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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72. Chapter 71

Jeremiah

Jeremiah held the arm and the leg and rested the bleeding body on his shoulders as he ran. Far, further down the incline and into the large valley of corrugated stone pillars. Steam shot forth that burned his arm and burned his hairs off and left his skin shaved and red. The body on top of Jeremiah struggled for a bit. The boy, Bartholomew, stood behind Jeremiah at a close distance with one hand wiping sweat and the other pulling on jeans. That was the scene, the three. The boy, the man and the dying, going through the valley and the geysers that shot forth around him. 

A woosh of air blew past him. A large push of hot steam blew past him. It was colored green, it smelled ill and also strangely of chemicals, like ammonia. He pulled his face away from the steam. His sideburns were burned, his face a bit charred. Most of his skin was red behind his juvenile beard. He had to stop and looked around. Below him, the giant holes and the small gasses that escaped. It looked like the surface of a meteor, porous and frightening. To his left, away from the drop, the side of a mountain. He clung to it and the warped arches of stone. They were warped, he could tell, shaped by the heavy and hot air. He could see where the stone had been touched because it drooped and because it was red and glowing from heat.

It reminded him of his burned face. It reminded him of the pain and his wincing body and his blinking eyes that tried to wash out their blur.

“It’s so warm,” Ishmael said in that gentle voice. He was atop of Jeremiah’s shoulders.

“Yeah, it is. Isn’t it?”

“Reminds me of California.” He coughed and expelled himself on the road. “It was nice. On the beach. In the sun.”

“Keep talking, Sam,” Jeremiah said.

“Never liked that nickname.”

“Yeah?” Jeremiah looked at the boy. He was getting curious around the edge. “You get over here, alright? Stay close.”

“Mm-hm” The boy ran back and mumbled. His head was low. His eyes now focusing closely on Ishmael’s discharge.

Where did this begin? Jeremiah thought. He heard a rock slide past his feet and down to the geysers and blowing gasses below. It made an echoing noise that tapppppeeeed-tapppeed-tapped. Until no more, until it was lost into one of the smaller holes below. Jeremiah stared off ahead. He never realized how tired he was, didn’t notice it until he waited here on his knees with the body above his shoulders, dangling and turning. 

Was the road going to get smaller?

He shook his head and walked. Better to remember, better to re-feel that cold shiver down his spine. 

How did it come to this?

He tip-toed. There was nothing but a small ridge now, more like a crack on the side of the mountain. A ridge and the floor and the queasy vertigo. 

“You scared, Ishmael?” He tried to laugh it off. 

“Huh?” The voice was nothing more than a hum.

“I said, are you scared?” Jeremiah screamed. He couldn’t stop staring at the floor and laughing, he couldn’t understand it. 

“Oh,” Ishmael whispered. “I'm just tired. So tired.”

“Hard to sleep when your this high though, right?” Jeremiah felt his legs shake. Steam jetted by. He hugged the wall. What would his body do if it fell, like the rock? Would it tap, would it crack, would it disappear?

Better not think of it. 

“I bet you were rich back home. Right?” Jeremiah asked. The boy dragged a stone. It fell and it made Jeremiah snap up right.

“Where I worked?” Ishmael leaned onto Jeremiah. Jeremiah almost slipped. He could feel his heart working, it felt like a heavy pulse on his limbs. “I worked? Where did I work?” 

He was mumbling. Jeremiah stopped and pressed both feet firmly on the ground and stood there breathing heavily. The boy was close behind, aping Jeremiah’s fear and hyperventilating. 

Imagination. Reality. It all frightened him.

Where did this all begin?

The first spear. He thought. A little after, he remembered. The images began to appear like a slide show, increasing in speed as he focused. His body adjusting, moving across the ridge in rote fashion. He’d rather remember the blood and the violence to this, the steep fall below.  

So he thought of that violence as the vertigo crawled up to him, grabbing him leg first with anxiety. He remembered now. The heavy dust clouds and the sound of spears and their feather fletchings as they tore the air with that vile hiss. Like a snake bite, coming and going, their brown tails flying like the open fanged-mouth. He remembered holding Bartholomew and defending his scared body and watching the men and women fall all around him. The feeling of his stomach as it scraped along the floor and as they crawled on their bellies towards Ishmael. Ishmael who had taken his small knife, the knife brandished at the cell and who had started working on cutting his own rope bondage. Who freed his arms, and who worked on his feet and who pushed aside the corpses of legionnaire demons. 

The sound of the soldier as he choked on his blood, helmet rolling on the floor, armor stabbed through with a javelin. He also remembered the face of Ishmael and remembered wondering if he would even help them (Jeremiah and the boy). 

Ishmael who looked at them in that cloud of violence with the sharp ring of clashing metal and the faces of confused demons staring wide-eyed at their deaths. Ishmael who amongst that crowd, had decided, with a pained face to run for Jeremiah and Bartholomew. Who told them, with an anxious voice, to be quiet and still. Who took out his knife and cut their ropes and looked around at all the people around begging for the same treatment.

