Heathens

Apollo and Dion, a dysfunctional rag-tag pair of demon hunters have been sent to investigate the city of Havenbrook and its inhabitants.

The mission is simple: to find the cultists responsible for a recent string of murders and to bring them to justice. Even if it takes killing dozens of demons on the way there.

But things are never that simple when you deal with the dark arts. Cultists, demon pacts, sacrificial murders all stand in the demon hunters' way as they search for the truth. A truth that will force them to question their own identities, a truth about the absolute evil lurking beyond heaven and earth. The question is, if they find the truth, will they be strong enough to handle it?

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56. Chapter 55 - Episode 5

Apollo

 

Apollo awoke with hands around his neck. He gasped and tasted sweet ocean water that burned as it came through his nose and mouth, it had a bitter aftertaste, like wine. Drinking and burning and confused, Apollo struggled with the firm hands still ringing his neck. He turned to the assailant. Phantoms, ghosts? They looked like ghouls, malnourished and deformed, rotting and vile looking, as if the very waters around them had turned these ghouls into mush. His stomach was full and at last, in that brink of death, he made an effort. Apollo gripped the hand. He felt the bony muscular limb and snapped it off him. It shattered. Glass, ancient bone, whatever this ghoul was was fragile and he saw that limb drop down to the bottom floor, to an off-putting darkness, where myriad glares had begun to appear. Corpses, the dead, bitter faced and angry. He thought immediately, knew immediately where he was: the long river Styx, where the dead do not sleep, where they kill and murder ‘till end-times. The restless river Styx.

He swam. As fast as he could, he did not check his body, did not even inspect the claw marks and grazes that found themselves around him. He burst into that frantic, almost flailing swim. They came after him, five, six, he couldn’t tell, only heard the muffled wail and only noticed the bubbles of their screams as they rose up from below and fizzled him.  

He broke the water, at last. Nearly jumped out of it too and clung to the nearest stone, both hands clawing for the strange black rocks around him. He felt another grab. He felt the chill of wet skin on fresh air, and felt it too of death's grab upon his feet. He could hear them now without that ocean filter. He could hear the high pitch, crazed, almost choking sound of the violent dead. He looked back. They were nude, deteriorating, drunk with violence. 

“Get the fuck off me.” Apollo brought his free leg up and then down on the persistent hand around his ankle. It broke into bone, then into dust and steam finally. Apollo crawled to high ground, though his body was low and properly balanced. He was watching the smoke, watching the ghouls and fiends desperate to latch on to him.

He saw how they scratched the stone and how they struggled to rise up the causeway. After a while Apollo pitied them. An even longer while after that, he began to be bored of them and instead looked to his surroundings. To the hexagon shaped stones that sprawled the shoreline as if a honeycomb had been split and desecrated on the river bank. Apollo turned, he heard splashing. Inside each section of stone was a small pool of water, orange colored. It felt slimy.

He climbed and made it ten meters high. When he came across flat land, he stopped and fell on his knees. His hands were spread forward and his body dripped with sweat and blood and that sticky water. It must have been heavy too, because Apollo collapsed chest first onto the floor. He put two hands on his face and rubbed the water away, then he turned his body and held his chest and counted his heart until it fell down to gentle rhythm. It was too much. The creatures in that abyss, the monsters in the river. Too much, too heavy. So he laid, his body on its back and upon that line of land where the black geometrical stone broke into gray dirt. It stuck to him and colored his suit white. He sighed, scraped some off and thought that perhaps he was making it worse. So he let go and looked to the sky. No clouds? No color either. It was beige, gray? He couldn’t tell.  The only object of interest, the only fixture of light seemed to come southward, where a giant red ring rested. It was black and familiar. Perhaps the same ring that had taken him here? It was near the horizon and sat immovable and from the low angle Apollo was watching it, gave the appearance of sucking in the river water. Like a faucet drain of filth.

He heard noise. More groaning, the gritting of teeth. He faced the waters and looked upon the dead that fought amongst each other. They gnawed, punched, bashed each other's head with an irresistible desire. He saw them dead and mutilated, saw them turn into smoke and rise high. Then he saw the smoke materialize, again, into more anguished souls. They dropped down, like rain. And the river, flowing down to that red ring as its natural ebb. This was the ecosystem of this unholy dominion.  

He was in purgatory. The truth didn’t make him comfortable, it only served to drive the cold knife through his bones, into the marrow.  He shivered. He looked away and was about to turn onto that flat dirt and to the great expanse in front of him. But he heard the sound, again. From the river, again.

