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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74. Chapter 73 Part 1

Jeremiah
Hours after the battle at the Barracks of the 23rd

It was strange to walk around the lonely desert and still, to feel as if someone was watching him. But maybe it was just a feeling. Just maybe, it was just the volatile winds of that green and yellow hue that spilled forth from that geyser hell from before. It might have just been the clouds of rolling dust along the desert floor. Or it was nothing (which he never believed to be true). What he did know was that feeling in the back of his head, the feeling of being watched was very true. It was, after all, a unique feeling that he could only describe as a cold yank at the back of his head. An acute sensation of unrest.

Jeremiah rubbed the back of his neck. All around him was the presence of sand, multi-colored and all of it fine. It looked like streaks of green running horizontal across the plain and it had a fine texture (he noticed because it dug deep into his feet). It looked like the mountains, if there were any here at one point in history, had been reduced, stone and gem and all, into the flamboyant sand. He shook his head. The gristle was in his follicles, in his eyes, filling every fleshy corner of his eye with the light coating of sand. He rubbed his eyes, looked at the boy. He looked like he had golden-green cataracts on him. It must have been the same for himself.

He pulled the boy by his shoulder.

Behind them were the fumes of the geysers past, like factory stacks. It was a cloud that carried itself and dispersed among the boundless expanse of mountainous sands. The valley of geysers so far that their little alleys and their cracked plateaus seemed to disappear into small smudges. He began to wonder if they were even here. If this wasn’t all just some big heat-stroke induced illusion. 

There was a sound. His eyes snapped.

He turned.

It was just foliage, dragging its thorny tails down a slope.

"Where are we going?" Bartholomew asked.

"Does it matter? We're going away. Far, far away."

"I know. But where are we going?" His small hands were together and it made him walk awkward with trepidation.

There was nothing in his brain that even resembled an answer. There was no answer. Where were they going? Nowhere, probably. So why run? Jeremiah asked himself. Why run, why struggle, why, why, why. Successive blows of questions that made him hunch over and gasp. 

Why? 

The strong wind blew. It lifted him, gripped his hair and his clothes and pushed them like an inept parachute. Jeremiah braced his face and felt gale like a blast, like a wave of the ocean. The boy fell, Jeremiah put his hands over him. A giant surf of sand rose high into the air, several feet above Jeremiah before it came down. It looked like the brown tongue of some hungry behemoth. But it left him dry and coughing.

All around, the hot and wicked wind was lifting the sand, and pushing Jeremiah back with tempests of sandy waves like currents. It was strong, even for him, an adult and it stung like lashings against his skin and it pulled his cheeks.

The boy was lifted off his feet. Jeremiah had to pull him back down before he started levitating.

He looked around with squinted eyes, there was no tornado, there was nothing but those toxic, hot, geyser fumes manifesting into wild currents as if the very soul of this island wanted him gone. And he saw the manifestation at last. Illusion? A mental distortion? It couldn’t be, he thought. 

He saw a lone figure out, from where those geysers had once been in his vision. He saw the black figure walking towards him, without any defining attributes but a shadowy vengeance, Jeremiah presumed.

He had the outline of those demonic legions, at least, someone tall and big and frightening and whose figure loomed over. Yes, the desert and island must have wanted him dead. And it must have sent this assassin for him, he felt in his heart. 

And now, Jeremiah couldn't even waste his time to think of an answer the question (if there was an answer) to why he was here. It didn't matter. Why didn't matter, running mattered. 

He pulled the boy from his arm and began dragging them both up the sharp incline of a sharp dune. He felt his legs sinking, he felt his eyes hurting from grit, but he ran. Bartholomew stopped only a few seconds after jogging. Jeremiah grabbed him and put him up on his shoulders like a wagon. He felt his feet sink, but he ran anyway, dragging sand up the hill with him. 

There were no birds that waited hungrily, none could survive the heavy wind. There were no creatures, at least on the surface, for they would have been lifted. There was no one but the three. A terrible place to be, Jeremiah thought. Too heavy, and he’d sink. Too light, and he’d fly.

He just had to outrun it.

With the boy on his shoulder, held by that death grip around his stomach, he braced himself through the rounds of heavy wind. They came in pulses, at least. One, two, one, two. It was an ocean of sand and he felt in the midst of the tsunami.

He looked behind himself. 

The figure was slowing, but still at a steady pace. He seemed to sink (he definitely had no problem with the ear-shattering winds, he looked heavy after all). No, this person kept his way and raised his hand to wave, as if to taunt. 

At least that's what Jeremiah figured, that's what he read in the movements and that's what kept his heart rate up and his senses sharp and his brain empty of those stupid questions.

"Slow-down." The boy said with that broken, dry throat. "I can't see anything."

"You don't need to see anything." Jeremiah was screaming though he was centimeters away from his ear. The air carried with it a howl. It was a strange noise, a bit like crashing waves and a bit like a collapsing building. It’s what he imagined those haunted tombs of kings to sound of. 

“Shit.” Jeremiah screeched.

He felt a whip of sand hit his back. Jeremiah put his hand on the injury. He could feel the swelling flesh, imagine the red skin behind his clothes. He turned to look and made a fool of himself. There was a decline in front of him. His feet rushed to balance himself. He failed, he slipped. The boy flew out of his hands and rolled like a log down to the base. Jeremiah followed him, with one foot forward and his body leaned to slide himself down. 

“Are you okay?” He rubbed the dirt from the boys face. There were no tears though his face looked hurt. 

"Who are we running from?" The boy coughed up sand. It looked terrible, the phlegm covered globs of packed sand. They looked like small tumors of earth.

"From them, from whatever and whoever is chasing us. And they won’t catch us, you hear me? We didn’t escape for nothing.” Jeremiah said. Sam didn’t die for nothing, he thought.

