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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79. Chapter 77

Astyanax
Weeks after the funeral of Jeremiah

He had gotten sick of it. Staring out through the window, in the corner of his eyes where the slaves towed the fields with their dragging stones of marble, like the slaves of Egypt. He had gotten sick of the lines in the dirt, of the sound of their slopping footsteps stepping onto soft clay and mud. He had gotten sick of Dion, at the head of the pack of six slaves, with ropes attached to his chest like a common barn animal, dragging the stones through. 

And the cathedral. The cathedral that stood near him, near the barracks and the common fields, the cathedral behind the whole palace. With a strange blend of Gothic, Roman corners and pillars, with the high towers and arches that blocked even the aqueducts. He hated seeing it, even though he, Astyanax, had made it. 

The looming tower, the slaves near the fields of it, the demonic legionnaires in lazy wait. All of it angered Astyanax, seeing a man he admired and loved, seeing them this docile, this stupid, this obedient. He felt disgust.

The beatings obviously weren’t enough. Starvation obviously wasn’t enough. Labor work? Dion probably enjoyed it by now. His body seemed to run on something else, something nonexhaustive, something that glistened his eyes each time he looked at Astyanax. It wasn’t anger, pleasure. It was something that, to Astyanax, seemed worse. Something extremely sinister. A symptom gone undiagnosed that now threatened to plague Astyanax, and worse, the rest of the slaves in the pen. 

Astyanax withdrew himself from the window sill and charged down the stairs. He didn’t waste time putting on his cape, or the large purple tunic. He didn’t wear his pins or embroidered fabrics, he came down with those peasant clothes as if to join the slaves in their toiling.

Out into the halls, through the first wall of his little city, he opened two wooden doors. The grassy fields blew gently, the little paradise in this desert hell. He ran towards the slaves. Horace followed behind, picked up along the way like like a ship in a storm, dragged and thrown about. 

“What are you doing, young master?” He rubbed his hands together and tried to get ahead of the king. 

“None of your business, get back.” Astyanax reached inside a wooden compound, an armory it looked. He plucked a leather whip from one of the boxes, the many ends licked the floor. The sound made Horace cringe. Muscle memory. 

“What are you trying to do? Everyones working as demanded.” He said. 

“Do I need a reason to beat someone?” He kicked Horace away and watched him roll on the floor.  “My heart demands I move, and I listen.” 

Horace struggled to fix himself up, his clothes were dirtied.

“Wanton desires will kill you, young master. Please be patient.” He said.

He didn’t listen. He went on through the fields, towards the murmur of moans and the sound of dragging earth. He went towards Dion, whose face was kept forward like a bold look of eagles. There was a tight rope around his chest and arms, they branded him with the design of threads. He turned his face only briefly, his hair didn’t even had time to rest before he felt the lashing on his chest. 

His rags went with his skin, off and away, like small paper strips. Paper airplanes in the air, bleeding red. He fell to the floor and the ton of slab behind him wobbled before being assuaged into standstill.  

“Is this what you want to be?” He shot out again. “A beast of burden?”

Flesh ripped, blood sprayed against the marble stone and the swirls of black and white mixed with red, Dion looked up. 

“You’re a warrior, aren’t you?” Astyanax screamed. Horace came around to pull him back, but he couldn’t. Astyanax cocked his hands and shot out six times. The lashings were quick and cut deep and on the seventh, when the leather straps seemed broken, when the ends of the whip themselves seemed dangle like busted limbs, Dion grabbed back. 

He tugged on the whip from the bottom of the floor. He had some anger in him, a mild flaring of nostrils and focus of eyes. But those subsided along with his wounds. He ripped his shirt off, it dragged with blood and sweat and he stood to face the king. 

“You’re weaker than before.” Astyanax pulled, like a master with his dog. “How long do you think you’ll last? Do you intend to make your death as painful as possible? With an empty stomach and empty strength?”

He circled Dion. Horace tried following but slipped, his old body caked with dirt.

“I want to see that look on your face break, I really do.” He said. “Should I make it slow then, just flay you live, make you beg for it? It wouldn’t be hard.”

Dion breathed deeply. He looked at the blank sky. 

“Is that death fit for warriors?” Astyanax slapped the floor with his whip. “Say something!”

“I’m not a warrior,” Dion lipped the words but did not speak them.

“What was that?”

“I’m not a warrior.” He said. “I’m just a man.”

The other slaves, those morphed and mutilated creatures, looked with their eyes (or eye), their mouths open and their faces drooling. 

