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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63. Chapter 62

Jeremiah

They came to the barracks and to where the giant watch towers loomed over them and where the heads of enemies past were posted on spikes, at even intervals along the wooden walls. The walls went high up and on small platforms, the demon’s looked down at the group of prisoners, slaves as they were called. They were eating something, organ meat, offal, perhaps a fruit. It was hard to tell, though the succulent juice came out of their mouths with each loud laugh as they counted the prisoners and watched them set foot inside. 

A chef in the corner of the barrack sat atop a wooden table with a cleaver in one hand and a centipede in the other gave. He slammed down. The head of the bug rolled. It fell. The demon slurped out the meat out from the creature and watched them. Jeremiah could hear someone barfing in front of him. He had to step over the vomit as they went on.  

So they went silently on. Making sure not to even breath louder than they could. Bartholomew tugged on Jeremiah as they went inside a building that looked a bit like a mission church. It had the large rectangular shape of one, with walls made of adobe and straw which felt rough to the touch. The room, the building, was orange and its interiors, dark. The square windows were boarded up and they passed through several doors, torches flickered and shook at their sudden pass. They stopped at a room with littered tables, where the stains of congealed blood and surgical gear and saws were thrown around like furniture pieces. On the walls, torture devices. Sitting around the tables, demons. Or soldiers. Or elites. Whatever they preferred, the slaves could not argue. Some eating, some playing games with strips of paper and small marble sized shiny stones. 

One of the demons lost, it seemed. He shook his head and ripped a golden tooth out of his mouth. Jeremiah turned. He gasped and put his hand over his mouth. A thread of blood followed from the demon’s mouth.

“You lost another one, Toadvine.” One of them said in that circle of evil, it caused a stir of laughter and a pounding of fists against the table tops.

Jeremiah stared at them and thought amongst the clammer of noise, It’s an exhibition. A zoo for them. And me, the monkey, to dance and to scream.

“What are you looking at?” The Captain of the squad came to the bars of the cell. The bars were closely packed together and the captain’s rotten hands could barely fit around the metal rods. 

“Nothing.” Jeremiah said. His eyes fell to the floor, away from the Captain.

“You have that American spunk. Toadvine was an American. Got scalped by an Indian though. He's the one who taught me how to speak English and how to break Americans.” The Captain said. “Where you from?"

Jeremiah stayed silent. 

"I asked you where you're from?" The Captain slammed the bars.

"Havenbrook, Colorado."

"Colorado, huh? Never heard of it. Do they breed good warriors there?" He laughed. "Doesn't matter, I guess. You're no soldier, no warrior, no anything. Down here you’re inventory, commerce. You’re the piece of fine robe. You’re the fur. You’re the stallion. You’re a slave. Something to be fought over and traded, nothing more.”

“Why? Why do any of this? Where is down here, where are we?” Jeremiah walked away.

“Well, I shouldn't say but you'll probably find out eventually. Might as well be now rather than later. I'm assuming you're a Christian man?"

"No."

"Doesn't matter. Many faiths have a word for where you're in. You may know it as Purgatory, or Hell. They might be the same for you, I suppose. Best to think of it as a prison." He pointed to the corners of the jail. "A bigger prison than this."

"Is this all you do? Terrorize people?" Jeremiah could hear the voices of people behind him, telling him, kindly, to shut up. To shush, to speak a kinder tone. He heard the whispers and ignored them.

"Sure. Down here, with this infinite boredom and infinite existence, we do the only thing we know. We fight. We fuck. We kill.”

“We fight. We fuck. We kill.” A voice repeated.

"We fight. We fuck. We kill." The chanting began around the room. The men and women in the cell began to crowd each corner as they stepped away from the loud voices. 

“We fight. We fuck. We kill.” They banged on the walls, banged on the tables. 

“We fight. We fuck. We kill.” The captain screamed, he brought his fist up. They were a final glorious hooray amongst the demons and then it died. The excitement still filled the air, made them nervous, like a blanket of static had wrapped around the slaves.

“We’re the eastern army of Astyanax. There are three more for each face of the compass.” He said. “And we fight and war with each other endlessly."

“That’s insane. Fight for what?” Jeremiah said.

“For pleasure. For honor. For slaves, like you. What else is there? Dirt, sand, rock. What would you do with an infinite amount of time and no hope of escape?” The captain asked. His mouth came to the small spaces of the bars. It smelled sweet, sickly sweet, like a corpse. “Whatever life you had up there means nothing. Whatever ambitions, whatever pleasures. Get rid of them, instinct rules here. Instinct and strength. There is no society but Astyanax’s and this is New Troy."