More rocks skidded. He saw a small Joshua tree fall with them. A gust of heat pushed it up. Burned, then washed the fires as soon as they came. It looked melted. It made him think of his own death. He tried to shake it off again, back to the memory.

Monster horses who dragged with their ghost-white faces, howling and rising to show the hooves that stamped upon the bodies. Unholy steeds who dragged and stampeded through, trampling every other dying person. Jeremiah remembered that, ducking and pushing the three of them aside as he heard the sound of shoehorns. 

He had worked hard to avoid the soldiers or demons or steeds. All of them had. And it took them a great strength of will to ignore the crying sounds of their cellmates. They had to though, there was no time. No time, no courage, no hope for them. They were dead. Most of them, speared through, most of them. Dying, most of them. And the ones who survived were too stupid or cowardly to even make the effort to run. Some had even succumbed, reasoned it, and had laid on the floor hoping for death. Wishing, only, to have it be done quickly. That was probably the most painful memory for Jeremiah. The shouts for help. It almost was enough to have him turn back. But the boy was with him. The boy. The boy who meant it all, who was the cause of his being here. Who he hated, and who he loved.

They had made it out of that arena of chaos, had taken the steps through the cactii and the trees, had pricked themselves with the needles and were so close to the empty and safe space of desert. So close, almost there. A few steps. But the spear whizzed by. Had torn through the greenery and shrubs and plants, had ripped them all out of their stems and roots and had landed promptly on Ishmael’s side. Ishmael collapsed there and had not stood up since then.

He shook as he watched his fallen companion struggle and contort and flex, like a worm. Then he jumped. A chariot had collapsed near him, the wheel rolling innocently past him. The horse and the driver smashed together on the ground, turned into a paste of red. A spear through the side of the metal vehicle. This is what the first spear had aimed at. It was all to kill this vehicle, not Ishmael. It made him sick.

But that’s how it was. Jeremiah who had leaned down and had treated Ishmael and had lugged him around his shoulders and backs. Not as paid debt, but as goodwill.  

The last of his memory, the two of them, looking back at the demons who clubbed each other and beat and stabbed. The rising clouds of dirt, like golden clouds as each body hit the floor and the hell mounts that drove through and pushed aside the smog with snarls. The skewered bodies of demons, of men, of women. The confusion of death everpresent on most of them, calm and happy on others. 

A circus of murder, Jeremiah had thought at the time. Confused, violent ghosts who played for fun and shock. 

His slide show, his film ended there. Nothing past it, exciting. It was all dull, rather. The travel, the coughing and spitting blood Ishmael shot out every few moments. 

He felt another geyser vomiting its anger out. He felt it through small quakes from the floor. Jeremiah braced himself and felt his shirt blow up with air. His stomach felt warm. He couldn’t tell though, whether it was anxiety or pain. 

“Come on, stay awake Sam.” Jeremiah ran. The road was wider, at last. “Where did you work? What did you do? Talk to me. Keep talking.”

“Stocks…” Ishmael mumbled. 

“Yeah. What kind? Win big?” Jeremiah sounded desperate. A rock fell again. It banged on the side of the mountain as it died, he wished it hadn’t.

“Stocks…That’s what I told my mom.” Ishmael breathed heavily. “I was just a vacuum salesman. Just a door guy, always a door guy.”

Even the voice sounded cold. Stern. Meaningful, in some strange way. It sounded like a long lost secret, that stupid sentence. But it hurt like a knife in the heart. 

Jeremiah felt blood down his chest.

“Yeah? There’s still time to do more though.” Ishmael jumped a gap. He braced himself with two knees and felt himself stop as he looked around him. The road was getting wider again, but he was still nervous, still sweating. 

“Come on? Speak up, yeah?”

The boy left his mouth open. He stared up at the man. Jeremiah tugged on the dangling arm around his shoulder, he pinched on the legs he carried, he shook and cradled and eased his shoulder over. He lowered Ishmael down to his chest, then down to the floor. He felt no movement. No pulse. No turning or derelict eyes. There was nothing but a fixed face upon the sky and eyes that looked out into an empty horizon. 

Jeremiah grabbed his hand. He sucked in his lower lip and stretched his face and held onto that hand for as long as he could, around the noisy and restless mountains. An exhaustion of heat came up. A shaking of the ground, an uncontrollable scream of the splurting earth. Astyanax’s rage, perhaps.

He let go of Ishmael. His hands were smooth, surprisingly smooth. Even in the arid, sediment-filled air. Jeremiah rested him on the side of the mountain. There was nothing there anymore. No pulse, no voice, no thought. Empty, like a doll. 
And they ran away. Scared of the body, scared of the geysers, scared of everything. Endlessly running, where? Anywhere. Anywhere.

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