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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69. Chapter 68 - Episode 6

Jeremiah


“I want her.” 

“No. She belongs to me.” 

Two caricatures of men slapped and tripped and pushed each around and through every table in the room. The instruments, the devices of torture, all broken and scattered about, scratching and dragging across the floor as the two found themselves wrestling. Each eager to gain on the other, each attacking and scratching relentlessly. Of the six standing above in the room, five cheered and one settled into a grimace as he watched his underlings fight. 

One of them had found his balance. He pressed. His ponytail spinning wildly as he punched down on the face of his victim on the floor below.

“That’s enough.” The Captain said behind his tight helmet. 

The underling did not listen. Instead, he found a small hammer sitting by his side. 

“That’s enough!” The Captain said again. He tried to move forward but felt two hands grappling his chest. They pushed him away. He fell, just as the hammer fell. Having come down on one of the skulls of the demons. Four blows is all it took to stop the lesser warrior from breathing. Two blows is all it took to crush his skull. There was cheering, a delight in the viscera that flew in all directions and the growing pool of blood underneath their sandals and heels and boots.

“Half-face.” One of the demons said. “Half-face killed him.” 

He was smiling, running outside and spreading the gossip amongst the others. 

“Always half-face.” Another said. Almost all smirked, save for the Captain who had to look down at his dead underling. He stared at the open wound, then to the heavy rising of white smoke that came from the corpse of the newly dead. A dreadful, gaping mouth that he swore he saw within the mist. 

What was the conflict about? A dib. A dib for one of the women in the cage. To do what with? Best not say. 

It was already too much for the voyeurs who stared from their large cage. They backed away from the walls. They were shaking, most of them. Others were already in emotional stasis, doing nothing much but breathing. 

And from the crowd, Jeremiah stared. He was forward, one hand gripping a bar and the other above Bartholomew’s eyes. His had was cupped, blinding him from the murder.

“This is insane.” Someone in the crowd said. “They don’t value anything.”

His attention switched back to the Captain who walked up to the murderer, his poise a little ruined, his pride a little muddied. He was pointing his finger at the murderer. Jeremiah saw this. Saw how the rest of the group spat on the floor and passed shifty eyes, too. Wry smiles formed at the edges of their lips.

“You don’t think I’ll ignore this, do you?” The Captain said. “You’ll be reprimanded. I’ll be telling Astyanax myself.” There were small chuckles across all the soldiers in the lot. They had returned back to their clique, sneering. The Captain, annoyed, kept wagging his index finger.

“One of you, carry the body.” No one did so. He looked around, nothing but cold stares. His face flustered, color came back to its sickly pale complexion and he went to the cage to pick from the group. Two young men, a young woman and Ishmael.

“You four. Carry them, don’t think of running either.” They didn’t. They complied and when they returned some hours later, they were bloodied across their chest. A bit restless too, rubbing the dark rings around their eyes.

And those primal five? The deviants, the defiant gang? They played marbles with small gems and cracked jokes. 

That was the first day Jeremiah noticed the disobedience. 

The second discord would come tomorrow and it took the shape of a messenger, a crow with a letter tied to its small pitchfork feet who landed by an open window in the dungeon. There was still a mess, though most of it dried.

The crow rested itself above a torture device, a stretcher where four ropes dangled innocently. The crow began to peck at the braided rope, picking apart the threads before it was gripped. The message removed and the bird thrown out the window where the violent wind carried its shout. One of the guards looked at the message, he sat on a table and tried reading with beady eyes. He could not transcribe the scratchings. Jeremiah barely could too. The writing was sloppy, italic and bold. It was a foreign tongue or maybe a collection of foreign tongues, just a mess of letters and scribblings. The ink was rubbed and left streaks and it frustrated the demon who looked dumb-faced with squinting eyes.

“What are you looking at?” He shouted at Jeremiah. Jeremiah lowered his face. The guard kicked his chair out and went out the building. 