“I’m just a man,” Dion said. “It’s all I’ve ever been.”

“No, you’re a boy,” Astyanax said. “A masochist too, a Catholic choir boy, too stupid to know what greatness and pleasure await you.”

“I’m fine being stupid and childish.”

“No, it’s not fine.” He whipped his legs and watched them turn red before healing, slowly. “I thought us kin. I still do.”

“Is that why I bother you? You can’t look in a mirror?”

They all heard the whip crack again. It snapped against the floor.
 
“Do you think yourself a martyr?” Astyanax said. “I’ve asked you to fight men, to prove yourself, to take yourself the title that of which is owed to you. I’ve offered you a place here.”

“I have no interest in entertaining you.” Dion focused his eyes. “I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t want to have custody over a desert, in the middle of Hell. To spend my years here, with you. No. Who would want that?”

“So that’s how it is.” He threw the whip to his side. “What do you want?”

Dion’s eyes narrowed. Was this a trick? There was a kind of defeatist posture to Astyanax, that low, boxed up posture.

“Well?” 

Dion said nothing, he kept his focused rage towards the king.

“Of course,” The corner of his lips twitched. “I’ve known what you wanted. The purpose, the stakes.

Horace came up and touched grabbed his ankles.

“Stop, don’t do this,” Horace said. Astyanax dug his heel into his jaw and pushed the old butler to the side.

“Do you think I won’t fight you? That I’m afraid?” 

“Ever since you invited me here, you’ve kept me de-clawed. You’ve taken my weapons, you’ve made me play the obedient dog. It sure seems like you’re afraid.”

“Afraid of what? I have thousands of years worth of experience on you. I’ve been in this Hell before your precious Jesus was even born, before your church was ever made.”

They both stared at each other, even eyed. The slaves now gawked with similar intensity, the guards became drawn to the conflict, more curious than cautious for their precious king's safety.

“We should have done this a long time ago,” Dion said. “Wealth didn’t work. Courtesy didn’t work. Stockholm syndrome didn’t work. I’ve known what I wanted.”

Astyanax rubbed his face. 

“I loved you. I wanted you, so, so much.” Astyanax felt his grip loosen. “I’ll be alone again, after you’re gone.”

“You were always alone.”

His hands felt loose, slippery. Astyanax took a step back and let his eyes fall on the nearest guard. They looked sharper, thinner, beady like a crow. His breaths were controlled and calculated, his gestures cold, stern. His regal nature, killed. His mood, sobered. 

“You won’t win.” Astyanax felt the wind between his red fingers and white hair. His eyes looked like two yellow moons, big and demanding and all imposing. 

“Oh no, no, no, please no,” Horace said. 

“Are you sure about that, old man?” Dion smiled. He tried to suppress the happy feeling in him, tried to convince himself better than the king. But his hands couldn’t help but tremble.

“Are you sure?” Astyanax asked. Dion nodded.

“It won’t be today. But it will be soon, very soon.” He turned. His face looked down. “We’ll need an audience for your funeral. If you won’t be remembered in life, you’ll be remembered in death. Are you sure about this?”
 
“I have God on my side, what am I to fear?” Dion said.

“Don’t we all? We’re all to His image, we’re all apart of His plan.” Astyanax slicked his long white hair back. “And if everything exists only with his say-so, that if my desire is also God’s will, then it’s safe to say that I have him on my side, as well. Right?”
 
“I’d like to think you’d have a chance to ask him yourself, but where I’m sending you, there’s nothing. No answers, no questions. A man without form, with nothing but his dark soul, I’ll send you to oblivion.” Dion said. “I’ll bury you here, in your own kingdom and whatever you were, or are, will be gone. That’s the truth.”

“No, no, no.” Astyanax frowned. His eyes seemed to drag in and around his eye sockets like loose billiards. “I’ve already foreseen it. I see it now, your body will be torn, bleeding, and dragged about my home. Like Achilles did to my father, I too will do to you. That will be your glory, as a ragdoll strapped to horses. I promise.”

There was nothing left to say. The wind too, seemed hesitant to blow. Astyanax left there, Horace followed quickly after and Dion, with the other slaves, stood indifferently.

The guards, as if in accordance to some unwritten law, left Dion alone. He was free, to some extent. He walked the grounds, looking for nothing in particular, seeing nothing in particular. And one seemed to stop him. He was free indeed.

And it was funny thinking then, that he’d wait in that room with the cage. That bedroom.

He’d wait for his call, the call for war and he wondered what it would sound like. A moan? A shout? A cry.

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