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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80. Chapter 78

Horace

Horace followed Astyanax through the cathedral and its gaudy chambers. All around the main preacher hall, the wooden benches were broken and splintered, the round ceiling tops in the brink of collapse as the painted glass fell like stray drops of candy-colored water. Horace tiptoed and maneuvered around the stray nails and wood and sharp stone, his whole body small and hunched over. The wide, chubby face with the beard that touched the floor and the long-nailed hands he kept close to him to avoid cutting himself on the wreckage of the church.

“You should have never taken him in, you should have killed him from the very beginning,” Horace said. “You knew he was an assassin, you knew how this would end. And now, now-”

“Do you think I’ll lose?” Astyanax asked. They stopped at the very front of the church, where the floor was elevated for the preacher or would-be preacher. Where the baptismal pond, the ceremonial font vibrated with the loud shout of Astyanax. There were rusted organs, crude shaped things like the pipes of an engine that fueled this hell. A critter inside shook, made a scratching noise and traversed the copper.

“N-no, master,” Horace said. “But it’s my responsibility to worry about you.”

“It’s the only thing you’ve been good at. Worrying.” Astyanax said. “Thousands of years of worrying, doesn’t it get boring? Aren’t you dreadfully bored of thinking the same thing for so long? What do I even lose, explain it to me?”

“The only thing worth losing, master, your soul. It’s everything.”

“Is it though!” Astyanax kicked the wall in front of him. The vaulted ceilings shook, bits of stone fell off. The candlesticks, flat and dusty, toppled over. In front of Astyanax, a wooden cross fell down, anchored to the floor. The nail hinges it hung by were broken, the glued sections took with them the piece of the wall they had been stuck to. Both of them looked at it, Astyanax’s demure darkening underneath the shadows of buttresses high and above the glass walls. His form came in and out of that darkness, and with it, the sharp-blaring sound of the cross scratching the uneven floor. Bumps, pivots, like loud drum bangs as the cross moved around the steps and holes of the floor.

“Perfect,” Astyanax said. He took the cross out to the rear door, through a confessional chamber and through a gallery of statues. Priam, Aeneas, Hector. The old family of that old world, with their worn and broken faces, staring down at their heir.

“What do you mean?” Horace asked. “Aren’t you afraid of oblivion? There’s no coming back from that, young master.” 

Astyanax shielded his eyes from the sun and scanned the area around him. He tried to remember the years in which he built this cathedral. He couldn’t find the memory, only the feeling of what had made him for a brief moment, consider God. When was it? 

Those crusades, perhaps. Those long-lasting crusades that had inspired him to build this church. Not at first, of course. The Gothic inspiration came years after the wars. All he had to the church, at first, was a small house with a small cross. It hadn’t been until nearly half a thousand years later where he would witness the imposing fortress of a proper Cathedral. What a strange thing, he thought, looking out in the field and the shadow overcast by the building. He had held onto that faith for almost five hundred, maybe, six hundred years.

To build this gaudy church on this gaudy land to satisfy a God that had abandoned him, and the years… 

The years! He had crawled onto the steps of this cathedral and prayed in that foreign faith, abandoning those Roman gods of his, for an imaginary blessing. 

That foreign faith had failed him. 

He knew this, immediately, when he awoke on the turn of the sixth century of his drawling knee-scrapping worship. After that, he tried the rest of those Abrahamic faiths, whatever shape and form they took. Centuries of it all, all having failed him. The same God under different names. All of them, slow and painful lessons that perhaps he just could not be salvaged. Not like other people.

“I’m not afraid, my dear Horace,” Astyanax said. 

Thirteen steps led to the cathedral, he stepped down five. In front of him like a path or a fence were rusted swords. Shields, armor, laid around like makeshift grave markings. Which they were. Some were old, too old and now lost to time. Some were fresh, still glistening. What a strange place, this graveyard, and this church. And they both merited the pain it took to make them. Neither were easy tasks, building, and killing.

