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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7. 9:02 PM

They had worked well into the day. A woman and her child stopped to look at the pile of ever growing dirt and the two men whose rolled sleeves showed their sweaty skin. One Hispanic, the other Asian. Her eyes narrowed. She had always considered herself one to not assume but this was too wrong, the grave, the Priest who stood from above and the two men who dug with ferocity. The Priest turned and looked at the pair. He was sweating though he did not work, nervous though he was innocent.

“Hello ma'am, just an inspecting.” The Priest said.

“What’s there to inspect about a corpse?” She said.

“You’d be surprised.” The loud clank of shovel hitting wood alarmed the woman to put her hand over the child's face. Within moments the coffin shot up by Dion who leveled it by one side of the pit. The woman gasped and ran, shaking her head as the child looked back with a dumb, toothless smile. 

“It’s pretty light.” He said. 

“There’s no corpse in there, you know that, right?” Apollo opened it. Dion put his hand over his eyes out of reaction. A box came rolling out, without any particular flourishes. A simple red box that looked like a drawer ripped out and glued together with loose planks. They threw it over and rested the coffin back on the floor. Dion leapt up, grabbed the edge of the pit and lifted himself. Apollo walked up the slanted coffin with the box. The Priest looked at them.

“Aren’t you going to fill that?” He said. 

“That’s not our job.” Apollo shook the box and put his ear against it. 

“I’ll do it later, I swear.” Dion smiled. And he was being honest.

They headed inside, the Priest taking the lead with his angry wide stride. He slammed the doors, scratched the floor with a chair and sat. To his right was the basket of money. It was the only thing that comforted him. He tapped his hand against the surface of the box hoping to hear something mysterious. Hollow. The Priest snatched it from their hands. 

“You don’t get this yet. I need to tell you your job first.” The Priest started. Dion straightened out and put his hands on his knees. It was a tight grip that got worse as they sank deeper into the conversation with the buzzwords that inspired Dion; job, duty, honor. 

Apollo slacked in his seat. 

“You're here by my demand - ."

"Gerosa Branch, Alpha Omicron Phi. Reporting, sir." Dion blurted. Apollo put his head away to the side where he tried counting the tiles on the floor to distract himself. He couldn't. He felt too embarrassed. 

"Thank you, Dion." The Priest said. "As I was saying, I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t need you but things, well, they’re bad. Unpredictable is the best way I can put it.”

“What’s wrong?” Dion leaned closer, he looked like an eagle with his neck pushing outward. “How can we help?”

“It’s about the state of the police and their terrible relationship with the press.”

“Yeah, that’s very, very, unique. Go on a fucking talk show, we’re not politicians.” Apollo said. The Priest frowned.

“They’ve been sabotaging evidence, hiding corpses for God’s sake.” The Priest said.

“Don’t use the lord's name in vain.” Dion interrupted.

“Yes, of course.” The Priest looked at the table. “They’ve been getting rid of bodies, forcing cremations and well, hiding them. The pieces of corpses at least.”

“Do you have any evidence to support this claim?” Apollo said.

“No. I knew the man though.” The Priest said. “He came to me for advice, he was a regular. I told him to commit to the truth. The next day, he was dead. The tapes don’t exist anymore. He doesn’t exist anymore. Shot in the head, claimed to have been mugged. Poor Geoffrey.” 

“How much corruption is there? Give me a percentage.” Apollo said.

“I don’t know, ten percent? Five? It’s a small group I figure, I don’t think they could maneuver as a giant body. It might just be a few heads on the police force and a few men. You don't need many to cause trouble.” He said.

“Well, that’s terrible.” Apollo searched inside his pocket for a cigarette. He lit. He puffed. He folded his arms. “But we can’t fix corruption.” 

“I don't expect you to, but the nature of the crimes, the few that make it through at least, seem strange. They’re obscene, cruel, almost irresistible for diseased minds. The victims were bled like pigs, cut up like dog meat. Random too. Ex convicts, homeless, prostitutes, college kids. I’m afraid of them branching out.”

“We're not here to solve homicide cases either.” Apollo said.

“Why don’t you shut up and listen?” The Priest said. Dion smirked. “They’ll call it homicide but I call it ritual. The way they’re killed, like offerings almost. Bodies burned behind rings of salt, cut with a careful design, tattooed in strange ways. Whoever is doing this has a kind of faith behind their craftsmanship. Satanic, probably."