He walked through the door frame (the only door frame in this room) took the steps left and right and up and down and opening a door outside, rang a bronze bell. They couldn’t tell what it looked like, what the bell hung on or if even was a bell. But them, just as the Captain, heard the sound. It was obnoxious, constant and left a dissonant lingering tone. 

The Captain came immediately, shouting, “What is it? What do you want?”. Thinking, how have I failed today?

He read it, the reading sounded like mumblings from their distance. But they knew he had read, knew because of that creeping silence that came about them as if part of the atmosphere itself. One of many ingredients, the others being dread, and violence, and fear. 

The prisoners felt their postures straighten out.

There was a gasp. A screaming. A punching of adobe and wood. More demons gathered (their steps were loud, even from outside), the prisoners could hear their clanking of metal like a warmachine. There must have been a dozen, all there to listen to the contents of the letter.

There was a voice. A loud, nasal one.

“Oh? He’s finally decided to pay attention to us. Our precious king…” 

“It must be hard to leave that little bowl of his.” Of course, they spoke about the dome walls of New Troy. It was not, by any definition, small.

“Oh, piss off. Who summons us? Astyanax? King of New Troy?” Another scoffed. “Hermit of Old Troy. The desperate infant. 

The Captain took the note. His feet were swift. His gladius scratched the walls of the lot with his uncomposed stride. He walked immediately to the cage, his teeth clenched. His rotten, diseased face looking at them, his mellowed yellow eyes scanning left to right. 

“He wants you all.” The Captain said. “I don’t know what for, but he wants you even though we went through the trouble.”

No one spoke. No one knew a thing. Who wanted us? The king, king of what? This land, if you could call it land. Jeremiah thought.

“They won’t like this. I promised them some slaves, but he demands all of you.” The Captain shook his head. “They won’t like this one bit.”

He was wobbling, crushing the bars of metal in front of the prisoners.

Half-face hung by the door frame.

“Won’t like what?” Half-face said. 

The Captain turned to him. His eye was twitching.

“We are to bring all slaves, all troops to our king, Astyanax. No exceptions, no compromises.”

Half-face pushed himself off the wall. He walked up to the Captain.

“I was promised some of the women. I won them yesterday.” He said in a low growl. 

“You won nothing and you get nothing. Deals between scum aren’t worth anything.” The Captain’s voice was shaken, his loose grip on the chain of command slipping away. “All of them are going to the king, not a man or woman will be spared.”  

Half-face loomed forward. Jeremiah did so as well from his cell. His arms hung from their cage, his shoulders rested against the bars. They’re apes, he thought. Violent apes.

“Half-face won her!” Half-face said. “And I take what I win.”

A group was beginning to gather on the door frame. They were hollering, lecherous, hungry hollers.

They said (shouted): He won her. He won her fair and square. Take her, take them all. I want the small one. The boy? Yes. Give me that man, yes with the brown hair. Let me have a taste for that leathery hag in the back. 

It went on all and they formed a pressured dam wall against the door as half a dozen more began to swarm. The Captain took out his whip, he attacked the floor in front of them, he marked that line of which none moved past. He marked it with five lashings and his tired screaming. 

“You’ll do as I say. Or you’ll die wishing you had!” He slapped Half-face away. “Now go ready the carts! We’ll leave tomorrow.”

And not a single one crossed that line. Not yet. They smiled, chuckled, stone-faced the Captain. But they obliged him and after a while, stubbornly, they left.

The captain had his hand steady on his blade. His legs, ready to strike and his stance did not change until he heard the final group of footsteps leave the wooden floors of the building, out into the rocky lands beyond.

There was no one but the prisoners and the uneasy Captain now.

“I was under the impression that you were in command? Were. ” Jeremiah said. "Though...now you seem a little yellow now. do I have that right, Captain? Everyone inside looked at him, prayed for him to stop. Bartholomew tugged at his pants, he could feel his clothes stretching from the grip.

