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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88. Chapter 86

Bartholomew


He retracted his arm from the corpse. The drops of blood made a light trickling sound as they hit the cracked tiles of floor. Everyone stood in silence, the air felt heavy in their lungs, their eyes could not blink. Apollo stood. Above the corpse, his leg poking the body for a sign of life. The eyes of Astyanax slowly fading. It was a gruesome death, this slow degradation. The blood spilled out from every cavity of Astyanax. The muscles ripped open, bleeding. The chest cavity, open, bleeding. 

Apollo looked back to the two on the floor that had waited for him, Dion and Bartholomew. There was a murmur, some wheezing that was so pained and frightened that he could no figure who it came from, the boy or Dion. Apollo, heart in hand, moved towards them. The boy flinched at the sight of the bloody man. Most of the remaining demons did. They could not believe it, though they saw it. But Apollo, in the languor of victory, extended his hand out to the boy and the cup. He swiped it from the awestruck boy and squeezed the heart above it. The crystalline, cloudy heart. It looked like a ruby more than an organ, and it produced no more than a few inches worth of blood inside the cup. 

“Now you can go home,” Apollo said. He was just about to hand it when he heard a pained groan from Dion. It was something loud and furious and he knelt next to him to hear it. 

His eyes blinked, one lid seemed shut and the other was only half-open. As if he was in a stupor of pain.

“I lost,” Dion mumbled.

“Don’t worry about it, he’s dead.”

“I lost.” He repeated. His face dropped, his eyes seemed to look away from any human contact, staring off into emptiness. “How’d I lose? Wasn’t God on my side?”

Apollo said nothing. He rubbed his arm and stood up.  

“What’s wrong with him?” The boy asked.

“Too much, but he’ll live.” Apollo looked back to the boy. His shoulders relaxed. "Don’t worry about him. It’s time for you to go home."

The boy looked up, confused as to whether to smile or not. 

And again, the arbiter of the locale, the disruptor, and guardian angel. The Hyena appeared, crawling slowly with long nails that tapped on the floor. Everyone was forced to turn save for Dion who had fallen unconscious again, mumbling his grievances like lullabies. 

Everyone else, demon, man, boy, all turned. The Hyena stomped on the floor like an oracle upon the amphitheater. His eyes sharp and thin like daggers.

"But how do you expect to get out?" The Hyena asked. "There's only enough blood for two." 

"Then the boy and Dion go," Apollo said. His voice filtered through them mask gave him a bit of reverb. It was a haunting sound, low and brutish.

"Hmm." The Hyena mused with a kind of reserved playfulness. He’s hiding something, Bartholomew thought.

But what?

It was a secret, something very close to them. Something that waited further from Horace’s crushed corpse, something that hung by the side of the wall like a disgusting fly. Something drawing near with gentle footsteps.

A face appeared from that dark veil. A face that made Apollo run for the sword lying near Astyanax. The lone demon face amongst the hoard of demons. Or perhaps, he was just another kind of demon? Of a smaller make, but definitely of the same species.  

Apollo bent down to pick it up, the heart still taking space in his only good hand. His eyes flashed red again, widened, and his knees bent towards the direction of the oncoming figure. No, he wouldn’t need a sword. Not that dark steel, warped and cool and laying a pool of blood like a kind of lubricant. 

He stood, heart in hand, now nearly crushing it completely.

"Do you know this man?" The Hyena asked.

"Do I know him?" Apollo screamed. The other demons were seized, they froze. There must have been only just twenty, twenty from a large crowd of hundreds. "How could I forget? That beard can’t hide you, that darkness can’t hide you. Nothing can with that reputation of yours. Am I right, Doctor Alestor?”

Alestor did not speak. He walked forward with his bruised bare feet. He entered the jury, he met with the executioner, and now waited for judgment. It seemed like he didn’t even care anymore, with his arms lying to their sides and his figure a wreckage of the hostile, frightening thing he was once before.
"So you killed him." Alestor finally let out. “You were the most dogged after all.”

"Yeah, funny thing, huh. Madmen are dying left and right." Apollo said.

Alestor swallowed his spit. He seemed of a strong conviction, there was no tension in his face. It was all dullness. Dullness and acceptance.

The Hyena, smiling with his devil's teeth took turns glancing between the two, observing them both.

"What is there left to do, Apollo?" He asked.”Kill him, like he’s done to many."

Apollo stood straight. His eyes a strong crimson color.

"What’s one mortal man to you? It would be a merciful thing to do, wouldn’t it be? To kill him, to eat that tainted heart of his. I heard that warlocks have a nice tanginess to them." The Hyena laughed.