"New Troy. New Troy. New Troy." The animals began to chant again.

"It is this way and no other way. And it doesn't matter if you don't like it, you'll get used to it. You'll have an eternities worth of time to get used to it."

He left the bars and all heat seemed to come out of Jeremiah and Bartholomew who was clinging to his leg. There was silence for a moment before the crowd of twenty-odd folks broke into shrieks and wails.  

“You heard him. We’re in Hell.” A man said. Another fainted and the sound of his head hitting the wall made a low thump. 

“This is a dream.” A woman kept slapping her face.

It went like that for hours or what was perceived as hours before they came to accept it. And in accepting it, paced within the jail cell with heads lowered to find an empty space to take up post.

"We should have never gone to church. We should have stayed at home." A husband blamed his wife.

"And while we wait he sits above, smug in his throne." Someone blamed God.

"What the fuck are we going to do?" Sam asked. Faces turned, their eyes set past Sam, past the demons, past the walls. as if they weren’t even looking at anything, really.

“What can I do?” Jeremiah whispered. “Last time I did something, I killed a third of the people here.”

Sam bit his lips. He took off the first few buttons of his shirt and let the sweat break onto his chest.

“I’m beginning to think it’s better to die.” Sam said.

“Don’t say that. Not in front of the kid.” 

“Come on, you're smarter. You're the only one here with a bit of sense. Everyone else is a little delusional or too afraid to think. So lets reason this out.” Sam wagged his finger. “Do you honestly believe we have a way out?

“I think we’ll have plenty of time to think of one. I’m sure we will.” 

“Against soldiers? I don’t know about this Hell stuff, but you and I both know these people are willing and able to annihilate us. Without any pity or trouble.”

“You think I don’t know that? I saw what they're capable of. Don’t remind me.”

“What I’m saying is, there's a good way out. A real way, out.” Sam emphasized. He reached into his pocket. He came out with a small dagger no bigger than half a foot. “I pocketed it from one of these goons on our way inside, where the torches were low and dark.”

“Don’t even think about it. You heard him, didn’t you? We’re in Hell. What do you think would happen to us if we died here?”

“I don’t know but anything seems better than this. Even oblivion if that’s what it takes.”

“You’re asking me to kill you. To assist you in suicide? I can't do that."

“I’m asking you to think of the boy.”

They both looked at Bartholomew. Jeremiah felt his legs go weak, his stomach dropped. It felt like an anchor had stabbed through him.

“Don’t you ever suggest something that cruel ever again.” Jeremiah looked up. His voice was low and steady. 

“An eternity, pal. You think he’ll be able to handle this? An eternity! Look around you, look all this shit, look at how insane they are. Violence, mutilation? That’d be merciful. I’m sure I don’t have to describe what else these monsters could do. Beating and hurting would just be a start. It's fucked down here.” Sam stuffed his knife back into his pants. He looked around and watched the guards faces with shifty eyes. “Wise up. This is a bad deal, you know it, I know it. And sometimes the best thing to do is to just check out. Let someone else carry the debt. You understand me?”

Jeremiah felt his throat dry up as if the well or basin of his patience had finally disappeared, evaporated, shrunk.

“This boys father depended on me when he needed me most and I left him. I saw his dying face and I left him. You’re asking me to do the same thing again, to stare at the boys, to watch him die, to leave him.”

“It’s the smartest-”

“Stop.” Jeremiah walked forward, the rings under his eyes were gaunt underneath the shadow of the prison bars. “Don’t ever make this suggestion or any suggestion ever again. The next time you get an idea, kill it. Or better yet, slit your fucking throat in the corner of the room and leave us alone. I’ll figure something out without you.”

“You dumb motherfucker.” Sam pushed him back. He spat on the floor in between them. “You’re so dense you can’t even see that there is no out. You’re blinded by that pride. That guilt, whatever it is. And you’re gonna make us all suffer for it. Ain’t you? Those people up on that sandy hill got it lucky, I tell ya. We aren’t going to get as lucky and you’re going to make it worse. Well, fuck you, man. Fuck you.”

“Quiet over there.” The demon said at the group. Everyone hushed, both Sam and Jeremiah, who found themselves on opposite halves of the prison. Sam, who hissed and complained with shallow breath. Jeremiah, who slunk into calm demure and stared obsessively at the cell door.

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