"Why?" The boy curled into a ball. Jeremiah covered him and the oppressive wind pushed at them again. Nudged them, prodded, poked, slapped with loud caustic concussions, spinning rocks and clothes into a fine whirlwind of chaos. The stones were hurled at Jeremiah. He couldn’t feel them much anymore, not with the adrenaline. But he noticed the blood, the long streaks covering his vision.

This wind, this sadist in heat, this abuser.

Jeremiah looked over the boy. He wasn’t hurt at least.

"You’re still asking that shit?" Jeremiah said. "Why are we going? Because if we don't move, we die. That's why."

The child, still low and on the floor, gripped sand. He flung it randomly, defiantly. His face, a contorted mix of strain and sadness.

"Where are we going." He said again. Less of a question, more of a statement. 

Jeremiah grabbed him by the hand and pulled forward. The boy shimmied out of the grip.

"I won't walk until I know where we're going."

Again, Jeremiah grabbed his sleeve. He pulled the shirt and the boy pulled back until it ripped. He arm looked like a broken flower, with half the petals strewn on the floor and the other half drooping hopelessly from the bud. The wind cast out again, grabbing the rags high and up into the air, tossing it like confetti in celebration.

"How can you ask me that?" Jeremiah screamed. "I don't know where the fuck we are! Or where we're going! Or why anything like this is happening!"

"Then why even try." He fell on his knees. "There's nothing. Just dirt."

"You need to stop thinking like that. The minute you give up is the minute you die." 

"And what’s wrong with that?" 

His heart sank. His lips quivered and he realized, looking at the boys face, that he had accepted the situation long before Jeremiah had. That for all intents and purposes, Jeremiah had been carrying a corpse on himself and this was their sepulcher.

He looked at the boy's empty face. 

"Because I made a promise, that's why."

"My dad’s not here. He won’t care. You don’t need to try anymore." Bartholomew said.

Jeremiah struggled to stand.

"No." He said in a voice so low as to be indistinguishable before the white noise of the sandy plane. But the boy could read his lips, no. No? "It’s easy to give up, isn’t it? Painless and easy. But it’s not good enough. Alright? This isn’t about having hope or not. Fuck hope. This is about putting up a fight the only way you can. You hear me? This is about not letting those fuckers get your tears, or your pain, or your joy. Because they don’t deserve it. You don't give them a thing. Nothing. And when you do that, it doesn't matter where you're going or where you're not going. What matters is making it as hard as possible for those tin-head fucks. Let them try to take your soul.

“This is all I can tell you. This is what your dad would have told you and I’m sorry he’s not here, but you need to take it from me when I say, fight. You keep going. You carry the fire, you keep going until all they have left of you is ash and a big, wide smile. You let them know they didn’t break you. This is how your dad was, always a troublemaker. Always getting into business that wasn’t his. Always trying, even if he couldn’t do much. Putting up a good fight even when you’ve lost is the essence of being a noble human being. It’s an important lesson, it’s one I was taught only recently and one I’m teaching you now. So you better learn it, your dad would hold it against me if I didn’t.”

“But he’s not here.” The boy screamed.

“He doesn’t have to be. You’d be amazed what a ghost can do to your sanity.” He laughed, for the first time in a long time. It almost felt foreign to him.

The boy rubbed the sand from his face with his small hands.

"You can keep going.” Jeremiah raised his chin with a tender finger. “I remember the first time I ran at a guy. Fucker was high on meth, running naked across the street. He ran laps around me. I tried ten minutes before I vomited. And you’re dad.”

“My dad?” 

“Took him fifteen seconds. I’ve never seen a middle-aged man run as fast as him. He looked like a god damn sprinting whale.” Jeremiah wheezed out a small heckle. “I asked him what his secret was and he said it was his fat belly. You see, he said, you put your weight forward and you run like mad.”

They both went at it, with their heads sharp at an angle against the assault of wind.

“Don’t you start philosophizing now,” Jeremiah screamed. “Save that for the egg-heads in their lazy, cushioned chairs, alright?” 

He smiled, however false it was and he was glad the boy copied him.

"I don't know why you got this kind of life, I don't know why God designed it for you in this way, but it's still your life. It's all you have, in the end. You hold on to it as long as possible and you don’t hand it to anyone. Not to monsters, not to men, not to God. You make ‘em suffer to try."

Jeremiah looked up, his head barely reached the edge of the dune around them but he could still see the distinct figure, the footsteps of the figure, in a place he hoped to be far away, but what was eerily close.

He wiped his face of sweat and snot.

"What the fuck am I saying?” He laughed to himself. “I'm in my twenties and I’m talking like an old man." He said. "Must be the climate, sun must be getting to my head. Scrambling it. 

“Keep going.” The boy protested.

Jeremiah sneered. “That’s good, that’s good."

The boy ran ahead. Through that molasses sand. They felt it in their shoes, between their toes, in their thighs. The heavy, grating feeling of sand like a file was working at them, shrinking them. 

Jeremiah looked at the boy. 

"It won't always be this bad, trust me."

They ran for an hour and at the end were rewarded at last, to the revealing flat desert ahead where dust turned into solid stone, where the road was cracked and hot and the image of the horizon shook with heat.

He felt glad, funnily enough, at the sight. 

And something else was glad beneath them. A rumbling had begun, something unnoticeable to the two weary travelers. It was a small tremor that they confused for their failing legs. And it was something large, living, crawling, underneath this new territory. 

He looked behind him to the lone figure still trailing them.

“Go go go. We’ve got a long way to go.” Jeremiah pushed the boy. And they both went at it, for whatever was coming, was coming fast. 

 

Author's Note: Holy moly, 10k views. Thanks!

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