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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68. Chapter 67

Horace

Old man Horace stood in front of the satin fabric mesh. Behind it, a door. Behind that, a moaning phantom. As the only butler, the only housekeeper, it was his duty to know every in and out of the building. And these two guests made him nervous.

His head peaked inside the room. Sizeable, a room fit for a family of lions, with the cushioned bed and the yellow soft carpets like feeding grounds. On the walls were the pictures and paintings of stories and myths, most of whom revolved around the central pale figure, Astyanax. Stories of victory, of great hunts across the Hellish plane. Horace knew most of them were wrong though. A water font stood in one corner, it's placid pool hosting moss and small tad pool creatures. Nothing else stirred but the man in the cage. 

A rattling prison placed almost center of the room, bars ten feet high and thicker than the hands that wrapped around them. As if it was some kind of nautical cage descending into the den of sharks. 

Alestor was inside, crying. Alestor who poked his face in the interstices of the bars with his wiry face. A bucket of filth sat on its side in the corner of the cage, is filth spilled out. Past the dirty musk, an angry glare rested on the bed. Dion. Dion who sat at the edge of the purple blanketed bed with his feet hovering off the ground. Horace looked at the two, his eyes skidding across, slipping between the two who seemed just about to break. It made Horace nervous. He pulled his body back and lowered himself from his toes, the ornate door closed shut and the moaning hid behind the ornate flower covered door.

“Why is he taunting them? What trouble does he seek today?” Horace asked a guard to his rear. “Where is he, the young master?” 

The guard pointed through a window across from them, to a place opposite from them on the other side of the villa. A bulbous tower with a pointed tip. Horace shook his head.

“Is he with anyone?” Horace asked.

“One of the guards. Or a slave. I couldn’t tell, they were naked. Fair bodied, too.”

“Oh, no,” Horace held tight his black cloak. “He’s frustrated.”

He pushed his walking stick forward and let it lead him through the villa with a consistent hobbling and a long, dreary tapping as he went through the skeleton of the villa. It was his duty to pull his old body through, to drag it about like a mop in every lifeless and empty creak and cavern of this wretched fortress. For he was a helper (the only), an adviser (the only) and a friend (the only) all at once.  He was a butler. Not a servant. Always particular about that part, always making sure the guards and the slaves understood his place about them. No, Horace was no servant. He was the Old man and Astyanax the young master and that’s how it had been since he had stepped foot on this land the few millenniums ago.

A hammer dropped from the side of an anvil, Horace put it in its dusty place as he went through the armory. Inside the gardens, he scared away the piling ravens that feasted on his roses. And finally, he came upon the dilapidated conference room, what remained of it at least. There were standing torches, a map of the land that was torn halfway and cushions surrounding a rectangular table. Horace wiped dirt off the steps as he went up and past the room.

By the time he had come to the tower, looking up to the spiral staircase and the barred windows, he felt tired. He leaned himself against the wall as he climbed. He could hear something, grunting perhaps, a strained closed-mouth, lip-bitten grunt. The kind of strain only war and sex could do. He came to the top of the stairs, knocked on it, then opened. His eyes surveyed the long room. The first thing he saw were moths. Or butterflies, pinned to sheets of bark and laid out on display cases. Some of them were still writhing. 

The next specimen he saw was a set of bones from the many-legged, many-headed bizarre creatures of this island. He saw the four-headed serpentines stare back at him, biting and rolling around inside a glass container. They snapped at Horace. Their breaths stained the glass with steam. He remembered to avoid them, they’d paralyze you with one bite, melt your flesh with the second, kill you with the third and eat you with the fourth. As tiny as they were. He walked past the snakes (Hydralisks as they were called, Astyanax had nicknamed them such as more of a mockery than a categorical tool. The small-bodied Hydralisks of the East). 

The snacks rattled, bit, hissed. But none were louder than the grunting.

There was a veil separating the mausoleum and the bedroom. It was a room truly built for Astyanax’s pleasure, a pet pen as he called it. And he had many pleasures here with his many pets and toys. All of them, of all species. And there, furthest from the glass cases was the biggest display of all. A bed, with Astyanax in it and another man below him, enduring his thrusts. Horace walked up, not too closely, he had lost a finger the last (and only time) he had done that. The man below Astyanax had his head in the pillows and his ass pointed up for Astyanax’s member. And Astyanax turned. All of him released from the tight clench, he turned to face Horace. 

“Oh, it’s you,” Astyanax returned his attention to the man. “What do you want?”

“I’m wondering why you stuck those two together.” He breathed deep. “That’s reckless.” 

“Persuasion. Let him see what he wants every day and I’m sure he’ll come around to take it.” Astyanax said. “He’ll be convinced, hatred suffocates reason. With reason gone, temptation takes it place and from there. Well. It’ll be easy. Negotiation is just the art of temptation, after all.”

“And guile,” Horace said.

“And guile.” Astyanax pressed forward. A very steady and fast rhythm.

“If it was as simple as that, you wouldn’t be this nervous.” 