“I’m not afraid. I’m angry, you see,” Astyanax said. “I’m angry about playing games for gods, from all-seeing Heaven to all-consuming Hell.”

“Hold your tongue, please. This kind of speech is what keeps you condemned.”

“Horace,” Astyanax shouted. The servant looked up with a low brow, with his soft pliable face stretched down. “Won’t you mature? I’m three thousand years due for salvation. At some point, you just have to accept it’s not coming.” 

“It’s because you continue with these vanities. Piety can’t exist in your swollen, broken heart. There’s no room for it! Too much of this arrogance, too much of this fighting. Let it go, or kill it with this last young man at last. I beg of thee.”

“Have you considered, perhaps, that these Gods just aren’t worth worshiping?” Astyanax said. “It’s a revelation that might kick you out of that naivety.”

“Then what do you worship?”

“Myself.” The shadow of a cross appeared on Horace’s face, he blinked and shielded his face. A reaction to nothing that came, no, Astyanax ignored him and wandered into that high grass. Horace followed, spitting his white hair out of his mouth.

They went through the fields, the grass felt soft underneath their feet. The shallow graves padded their steps, the overgrown mounds, the fresh holes. They stopped at a patch, a small oval section of the field of grass where small tender yellow flowers grew. Yellow and white field flowers. Astyanax turned his shoulder over, he maneuvered his arms around the wooden cross and planted it deep into the floor; turned upside down. A bit rebellious, a bit bitter. With the arms of the cross close to the floor and the stem facing up, he put his foot down and dug it deep like a spade. 

“Here,” He said. “This will be a nice place to nail Dion’s corpse. Don’t you think?”

Horace put both hands on his face. 

“I thought as much,” Astyanax said. He looked around his little kingdom, the mountainous dome walls that wrapped around, the hole at the very top whose light seemed magnified to a burning glow. There were cracks in these walls, slow-building cracks where the light had wrestled to find home in, where the desert chipped away slowly. He had tried fighting it for a while, but come the turn of the century had decided not to. It was too tiresome. Home-keeping was too tiresome. And without a physical body to sleep, without rest for his tiredness, there was no use in even trying. Nothing short of eating and fighting and violating mattered, the essence of man.

“Are you sure you’ll win?” Horace asked.

Astyanax felt the draft of wind between his bloodstained hands. 

“Does it make you angry, Horace, when you think about God? When you think of the demons far below us, when you think of how small we are, in this world?” Astyanax asked. Horace rubbed his arms. 

“Look at how much has happened in our lives and how short and small it still, all is. A man can live a thousand lives and he’d still only exist in the mere blink of the universe. It’s absurd. It really is.” His tone fell. “There are creatures that live beyond imagination, that experience eternity. And us? We merely spectate the moving image of infinity. And it will pass us by. And we will be left alone. Victims of cosmic horror. A sideshow for God and Satan and their army of idiots.”

“Young master…” Horace looked at the floor and put his feet close together, his hands in clasp in front of him.

“I’m sick of it. I just wanted to say that, I’m sick of it. I hate being small, feeling weak.”

“Young master.” Horace tugged at him. “Will you win?”

Astyanax looked down. His face shrunk to an offensive dullness as if staring into the sad existence of a dumb animal. He looked at Horace, looked at his stupidity. He was shriveled and Astyanax sighed, speaking with tamed patience. 

Astyanax shook his head, smiled. He extended himself with gentle hands for the inferior creature and touched his cheek. 

Horace felt the smooth palm. It was cold. 

“Of course I’ll win,” Astyanax turned away. He straightened himself in front of the fixture of light in the sky, that red ring. With his haughty voice, again, he said. “It’s my fate to beat Dion, isn’t it? And you can’t beat fate.”

