Ritchie use Nergal's body instead, and Ritchie connects a second set of wires to the demon's corpse. One switch later, and John's back in his own body, whilst Ritchie is getting used to Nergal's. Ritchie begins to panic as Nergal's body oozes a white liquid. It becomes clear that a human soul is not enough to sustain a demon's body, and it quickly begins to fall apart and decay. But from Nergal's broken clay rises a new Ritchie Simpson, a being formed of electricity and mathematics.
John realises that he's leaped straight out of the frying pan and into the fire as Ritchie steps out of the caravan and waxes lyrical about the powers and possiblities open to him. Luckily for Constantine - and possibly the world - the ground takes this opportunity to explode, sending the magus flying. Agony and Ecstacy emerge from the fire to tell Constantine of his victory; he has won by Hell's rules of engagement, and as such he is free to go. Ritchie gets up to leave as well, but quickly finds himself bound by the twins' barbs. They tell him that he cannot walk the world as a demon until he has completed his training: ten thousand years in Hell discovering the true meanings of Agony and Ecstacy.
With Ritchie gone and Nergal destroyed, Constantine finally has time to catch breath. Now that Newcastle is behind him and Astra's death is avenged, years of guilt have slipped from his shoulders. He stands in the dawn of tomorrow, so blinded by the brightness of the future that he doesn't notice the red clouds rolling in behind him...
Issue synopsis written by James Wilkinson