A creaking of wood. A breaking of water. A boat. The size and strength of which shook the river into waves that slammed against the shore. Apollo put his hand in front of his face, he could feel the wet drizzle wash over him. He saw the dead too, latching onto stone only to immediately be dragged back. His eyes steadied. They narrowed in, back into the mist and back to the lanterns lit upon the sides of the boat. It was massive, yes. He could tell, even though it was only a shadow in the far distance. He could tell by the giant post and sail that cast a shadow over him and across water.  

What was that sound? He leaned in. He could hear it deep and steady, like a long stretching foghorn. 

And it came out. The onyx colored wood, the wide curved body, the pounding souls that colored the bottom red with beatings and slamming. 

It was Charon. Archiver of the dead. Charon, who sat fused to the ship, the living figurehead. His upper torso was out, erect upon the front of the ship. It looked heavy, he looked heavy. Muscular, disgustingly so, white-eyed as if he had two searchlights transplanted into his sockets. 

Charon was all at once, captain, crew, and ship. And he reached around with his wide body and picked a soul amongst the passengers who all screamed and shouted. They were normal people, dead people, Apollo thought. 

He picked a man, young, twenty perhaps. He dropped him into the waters rather carelessly. Apollo watched the body fall and watched the souls rip him apart, eat him, like sharks at fresh carrion. He brought his eyes back. Froze. Charon was glaring at him, twirling his long beard, twitching his pointed ears. He rose an oar from his side and pointed it to Apollo. He looked as if to throw it at him, but no. He pointed down and twisted his neck into a crane as he looked over the river. Then he fell into it. 

Charon brought his oar up, high above him, and down, to beat and break the violent dead. This was his job as watcher and caretaker of the souls in purgatory. 

Charon disappeared as quickly as he appeared. The shadow cast above Apollo spread out, then went away. Apollo brought his hands to his head and stared out into the wide waters, he couldn’t anything, only noticed a few red and orange spots, but nothing. It seemed endless.

“You missed your chance.” Apollo’s neck hairs rose. His fist tightened and he moved his hands into his vest and in, to his sword handle. “Charon could have taken you back.” 

A Striped Hyena stood behind him. White-furred with a long black streak across its uneven spine. 

“Who are you?” Apollo asked. 

“Me? Isn’t it obvious? I’m just a Hyena.” It pushed its head up to laugh, it’s mouth resembled a megaphone. “What else could I be, silly?”

“I’m not asking about your form, I’m asking about your nature.” He drew his sword. “Now, either you tell me who you are or I won’t even think twice about cutting you in half.”

“It looks a bit smaller than it should.” The Hyena laid down, breathing and calm. It grinned. “Your sword, I mean.”

“It looks bigger up close, believe me.” 

“Right, I’m sure.” It giggled, rolled a bit and covered itself in dirt. “What an awful question? My nature? My nature. Well, my nature is your nature, since we’re both dogs of circumstance. Children of the earth and of God. And I figure that makes us brothers? Or father and son? Lovers, maybe?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Not the one you want, but the one that is.”

Apollo grit his teeth. He looked at the small animal and how it rolled on its side, exposed its stomach and its black-spotted abdomen. It licked itself, scratched its flesh and unhinged its maw into a smile. 

“I don’t have time to fuck around with you.” Apollo spat and began walking towards that sandy expanse, where the dunes had collected into sharp curved lines and where the small bushes had curled and dried up into barbed balls.

“Which road will you be taking?” The Hyena asked.

Apollo stopped and looked back, confused. 

“Ah, it probably doesn’t matter. All roads lead to Astyanax.” It laughed again, it sounded worse from a distance, morphed and nasally. He wanted to get a word in, to ease a sense of distress growing in him, but didn’t. His eyes were burning. The sand-carrying winds blew. Apollo could feel his lips dry, could feel that grating feeling upon his flesh from the small particles that hit him. He nodded his head - Just stay silent - and walked, as far from the river and as far from the Hyena that his feet could take him. 

“Or was it all roads lead to Troy? Rome? Which was it?” The Hyena said. His head shook to whimsical rhythm. The winds were not as harsh to the animal, or perhaps the animal was too harsh for the winds. Whatever, it didn't matter, Apollo thought. 

He walked. Faster, more frenzied.

“Too many empires, too many names. Two to pair, two to meet. The third will come across the reach. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Three for one. One for all. One to die, one to eat.”

So it went, on and on through those desert sands.

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