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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59. Chapter 58

Apollo

He traveled long inside of that small crack, in between two monoliths of stone that went endlessly both sides. It was the only crack, the only opening, the Hyena had said. So this was the way, the only way, through this narrow and flat stretch. He had walked for hours or thought so, it might have been days. Time felt odd here, in this place. It might have been weeks, he didn't know for he felt neither hunger nor thirst, only a growing tiredness that gnawed on him. However long it was (and it was long), he was thankful when he finally found the sediments of life. Buildings and huts, small caves along ridges of both high walls that had clothes and tarps flowing from their openings. He smiled for a bit, then it fell again.

There was a buzz, like static in the air. He ignored it. For the hamlet was dead. It was killed long ago and left to rot upon the salted dirt. He could see the litter of white, the small specks upon the yellow sand. Maybe it was ash, the cremated corpses of the villagers. He looked around, the two walls of stone were winding and the city too, winding. Was it a village? Or a city? Whatever remained was too little to tell as to the history of this land. 

He climbed to one of the ridges where a blue tarp flowed out like laundry. It was the entrance to a small enclave, a home once. He saw the remnants of one at least, a black stain from a firepit at the center of the cave, some furniture broken into wood pieces, furs of animals that looked strange and foreign to him.

Apollo lifted the tarp and walked further into the cave, there were more stains. Human-sized stains clinging to the edges of the cave. He turned around and walked back and stepped on something. He looked beneath his foot. It was a doll. A doll made from husk and hair.

It brought upon that eerie chill, like a cold wind to his nape.

He passed by the tarps and the caves, the small houses growing more dessicate as he went on along the path until finally, he came to the hub. A large expanse, a fat little circle in this small little narrow way.

He looked past it. There was an exit, he was beginning to see the rest of the desert again. 

"What a strange feeling. I'm glad to see sand." He looked back, there was no Hyena though. No friend, no one and stepped through.

The houses were a mishmash of brick and dirt and the makeshift lid of thatch twigs covered them. Odd little huts that he inspected more closely, most of them were caved in. Stranger, they showed no wear of war or fire. The walls and beams were covered instead with penny-sized holes. It was as if they were nibbled, devoured. He left to the furthest building, the one least destroyed. He entered the low door frame, there was nothing covering it and he could hear a brick collapsing behind him, the loud thump and shatter. Apollo sighed. He was glad he wasn't superstitious.

His eyes scanned the room, studied the wooden beams that snapped at the touch. The dirt felt loose. There were jars around him, giant orange urns with painted histories along the sides. Though they were eroded. Apollo rubbed his chin.

“Red-figure pottery.” 

A vase moved. The sound of a shimmy. It was called to his voice.  

"Hello?"

Another rattle. He heard its direction must clearer, walked towards hit. Apollo's hand was inside his coat, he could feel the handle of his blade. He came to the urn that shook, that vibrated and waited. Like a practical joke, a prank, he waited for the load and spring of the clown.  

“Who are you?” Apollo said to the urn. There was a wobble, a turn and rumble that indicated the weight of something heavy from within. He walked closer, his footsteps vibrating and sending a silent signal to the urn to shake again. 

“I’ll say it one last time.” Apollo began. He made that sinister whistle of the blade as he drew it above of his head. A voice responded, muffled. It was enough to make Apollo bring his blade down with a wide arc, collapsing the floor beneath him. The thing inside the urn now shook violently as it fell lopsided, into the hole Apollo had just made.

Apollo knelt down, grabbed the top and inspected the shaking vase. It was not made of clay, nor of porcelain, rather some kind of hard black metal. The orange drawings were faded, they looked like strips of broken film. He could vaguely make out a man in the painting, a man holding a spear and commanding another man to kneel. 

Apollo narrowed his eyes. He brought his hand to the top of the voice at what seemed like a plunger. He swore he could hear buzzing, he swore the wind was bringing in the sound. He ignored it, instead, went back to the urn and to what was making the noise. He shoved his fingers inside of the top of the voice. A layer of wood above a layer of metal, he penetrated both until his fingers touched whatever was inside. It was wet, shaking, warm. 

In one move, Apollo flexed and draw his arm back and watched the lid fly in the air like a disk, watched it float like those old inspired UFOs and saw it stab through the thatch top ceiling of the house. Or what was left of the ceiling. It was stuck in there, the half disk. And Apollo stood again and walked away from the urn. He picked his sword on the way out, he could feel the steel crack and snap off like the molting of a serpent. 