“You shut your mouth or I’ll rip your tongue out.” 

“I don’t think your king would like that.”

“I don’t think he’d mind.”

“Can you say that with absolute certainty?” 

Silence from the Captain. A despondent glare. One he would reserve for tomorrow as he left the building.

 

 

“You trying to get us killed?” Sam asked. 

“What do you care? Weren’t you thinking of slitting your wrists a couple days ago?” Jeremiah asked. Ishmael sucked in his lips and released a dry gasp.

“They said they’re taking us somewhere else. So I’m going to give it a try.” Ishmael walked up to Jeremiah. “Why don’t you cool down and think for a second?”

“And you think wherever we’re heading is any better than this dump?” Jeremiah asked. “Any safer? Any more promising?”

“I think we won’t know until we get there, kid. I know running away is all you got in your brain, hardwired like DNA, but the rest of us are going to be as compliant as we can be.”

“From suicide to obedience. And you say I’m the one who runs away? You’ve got no spine.” Jeremiah put his back against the bars, he slid down them and fell on his butt and looked at the crowd against him. The child too, who hung by an elderly woman. 

“Go ahead and do something stupid then, don’t expect me to help. Or any of us for that matter.” Ishmael said.

So it went for the rest of the day. The few who moaned, the few who sat, most of them who slept. They couldn’t tell what was night or day, not from the small beams of light that penetrated through window and brick cut, not from their onsetting exhaustion. They only knew it was time to rest when the demons came to snuff out the flames of the torches. Like cattle, herded and forced into routine. 

Jeremiah closed his eyes for a moment. An image flashed, that of Heinz and he opened them again. He saw the boy, he saw his obligation too. Or curse, whatever it was that made him sad and desperate as he stared into the innocent face. And he tried again to sleep. And he woke up again to that haunting image.

He didn’t try for the rest of the day and it showed when the demons came back. His tiredness, in his wide eyes, red and glossy and reflecting with a low hue the fire of the torch inside the hands of the demons. The bars opened with a cry. They were lead out, forced into a line. A rope was tied to all of them, like those mountaineer chains, all of them held accountable to one another around the waist.

They walked up the stairs. Jeremiah felt a tug on his body. An elderly woman behind him had slipped. He tried to help but saw a green hand travel past him. The old woman was slapped, pushed up and hit against the left breast with the pommel of his sword. It was a surprise (or miracle) she didn’t break into two. Though she coughed and wheezed most of the trail up through the building. Jeremiah grit his teeth, almost felt an urge to attack but saw the other four demons winding around them. He didn’t move, not yet. He held his anger like a small explosive in his body, ticking, idling. 

They came out of the madhouse. The adobe lots around them were dirty, the wood even worse, covered in a cake of soot that wrapped around the grounds of the barracks. There were spearmen atop towers, shields upon the wooden spiked walls. Jeremiah eyed a head sitting atop of a stake. He cringed and was pushed back into walking. They made it to one of the gates where the Captain took the lead, his red plumed helmet flowing wildly like horse mane. He had, on one hand, a sword. And in the other, a whip.

“We’re leaving. It’ll be a long walk so make sure no one gets left behind.” The Captain broke the floor with his whip. “And. Don’t. Run.”

“Not as long as the sword I’ll stab through your heart, prick. Just you wait.” Jeremiah said underneath his breath. The demon turned. He heard it, Jeremiah thought. He heard it and it made his blood coagulate and his body stiffen. A bite by a snake, a paralyzing thing. The demon walked up next to him. He looked at Jeremiah. His face dull, serious. 

Until he smiled. 

Chuckled even. And walked away.

Jeremiah felt beads travel down his forehead. He thought, what does that mean? 

“We’ll head out from the west end. We’ll go around the valley geysers, it’ll take a while before we hit the dome. A few days, perhaps.” The Captain said to one of the demons.