One death is all it would take. One death to ruin a man, one death to send him into that Fibonacci spiral of ecstatic self-destruction. One death, just one human death to earn his place in that dark abyss whether it be in this life or the other. And who would care, here in Hell? 

Demons, men, all the same. Why bother distinguishing between the two? Why worry at all?

"Have you killed a man before?" The Hyena asked. "It's easy, they’re so fragile. You just thrust and twist, like this." 

He made the motion with his head, turning it like a key in a lock until the bones of his neck cracked. The sound made Bartholomew cringe.


Apollo shook, he felt the hostility up his neck like a hot flare.

"You know what he's done, don't you?"

"I lived it. Of course I do." He said in a raw tone. 

And he walked towards Alestor. His tight grip still on the heart. He’d just need to punch a hole in him, that’s it.

Bartholomew stood and watched, the intent in Apollo's eyes striking him with a terrible feeling of numbness. The Hyena sneering, rolling, wagging his tail to the pace of Apollo’s walk.

He felt powerless, like before, the many times before. He had lost count of it, those moments of powerlessness. Powerlessness reduced him and made him shiver. Powerlessness had made him a coward. 

And he thought of the story of Apollo, second-hand killer of his friend. And he thought of Apollo, the lonely child. And he thought of Apollo, soon-to-be murderer.

He ran towards Apollo and lunged at his foot with a far stretched dive. 

Apollo stopped, he looked down at the child and tried wagging him off. The boy clung on with his nails on Apollo’s black pants.

"What are you doing? This isn't any of your business." Apollo said. He pulled the child by the back of his shirt and raised him to head level. The boy squirmed.

"Don't do this." He said, arms dangling.

"Do you know who this man is?" Apollo asked. 

"I-I've seen him before," Bartholomew said.

“But do you know?” Apollo asked.

“No. Who cares?” 

"This man killed your father. This man killed innocent men and women. This man killed children, kids your very age. Plenty of them, I'm sure." Apollo said. "This man is the reason your friend is dead. All of them, dead. This man, above all other men, deserves to go." 

Bartholomew looked at the stranger, Alestor. An odd feeling came to him. Anger, pity. it's not that he did not believe Apollo, it's not that he didn't care. It’s that he couldn’t care for death anymore. With Astyanax’s body still cold on the floor, with all the other demons still cold. With all his friends, still dead. He could not stand it. He could not stand the numbness, the feeling of life escaping, the emptiness of rooms where people once were, the emptiness of hearts where humanity once was. And it was not that he did not hate Alestor, it was that he hated the idea of what he was much more. And hated, further, the idea that Apollo would become just that.

For sin, like any other energy in the universe, like any other system, can be inherited and usually is, destroying the old vessel in favor of the new one. On and on like a curse. The curse of sin.

"So what?" Bartholomew asked. 

They all gasped a bit. The Hyena shook his head.

"Just kill him." He said. "What better judge is there besides you? Who else here is fit to represent God? And believe me, God would have struck him dead." 

"You're not God," Bartholomew said. "You're not anything but Apollo. And I think that if you kill him, you’ll stop being Apollo."

He sat the boy on the floor and kept walking. 

"I'm just trash kid, It’s all I’ve ever been and all I ever will be," Apollo said. "So what's there to lose?" 

Bartholomew ran at him again. 

"And then what?" Bartholomew asked. "And what changes when he dies? The people go on, the world turns. Nothing changes. Nothing but you."

He pulled him back from walking. 

“You're not doing this for me. You're doing this for you." Bartholomew tugged his pants. "And I'm telling you, I know, that killing him would hurt you in a way...in a terrible, permanent way. I feel it."

"How do you know?"

"I just feel it. I just know.”

“Then what’s the right thing to do?” Apollo asked.

“I can’t tell you that. That’s too hard for me to think about.” He said. “I just know that when the world is so mean and cruel, that it doesn’t take much to be mean yourself. It's easy work. Killing him is easy work, wouldn't it be? And if that's easy it can't be that good, right? It just can’t be. Being good is hard. It should be hard. I just know it."

"That's a stupid argument. Nonsensicle." Apollo said. "There are plenty of people I've already killed. What's one more?”

"Isn't that the problem?” He looked up. Apollo looked down “The fact that you're asking what's one more?"

He was silenced. The whole room was. Nothing but a lonely wind passed over them, a whistle that passed itself through every broken cornice and every broken window and every broken brick. Alestor came forward, only feet away from Apollo.

“Just do me in. Or leave me here.” He said. 

“Either way you’ll rot.” He said. “Spending eternity in Hell, pretending your suffering can pay for your crimes. ” 

Bartholomew looked up at Apollo whose face shook with silent rage. Whose eyes, glowed a vibrant red. 

“That wouldn’t be enough, would it, kid?” Apollo let go, not of anger, but of something much worse that had taken hold of him. Something the Hyena had tried passing onto him.  