Then Apollo waited. He was patient on his side of the house, where the roof came down like a small lip and where the hay poked at his hair.  There in the darkness, with his crimson eyes, he waited for whatever was inside of that vessel to come out.

He heard it at last. That scream, that moan of a crazed man. He saw a hand come out, pale and loose-skinned. The flesh looked waterlogged, the smell was terrible. A fermented smell of fish, then of something sour, like long due cheese curds. It looked toxic, this crustacean of a man as he came out of his shell.  He looked oily. His eyes lashes were white and he looked away from the light in the sky and ran to the other end of the house where the shadows were. 

“Πίσω τέρας!” The man screamed.

“What is that? I don’t understand.”

“Πίσω, είπα, Πίσω!”

"Can you understand me?" There was nothing but more shouting, more screeching. Apollo spat. He nodded his head and walked towards the urn man.

Apollo extended his hands and thought to grab the man's hairs before he realized he didn’t have many if anything. They were more like threads, loose hanging black threads. He grabbed the back of the man’s head instead and felt his drooping flesh. To Apollo, it felt like wet pigskin.

“Sorry. I can't be fucked." Apollo said. "I don’t mean to trespass, but I need to get something straight and I hope you don't mind my detective work.” 

The man stared frightened, trying to move away. His neck was weak though, fragile. He did no more than shake like a newborn. “You don’t know what I’m saying, do you? Well, that's fine, word association is good enough."

"Hell." Apollo said. Nothing, more screaming. 

"Hyena?" The man fidgeted.

"Astyanax?" There was silence. Apollo felt it, the pulse of a lead. He shook the man."Astyanax? Do you know who Astyanax is? Do you know where he's taken the people? Anything?"

The man was wide-eyed.

“Μην με σκοτώνεις. έδωσα τα πάντα στους ανθρώπους σου.” The voice rose from mumble to gasping scream. “Μην με σκοτώνεις. Μην με σκοτώνεις. Μην με σκοτώνεις!”

Apollo let go.

“What was I expecting?”  

He watched the urn man struggle out, he watched him squirm and shield himself with a small piece of wood from the corner of the room. Apollo did not move, only studied him. What did he expect, really? This man was just a long-dead soul. There were no answers from the foreign creature.

So Apollo sat in that demure pose, with his arms slumped and his neck craned. And the urn man looked at Apollo, studied him just as much. 

And the buzz of the air was still there, and Apollo slumped over, his sword sitting beside him all broken and cracked. The urn man passed him glances every now and then, watched him as he went underneath the disk in the ceiling and lifted his hands to reach it. He couldn’t get to the lid. 

“He said the barracks would be north. He said I’d find him after that but I just don’t get it.” Apollo said to himself. “I gotta find the people I came to save. I gotta find Dion.” 

It was whisper speak, the self-argumentative talk of a man fighting doubt. And the buzz in the air was still there, and the urn man had none of it. He was jerking around, shaking. And he was growing more distressed, more afraid, more talkative to the point where at last he came to Apollo and shook his shoulders and pointed to that disk in the ceiling.

“What?” Apollo looked up. There was pointer finger on the roof. “You want it back?”

There were more greek ramblings. It sounded fast, cartoonish. The urn man kept shaking and pointing. At last, Apollo yielded. He struggled up, went over and lifted the disk from the roof. He passed it to the urn man who looked it, half bent and folded and crumbled like uninspired origami. The man looked at it, groaned and peaked out from the holes on the sides of the house. His eyes were tearing up, Apollo couldn’t understand much of it, only saw it, a growing tension.

“Well? What is it this time?” He asked. The man gasped. He scratched his face until it bled, Apollo stepped back. Half his body was out the door frame and he heard it now, that intense buzzing in the air. Not static, not thunder, but a rolling wave of cacophony. The violent throes of a mob. 

His eyes focused in on the sound. It was above, around him. It was coming from the narrow way. It appeared to him, a cloud upon the horizon, a long streak of black casting its corrugated shadow across him and across the land. It was loud, this cloud, loud and buzzing. He turned around to face the man, to see what was on his face, but he was gone. Hidden in that small jar. Apollo looked inside the house, to the walls specifically where the porous holes were. He looked to the jar, scratched and stabbed through as if millions of syringes had taken themselves to the brick and clay and metal of the place. 

He went outside, the wind was dead. It was still, his flesh felt tingles and his hairs rose. 