“Don’t assume their monolith.” Apollo broke his stiffness. “I’ve dealt with people like this but they were just that, people. No demons, no anything. Just people. Misguided, dumb, people”

“Well, that’s why you’re here right? To find out what they are.” The Priest put both hands on the table. He seemed ready to pray and the desperation in his quivering eyes worried them both. “It’s getting bad. It feels like I can't even breathe the air without tasting copper in my mouth. You need to help and do so with extreme prejudice. I don’t think there’s any saving this lot.” They breathed in the tension in the air and filled their lungs with it. Their chests felt heavy like lead was inside of them, weighing them to seats they felt could break at any moment. 

"That's very spiteful for a Priest." Apollo said.

"There are limits to anyone's patience. Besides I’m Catholic, not Buddhist."

They heard a snap. The box opened and their first contract was here. There were two suit jackets out for them, a pair of gloves, and two long threads of what seemed like yarn. Apollo began to strip. 

“Why do we need to change?” Dion said. 

“They don’t teach you shit, do they? Consider it a loan. They’re letting your borrow your gear and they’ll take your coat as a ticket. They'll want their stuff back too. Can't let you take a joy ride, after all.” Apollo said.

“There’s nothing funny about that. Can’t they trust us?” Dion said.

“No. They need to know: alive, rogue, dead.” Apollo put on the blazer, he fitted his gloves and looked at the runes stitched inside of his jacket. 

“Why do you get gloves?” He said. 

“You should have asked.” Apollo said. Dion narrowed his eyes and tugged on the Priests arm.

“Hey, can you send in a reque-” He jerked back. The Priest yanked his arm away and slid back a few inches.

“Don’t touch me.” He said. His eyes were still and wide and staring into Dion, the wrinkles on the old father seemed more pronounced in his anger and his neck began to glow red with rising blood. 

“I'm thankful. But that's it. I know what unholy marriage you two are, man and beast.” His dagger eyes stabbed at them. The sudden shift took Dion by surprise who assumed his desperation earlier would be the start of a friendship. As if desperation is any good of a start for friendship. But now the truth was out. Apollo put hands into a cross hatch.

“Yeah. We’re frightening monsters. So keep far away and let us do our job.” Apollo said. He seemed experienced in weathering the storm of insults, you could see from his straight face, mocking face almost. For his whole life perhaps had been one insult after another. That was something Dion could admire.

“We won’t cause trouble. Just don’t get in our way.” Apollo scooted up. The Priest sat still in the back, tensed on his shoulders. But Apollo was not concerned with him, rather the two pieces of woven string in front of them. He grabbed them without caution, uncaring to the startled mess of the Priest. He held them in his hands and ignored The Priest completely, as he glared.

“Helen used to make these.” He said. “I met her before she passed away. Now her son handles the business.”

“Threads of life.” Dion said. He wrapped it underneath his arm. 

“Keep it hidden, let it touch your skin. When heretical arcana is close, they burn, when it’s even closer, they glow.”

“Are they supposed to be warm?” Dion asked.

“Of course, they’re picking us up after all. Let them calibrate on their own.” Apollo said. Dion couldn’t stop scratching his arm and each time he looked at The Priest he scratched even harder. They all felt on edge, all far and backing away from one another.

“That’s all we need from you. I’ll keep in touch if I have to.” Apollo put his hands on the table and dragged his whole figure towards the Priest. He left him a smile before he went for the door. “And only if I have to.” The Priest nodded. Dion couldn’t look him in the eyes. Discomfort was festering in his brain. It made his thoughts cloudy and fumbled his mouth, he did not know whether to thank or to apologize or to bad mouth. Whatever feeling it was, it tugged at every corner of his body. He walked out before it became too uncomfortable and closed the door. The Priest looked at them, then to the basket of money. He shook, it felt lighter. 

Both Vicars were out. Dion huffed, he didn’t realize how little he breathed until he was out of the room. The nuns that passed stared at him, some of them smiled, some scrunched their faces in disgust. Dion was sweating again.

“Is it supposed to be this hot?” Dion asked.

“What is?”

“I don’t know. My neck, my face. My arm.”

“Your arm?” Apollo asked. He searched in his pocket for the string and began to put it on his left forearm. It was the first touch, but one coil around his limb and he could already feel it searing into his skin. His eyes opened, he bit his lips and pulled on Dion.

“Hold on. ” Apollo said. “There’s something here.”

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