“If I killed you, if I left you, you’d waste away. That would be God’s justice.” Apollo said. Bartholomew shook, afraid. 

“But that would not be man’s judgment.” He said. “And you owe Havenbrook much more than you owe God.”

“Just kill him.” The Hyena blurted. His fangs showed.

“The Priest, The Old Officer, The Little Girl.” He counted with his fingers. “Mothers and fathers, lovers and patients. There are too many people you owe and that you might not pay back. But you’re going to try, whether you like it or not. I’m bringing you back with me.”

“No, no, no.” Alestor took a few steps back. Apollo kicked his left leg inwards, so that he fell, clutching his knee. He screamed, in pain. And to the boy, that was a better sound.

“You’re going to bring back every corpse too. You and I, together. So that dead will be buried. I’m sure you can do that, you know a bit of magic, don’t you?” 

“Don’t take me back, please.” Alestor pleaded. “Leave me here.”

“You won’t die just yet, not like your son or wife. No, you’ll live on, regretting them. Repenting, as the Catholics say.” 

Alestor turned over. He rolled around, holding the broken bones sticking out of his knee.

“To fall victim to an ideal. Oh, pity.” The Hyena nodded left and right.

“I listen to no man. I answer to no God, and I don’t play well with filthy dogs.” Apollo shouted back at the Hyena. It almost made the creature smile.

“And how do you expect to get out now?” He asked. “Or to take those bodies back as you seem so obsessed about.”

“With this.”
He pointed to the cup on the floor somewhere near Dion.

“That cup worked half as effectively only because of the nature of its victims. Human souls produce better results, we’re not on earth anymore, boy.”

“How much blood?” Apollo quickly added. “How many demons would I have to kill to even make up for the equivalent of one, human soul?”

“Hmm, that’s hard to quantify. It’d be a great number and an even greater effort though.”

“How many demons did you see outside, those that showed up to this carnival freak show?”

The Hyena smiled.

“Enough.”

“And I wonder,” Apollo looked down at the moaning Alestor. “How much would I need to hurt you for you to do what I want?”

Alestor looked up at the large red eyes. His face losing color.


He tried to stand and found himself limping away from Apollo.

Apollo sighed, picked up Astyanax’s helmet and threw it Alestor. He fell. Flat to the floor, and slept there, unconscious.

“Deja vu, fucker,” Apollo said. 

“Are you sure you want to do this? You could just make things easier by killing him.” His tongue stuck out. He faced Bartholomew. “Or the boy.”

“I’ve already decided on it. I’m not changing my mind.” Apollo said. “And after we’re done, we’re going to have a long talk, you and I.”

The Hyena landed flat on the floor.

“Well, most things didn’t go as I wanted them to. But there’s some fun in that too. At least you did kill the poor mad boy.” He looked at the corpse still bleeding on the floor. The hole in his chest, budding and sprawling out like a spring rose. “And what a good kill it was. A tiring one, I'm sure. And if that's the case, how do you expect to live, let alone fight-”

The Hyena stopped. Even he seemed disgusted, or perhaps impressed, when Apollo took the heart of Astyanax to his mouth and raised his mask and ate it sloppily, every sound and mastication more pronounced in the echo chamber of the church. The demons (the few who stuck around) watching,  ran in full and wide strides outside. They looked shepherded, that large motley crew reduced to frightened instinct.

The boy waited a bit until Apollo was done and watched him put down his mask on his red, covered chin.

He picked up the cup and handed it to Apollo. Apollo put his open palm to him.

“Take a drink and let go of it. That’s all you need to do.”

“And you?”

“Weren’t you paying attention,” Apollo said. “I still need to fight.”

Bartholomew looked down at his feet. He put them close together and tried to straighten himself out.

“Do you promise to stay alive?” He asked.

“It’s not a good quality to be too worried about other people. It’ll turn you into a very nervous adult. Worry about yourself.” Apollo said. “But yes, I will be alright.”

The demons, still running out the front door,  blocked and stepped over each other. 

“Promise me.” He stuck a pinky out.

Apollo laughed. 

“Alright.” He closed with his own finger.

Apollo lifted the cup then. He put it to the boy’s lips and tipped it over and waited. Bartholomew swallowed, whatever it was that tasted bitter. He cringed as it went down to his stomach, and felt it swash around inside of him. A gross feeling, this feeling of nausea.

Trepidation made him worry for a moment. He looked at Apollo, who grinned behind his mask. It was an unpracticed, unsociable, ugly smile. But it was authentic.

And after a while his worry went away, when the darkness came to take him, when the last thing he saw was himself falling down, down to a black abyss, from a red ring of fire. 

And it felt good, in a way.

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