He cursed under his breath, took out his sword and looked out to the cloud. What chance was there in fighting that, though? He thought. The black cloud drew closer. No chance. He thought at last. 

And it came to him, that flood, that crackle of the air like water and thunder. They were locusts, he thought at least. Some deformed, rabid migration of locusts. Black and sleek. He felt one pass him. It cut his arm and Apollo watched the trickle of blood like a kind of thermometer for his fear, as it went down and down until finally, when all sense had come out of him, when he had no urn-man or homestead or God to consult, finally he ran. Down the narrow path, the walls enclosing, running so fast that the sand and dirt beneath his feet left a sharp trail. He looked like an ocean beast, with his body cutting through dirt, spreading it all out in the air like a sleek wave. He was no Leviathan. No predator. Rather, he was prey. Scared. His eyes and his head looked back. He cursed at himself. Why had he looked back? Why bother looking at the giant black wave, the miasma of insects that spread and chipped and ate away at all. 

He could see the animals fleeing. He could see what happened to those that didn’t. There was a reptile near him, near his feet as he raced along the curve of the small narrow-way, he noticed its body and how it was punctured and lifted and devoured in a cyclone of the bugs. Not locusts, he thought. They were worse. Carnivorous insects, desperate with the sniff of Apollo’s sweat.

He ran so fast, so desperately that he hadn't even noticed he was outside. Out again into the wild desert filled with canyons, long pillars, the giant stacks of boulders on top of boulders. Giant towers that did not shield him, did not give him relief, rather they fell. The boulders quite literally carried off, chipped, broken into thousands of meteorites upon Apollo. He could feel the pebbles hit his face, he could feel the rocks falling to him. He dodged left. Right, zigzag as all stones and all manners of flying evil tried at him. 

And at last, he broke. Crying his fake roar, his counterfeit courage, he put his shaking blade in front of him. He stood his ground at last when he came upon a pyre too large to walk around. He stood there, with the pyre behind him and a wall filled with small rocks. There was a draft, he didn't know what it was though, wind or fear. And he stood there, with his shaking blade in front of him, with his nervous ticks. He could feel his heart accelerate as he faced the giant wave of black, the millions upon millions of bugs, long-legged, syringe mouth creatures. Their eyes were bulbous, two ruby gems wide apart, all of them looking at the shaking Vicar. And Apollo tried hard to steady his blade, to put it horizontally next to him. 

To die stabbed in the back, eaten alive or to die in flames. He thought. It wouldn’t be the first time I burned a man alive. 

And he waited, felt the cuts across his cheeks and arms, felt them on his legs and thighs, the paper thin incisions of the insects that darted to him. He waited for the wave of bugs to reach its full, he waited until all his horizons were covered in that uneven, shaky blackness. And then, at that moment, when the veil of night seemed upon his face he lunged his blade forward. He could feel it in his arms, a roar and explosion, like his muscles had flexed outside of the boundaries of his flesh, like all of his strength had been blown out and all his joints and muscles were stretched and strained with the summons of his will. It was magicks, fear, dread, all of it coming out like the first night, with the bird-devil. 

And from his blade, from that hunk of steel, out came the fire. An explosion so strong, so uneven and disastrous as to having sent him flying back, through the wall of small rocks and into the pyre itself. He was falling through it and he had no reservations to stop it. His body felt spent. He saw for a moment as he flew in the air, that large swarm of arthropods writhing. Shriveled, turned to ash in a flash of bright white light. The blade flew past him, the rocks behind him shattered as his body collapsed into them. He saw darkness in spots in his eyes and in the vision remaining, blinding fire. His view was broken as if a photograph had been ripped and burned.

The locusts were dead, and what remained of them, scattered. The sky was in flames. It licked and twirled its primal heat around and above, encasing the horizon and spreading its wrath upon the locusts. 

When all was done, when Apollo lifted himself with his creaking joints and bones, he looked out to the hole in the cave. His strength felt wasted. A streak of blood fell from his forehead, his eyes were shaky as he looked at the ashen remains of the bugs. They were far from him, buzzing around him but away too. And he was gone, buried in this nameless Hell. He could only hear the carnage from a distance, for his body seemed too broken to crawl to it and his mind too scattered to think of it. But he knew this, in that brief moment of consciousness. 

He had killed them, at least. A few seconds later, his eyes closed. He fell into that sleep. Whether deep or shallow, he did not know though.

 

Author's Note: Sorry I didn't post on Monday. I was doing that whole Christmas thing.

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