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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65. Chapter 64


Apollo

Every dream has its monster at the end, and for Apollo, that monster appeared as a burning skull. Screaming, begging. Too hot, too hot, turn me to ash. What an induced terror, one that made him shout in his sleep. The terror of a relieved youth. He saw it, the young thirteen-year-old boy, devoured by a group of huddled creatures. A terrible fear. A familiar fear. It was a tradition at this point, to relieve this dream, under these circumstances. For in dire straits, he had always had this memory come back. The anecdote went like this:

A large rusty building that echoes the screams from its depths. Three Vicars. Two of whom, youths. One of which, master. Their heavy breaths, their heavy footsteps, racing across the wet and bloody floor of the rusty building. The meat hooks and large tuna fish dangling and bleeding from their cut necks. Scales upon the floor that catch themselves on the heavy stomping of their boots. The smell of sardines, stacked and so weighty upon each other as to collapse unto themselves into paste. Vile. Suddenly, three blurs. Three long black tongues and the yellow teeth that extended from their long mouths. Like anteaters, prodding, searching for the Vicars at the hunt. They find the scent. An attack. A lash out, one of the boys is struck. Nipped. He bleeds. Two of the hunters turned then plead, retreat, retreat. The master jumps upon the catwalk. Her footsteps are calculated, light and airy. The other thinks to do the same but stops. He looks back to the stubborn boy, the boy with the nipped leg and bruised arm. Apollo. His teeth are gritted, his eyes are fierce. Green like emeralds, fresh but in them still yet grows an uninhibited violence. Apollo, young, thirteen has made up his mind to fight. He lunges to the long mouthed demons. Clashes. Bone-teeth against silver-steel. Fish lopped and truncated, blood everywhere. Another clash. Disarmed. He doesn’t understand. He’s alone. Clank. His sword had flown to his side, slipped out of his hands. Alone. Trapped. He screams, louder and louder, he wants to let the whole building know. No one is there though, no one but the greeting of the three creatures and their long mouths like python snaps. He feels the hot breath upon. Feels the mist, the blanket of death then -

Apollo awoke from his dream. He turned his head, trying desperately it seemed, to remember something that had only come to him seconds ago, that now appeared as a soft blur in his head. He couldn’t remember the images though, couldn’t see or hear or even think about it. But he felt it. He felt in his chest which raced, he felt it in his eyes that swelled and reddened, he felt it on his body and the small dozen ball sized aches that scattered upon him like a constellation of pain.

“You were screaming in your sleep.” A voice said. He turned. His first instincts were to grab the sword that lay feet away from him, somewhere in a pool of muddy water and chalky sand. He reached for it and stopped, collapsed with his chest hitting the floor. He felt five different bones snap, decompress, or rub wrongly. As if the friction of movement was in itself too much work for his body. True enough, even breathing taxed him. The greatest pain, he noticed, was from his legs. He put his hands on his right thigh and started feeling for bumps or bruises or mismatched joints. But the voice was still there and he quickly became anxious, juggling his attention between the soft voice and his hurting right leg. Both afraid of being weak and weak in his fear.

“You were having a sweet dream, it looked like it.” It was the Spotted Hyena. It came from the murk of the cave, where the small holes of light from the collapsed boulder walls did not penetrate. It smelled humid in that direction. “I’m glad you're alive.”

“You don’t sound surprised.” Apollo relaxed his body and laid back down for a moment.

“I told you, didn’t I? I expect good things from you. You’re an excellent delivery man, an even greater exterminator. If you put your heart into it, that is.”

“Easy for you to say.”

The Hyena sneered. His sharp snout dug into a puddle. “I never had a doubt.”

He splashed water on Apollo’s face. It forced him up again and made him try to stand, again. His hands sunk into the mud, he slipped. Face first he went. He felt sharp pebbles dig into him, not so much as to cut, but to dirty and scratch and annoy. His black hair dipped into the water and his tips became a muddy bundle. His face was caked brown and yellow. He could taste it in his mouth, where the sand lodged itself in between his teeth. He rubbed his eyes which burned and he tried again to stand.

This time by rolling to his side and seeing where the damage to his leg was.

“It didn’t heal right.” Apollo rubbed his palm across his foot. He tried breaking it and pushing it back into his socket (his foot that is) but found himself too weak. He looked around and found a wedge between two stones. He dragged himself there, put his foot in between the pile and made sure his leg was still and immovable from that spot. 

“That’s a doozy, how are you going to fix-” The Hyena stopped. There was a snap. A break of bone and then a groan. “Oh, or you can just do that.”

Apollo had snapped his own foot. Well, re-aligned it, really. It pointed right this time and he smiled only briefly before he laid back down as the pain resuscitated. It felt like lightning bolts shot up his lower body, like an arrow through his Achilles heel, riding up the highway of his veins, straight through his heart and into his brain. That sharp, constant, flowing pain. His foot swelled. He could feel the pulsing bulge hitting the insides of his shoes. And to answer it? He put his hand on his mouth and laid on the floor. His other arm covered his eyes and in that muffled state he shouted. Mostly cursed.

“I know you’re busy,” The Hyena walked over to him. Apollo was biting his hand. “But I think you’ve rested enough.”

Apollo threw mud at it.

“Fuck you.”

“If you’re healthy enough to talk back, you’re healthy enough to stand.”

Apollo struggled to lift his body. It seemed like a deliberate effort just to inch himself up. He inspected himself a final time.

“I’m not healing right.” He felt the plenty cuts on his body, his finger hovered over the spots that burned the most. It was a strange feeling, one he hadn’t remembered for a while. 

“That’s good, now you’re remembering what mortality feels like. What a normal person endures every day. I feel drained, life essence, stamina, arcana. All drained. Like a dried well.”