And his confidence grew into that sinister grin. Insanity and sadness strobing in and out of him so fast and strong that it was hard to even tell them apart. He laughed, earnestly, from the gut, an innocent sound laughter that made Horace reel. Astyanax faced the front of the dome, far away from them, he was looking at a little blip on the wall of that giant dome. Horace couldn’t tell, he was still off-put by the laughter but figured the king was staring at the doors of this Trojan wall. Two massive, metal doors that began to scratch and screech with an obscene salacity. A want to open. It sucked in and out. And whatever it was keeping out, whatever armies and legions waited for Astyanax outside of this door, desperately wanted to come in.

“I won’t fight for God. I won’t fight for the Satan, I won’t give either the pleasure of my glory! No, I will fight for my people. The serfs and the soldiers, the sick and the disturbed. Do you understand? I need no God or Devil, I need only my people.” He put his hand on Horace’s shoulder. “An execution without an audience is just masturbation. I need the crowd, I need them to hear the message, to feel it with. We need no heroes, we need no one!” 

The king started twirling to the imaginary shouts and praise.

“Yes, yes. Go ring the bells, dear Horace. Ring them now or I’ll kill you.”

His spine curled.

Horace left running, holding his gray coat above his knees and running across the fields, cutting his feet on the swords and armor plates of soldiers lost, running desperately to that cathedral once more. 

He opened the doors and let the echo rise through the building. He ran to the back of the place, towards a small wooden door just his size. He crawled through, took a torch from the wall and hit a flint in his pocket against the wall. The sparks went wild. The fire rose. He tripped and ran and tripped and ran all the steps up that tower, up to a chamber, out the window through the pointed arches. He followed the maze-like structure, wrapped his arms around the spires as if to not fall. The long way up, the only way up. Platform after platform he went through until he touched the thin-ice glass acting as the ceiling to the main room of the church. It cracked beneath his feet and he spread out his body along the material. The stains of his hands and feet littered the picture of the three wise kings. He apologized, mentally, and went past them near the top of the cathedral. Past the ribbed vaults and the clustered columns. Like bones compressed into a cage. A collection of skeletons, a macabre tall building this was. 

The wind at the top of the building blew harsh, he could see the villa miles away. It was all here, the history of insanity. He looked behind himself now, to the giant bell. A large, patina covered green bell. Cracked a bit at its ends, hungry to ring. He heard the whistle it made as the wind blew through its little cracks. 

His eyes felt swollen, his arms did not want to move. He crawled to the tall bell and the chain mechanism near it. 

Let him kill me, he thought, I won’t summon them. 

He began to sweat, thinking, better to let his passions die. 

But he crawled forward anyways. His right hand found the lever, his other hand pulled the chain. 

I shouldn’t, he thought. I’m feeding his desires.

He pulled it a bit, tugged it only and already he could hear the mechanisms at the top of the bell, creaking with the aged gears. They scratched against each other. 

He stopped. But then thought, coward that he was, he thought of the question he had asked Astyanax.

Are you afraid of oblivion?

Yes, yes he was. Afraid of the death of the soul. And afraid of the man he loved like a son. Afraid of them both, at the same time. 

He pulled the lever. He heard the wretched sound. It was booming, it pushed his body back. He barely hung by the handle of the lever and lifted himself back slowly. His hairs rose off his arms and chest and made his skin sensitive. As if lightning had begun to allocate itself around him, into a kind of shield that contained and encompassed all thrill and fear.

The sound of the bell was killing his brain. It haunted him, all the way down as he made his way back. A cry. The sound bled in and out of him until his brain was filled with it like a hemorrhage. Until he ran out of space to even think. He made it down, touched the floor and ran to away as fast as possible. His hands clasped to his ears, he ran away from the summons of Astyanax. 

The call of the Colosseum. The call for war.

And he wondered, only briefly in the small interval of one bell ring from another, he wondered if God could hear the sound from far up high.

 

Author's Note: Three thousand years living with an overbearing dad would make anyone edgy.

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