“We should just cut through the area.”

“We don’t know the lands well enough. We’ll die.”

“I do.” It was Half-face speaking. The puss out of his missing nose was leaking down to his lips. Was he mad? Jeremiah thought. It was hard to tell faces when they were missing most of it.

“We’ll do as I say. Because I’m Captain and you’re not.” The Captain pushed Half-face away with a finger on the chest.

Half-face released a grunt. A small, distinct grunt. A bit humorous, a bit taunting almost. And worse than the grunt? Half-face, who retreated back in file and line. An uncharacterized obedience. \

Jeremiah’s eyes widened.

It was bizarre to see. The platoon of demons behind him, the platoon in front of them. The few that hugged the line of slaves. Some of them stiff, others relaxed. Some of them sweating, others calm and enjoying the breezes. Some joking, others silent. Jeremiah looked ahead of the line, four places away was Ishmael. He looked behind. Three away was the kid, Bartholomew. Bartholomew who dragged a bit. Bartholomew whose shoulders were being rubbed by a monster. He felt a hot flash on his face and almost went back to say something. He shook his head though. He went forward instead, towards Ishmael, pushing everyone in the way aside.

“Do you still have the knife?” Jeremiah whispered. Ishmael did not turn his head. 

“I’m talking to you, do you still have the knife?” He butt his forehead against Ishmael who turned butt his own head against Jeremiah.

“Fuck off.” He said. Jeremiah would have said something back, but he felt a hand against him.

“Get back.” A soldier said.

Stubborn he went, still hot in the head. The rope of people wobbled like a bridge caught in a storm. The rope burned Jeremiah’s waistline. He wiggled, turned himself and noticed the Joshua trees and cacti around him. They were overgrown and seemed to span endlessly. A giant wall of needles of green. A wall that cast a shadow over them.

He eyed the forest of cactus again. White. A beady eye, he swore it upon God (whatever He was worth) and upon his time in the force and upon Heinz, he swore he saw an eye amongst the green, round-planked cactus walls. 

His neck went cold. His scattered. In front. Adjacent. Behind. Past the pedophile and past Bartholomew, to the platoon of soldiers who now riled. He saw one, then two, then a second pair, beginning to unsheathe. Others gripped their shields. More, gripped their spears. 

“Are we lost, Captain?” Half-face said. His leather and metal armor rattled, a particular sound amongst the heavy footsteps and the solemn wind. He was rattling, excited.

“Of course not. Get back into position.” The Captain said.

“Position? Where would that be?” Half-face said. 

“Behind him.” He gripped his whip. “Or under me. Your choice.” 

“My choice you say?” Half-face felt his sword handle. The Captain noticed. He gripped his own too, but said nothing, almost hoping him to strike.

“Death in obedience, obedience in death. What choice is that?” He smiled. “I choose neither, and leave you with nothing!”

His eyes went wide as he cocked his hand back. The Captain jumped away, sword in hand. Half-face lunged. His face slobbering fluids from his respiratory holes and his mouth. They clashed sword, brought dust-up upon them and it all began. That slow, process. The adrenaline rush, the chaos. Jeremiah turned around and he felt he could see it all in slow motion, the twitches, the charges, the screams. He ran towards Bartholomew. He felt wind, he felt metal, cutting his cheeks. He pushed everyone down on the floor until he got to Bartholomew. They both fell, closing their eyes and coughing from the dust and the cries of steeds falling and running past them. 

When Jeremiah looked up, he found the pedophile, the demon, looking down at him. He saw his hand reaching for Jeremiah’s throat, those long nailed, necrosis infested hands. Then he felt blood. Hot blood falling down his face, for the demon above him was the first to get a spear through his mouth. 

The body collapsed. Jeremiah wrestled with his bonded hands and from the corner of his eyes, saw a stampede of soldiers hoping to die.

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