He looked up, dismissively almost, and breathed heavily. “This isn’t good. I haven’t fed for a while.”

“Food? You need food?” The Hyena walked further into the dark cave and came back. It had in its mouth a four-armed creature, its pincer snapping wildly. “Say ‘Ah’.” 

The Hyena snapped the shell of a skittering creature, it was no bigger than half a foot long and wide and he threw it to the floor near Apollo. Roe, and guts exposed. It was a slimy green and blue and Apollo looked at it, confused whether to be thankful or disgusted. It was sobering, at least.

“I don’t mean like that.” He drew back his foot from his rock bracings and rubbed it. He was beginning to get his feeling back. It was the sensation of trapped sand running down his nerves, and filling his foot. 

“It’s a funny, in a way.” Apollo said. “I’m a demon hunter who hasn’t eaten a demon in days. And here I am, in Hell, without a meal in sight. But it’s usually never this bad. A Vicar can starve for months without feeling much of anything. But down here, I guess it’s different.”

“Maybe it has to do with how much you’ve hurt yourself.”

“Maybe.” Apollo looked to his rear for his sword. It was half its original length, a straight even half. From the first time he had taken it out at that skeleton of a construction site, it had worn itself down. All his troubles, a kind of file, shaving away at the edge of his blade. Now, he was impotent. He picked it up only to hear it break some more. He had no point now. He accepted it, nodded, stepped down harshly with his bad foot and felt the pain rise up his spine. He grunted. Closed his eyes again. Dream or wake, all reality seemed to blend into itself, a maelstrom of confused pain.

“Your sword looks rough.” The Hyena said.

“The explosions do that. But it won’t go out, it’s like small star in there.”

“A star?” 

“Yeah. It’s hard to explain, but just imagine the steel to be a kind of incubator, maybe. Or a generator. Something like that.” He put the sword back into his jacket. It disappeared. “It’s got some more life in it before I’m really fucked.”

“No offense.” The Hyena scratched his ass along the floor. He was laughing. “But you already look fucked.”

Apollo leaned himself against a wall. He coughed. 

“Yeah, I get it.” He said. “Make yourself useless, tell me a way out.”

“Oh, you’re trusting me all of a sudden?” The Hyena asked.

“Well, I figure that if you wanted to eat me, you would have done it already.”

The Hyena stopped dragging himself on the sand. He looked at Apollo curiously, then stuck out his tongue again. “Even if I did. I don’t think you’d taste well. You’re too salty. A bit spicy. And very, very rotten.”

Apollo spat. He heard the ball of phlegm and blood hit water.

“Enough banter. Shut up and show me the way.”

“Are you sure you’re ready? It’s only going to get worse.” The Hyena’s tail wagged. “You don’t seem as convicted about this whole thing yet, too.”

“Well, what the fuck. You were complaining only a moment ago.” Apollo said. “I got beaten up. I got blown up. And here I am, wide awake for the annoying drill sergeant. This isn’t enough conviction, for ya?” 

“Any man can suffer if he’s forced to. It takes another kind of man to see the light at the end and to hope for it and to run for it. It seems to me that you’re not that kind of man.”

“To be honest, no.” Apollo rotated his neck. He felt it crack. “I felt like an idiot coming in and I still feel like an idiot. The only way out is through Astyanax. Kill him, drain his blood, leave. It’s a simple a goal anyone can have. I know that’s what I need to do, but I just can’t imagine myself actually doing it. I guess you can say I have no hope. But I’ve always been like that.
“I’m a practical man. And what makes a practical man is his ability to reason, under any circumstances. Because reason and logic are there for you long after hope dies out. So I figure, I either spend the rest of my existence here in this dark place or I go out. Maybe I pick someone up along the way, maybe not. Maybe I die buried in sand, maybe not. Taking any chance is better than having no chance.”

“You? You’re taking a chance? That’s strange. Very strange. I thought you were the kind of man who would enjoy eating crabs in a dark cave for all of eternity.” The Hyena walked up with that cold and bemused veneer. “Isn’t that what you said? That you did not enjoy being disturbed. That you never wanted to help anyone, because you never wanted the burden of their expectations. And by extension, to have nothing mean anything to you. Didn’t you want that kind of ghostly existence?”

“How do you-” He eyed the Hyena. “What? I said that a while ago… How would you?” 

“Back in Havenbrook in your shabby shack on the third floor, with the clogged shower drain and noisy neighbors. With your small computer and your small snacks and your small time detective work.”

Apollo hid his surprise. He closed his eyes, took a breath and made his face stiff and dull.

“I won’t even ask anymore, Creature. Guide. Demon.” He steadied his shaking arms. “You wouldn’t even give me an answer if I tried. No. I won’t bother, just tell me how to get out and where to go, that’s all I want from you.”

 The Hyena picked up his tongue. He stared a bit at Apollo before turning, pointing to a small patch of darkness, indiscernible from the rest. There were a few bugs roaming around, giving off auras of green light like small neon orbs. Some of them settled on stalagmites and some of them floated aimlessly like cheery drunk patrons. 

“Call me what you will.” The Hyena started to walk. His form absorbed into the shadow of the end of the cave. “Guide or Creature or Angel. Call me any of those, but do not call me demon.” 

His voice echoed as he went further. Apollo waited a bit, looking around his shoulders. He gasped, held his breath, and let go. He followed the Hyena, limping and dragging until he himself became indistinguishable from that wide stretch of darkness.

 

Author's Note: I'm planning an encyclopedia/compendium for this series. It'll probably include the magic system, Vicar biology, Hell logic/geography and the politics and myths of Vicar society. Would anyone be interested in that? thinkingfaceemoji.

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