“What do you mean?” Astyanax stopped mid-thrust. He lifted himself of the soft olive skinned back of the man below. He paused to think and focused on a blemish of flesh in the man’s lower back. Then he smiled. Then he went back to thrusting. 

“You know what I mean.” Horace stepped forward. “Three thousand years is long enough to know your habits. And you always do this. These...deviant things when you’re nervous. What has you feeling raw?”

Astyanax did not bother turning. Sweat fell from his hair. 

“It might be that I won’t be able to uphold my end of the deal. Well, if Dion accepts.”

“What do you mean?” 

“I mean to say the West has them.” 

There was silence. 

“Oh,” Horace said.

“Yes. The West, an unruly bunch aren’t they? The untamed West, called themselves such even as I crushed their last mutiny.”

“Years ago you did and years is long enough for contempt to breed.” Horace scratched his head. “When’s the last time you had contact with them.”

“Months maybe. Years, probably.” Astyanax said. “I killed every single one of them and they still act up. I’ve assigned them my most trusted captains and still, I worry. Who knows what drives those demons mad? The desert, methinks. It’s scrambled their brains.”

“Forget the slaves or the boy, campaign and have those cretins killed.”

“They’re not cretins yet. I’ll send a messenger to see if the captains and commanders can settle the army down. They still have a chance.”

“Oh,” Horace looked down. “But doesn’t that mean you’re giving them a chance to kill the trespassers? The slaves?” 

Silence. Then the sound of slapping wet flesh. 

“Maybe,” Astyanax said. “Maybe I lose my bargaining chip, maybe I don’t.”

“Do you think the West will listen?” 

“Yes, no. I’m beginning to think it won’t matter. I don’t think I’ll let Dion go any which way.”

“You gave him your word.” 

“But will he keep his?” Astyanax licked the sweat from his mouth. “I figure if he kills Alestor then I have every right to do whatever I want to him. Hah. What would you call that, a safety net?”

“And do you think he’ll listen easily, follow your rule easily?”

“If he doesn’t then we’ll fight. Won’t that just be great?” There was spasm. A shaking of his legs as Astyanax came and removed himself from the man. 

“That’s what I’m worried about. The fight.” Horace said. “I’ve never lied, I will never lie. And I can’t hold my tongue when I say that boy is a threat.”

“I don’t fear the second death.”

“You should. There is no coming back from oblivion or whatever which God has prepared for you.”

“Three thousand years, Horace. Three thousand years of solitude and you still cling to this worthless life?” Astyanax put on his robe. There was a sheen to his skin. “I’ve a found a thrill and you’ve found a fear. We should be thankful that our old hearts still beat with the life pulse. What is there besides that? Why exist for the sake of existing? That seems worse than death to me, to live without passions.”

“And passions bring fears. And fear, suffering.”

“What false reason is that? I’m already suffering.”

“I’ve said this before.” Horace walked closer. “But redemption is still your reach. Please, give up your vanity of vanities. That senseless warrior spirit of yours. You stand to gain nothing, yet you gamble everything.”

“Gain nothing?” Astyanax bent over and let the air escape him with long-winded scoffs. “There is nothing worth gaining but the taking of one man's life by your own. Every other pleasure is second to that.”

“This is enough, don’t you think? I’ve seen you through many years. And this, this I must say is enough.” 

“I’ve foreseen it already, dear Horace. My victory. It’s already being sung by the muses.”

“You don’t know that. Not with absolute certainty.” Horace walked over to Astyanax who towered over him, soft and fair. 

Oh, Horace.” He put his arm down on the small old man’s shoulder. “But I do know. It came to me in a dream. A vision through God.”

“A dream? You put your faith in a mad dream?”

“Everyone does. And I dreamt of death. I’ve seen it, last night. A red glowing heart removed and raised to my face and a wide mouth that mauls it whole. Yes, I’ve seen it. Both of us, putting our lives on the scale, so evenly matched at each side that only the featherweight of tenacity can decide winner from which. Loser from winner, dead from alive. Oh, yes, I live and put my faith in that featherweight and that dream. And what a glorious day it will be when the angels of heaven shine down at me, their cluster of wings surrounding me.”

“Madness.” Horace tugged at his legs. “Please, stop this madness.”

“Three thousand years I’ve heard this from you and now, you didn’t change my mind the first time and you won’t change it now.”

And Horace stood quietly for he had nothing to say to that blinding confidence. Astyanax looked down at the old man, his smile dropped as he knelt down to Horace. He rested both hands on his shoulders, then rubbed the old wrinkles of his forehead. 

“I’m glad you’ve stuck around to see my passions through. I hope you’ll continue too.” Astyanax said. “You’re the only one I give that privilege of choice too. Remember that.”

Astyanax kissed his cheeks and it eased Horace. He was still soft, somewhere inside, he thought. Astyanax left the room.

“Passions…” Horace repeated as he looked back to the bed. He rubbed his eyes, they were wet. “Passions kills.”

The man still laid there, the color of his skin receding to a pale white. He laid with this butt up and high, his body cold and lifeless, for his throat had been slit long ago.

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