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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70. Chapter 69

Apollo

Hours after the battle

The legionnaire came around the Joshua tree, sword in hand and a burning question in his throat. He sized up the phony with his hostile glance, toe to head. His grip tightened and he asked: Who are you? Where do you come from? Where do you go?

Apollo decapitated him in seconds.

He died immediately but had it in him still to twitch on the floor, shaking dirt and dust up into the air. His hands clenched to his throat and his head rolling to his side, near his feet. Apollo shook with one hand and gripped his quivering blade with the other. When he was calm, he lowered it and strapped the silver steel to his hip. The leather belt was tight around his waist. 

“It’s a good thing your sword is short now.” The Hyena appeared from the shadow of a tree. He rubbed his head against the bark. “Makes it easier to hide, doesn’t it?”

Apollo dismissed the words. He moved his hands to shield his eyes from the burning hole in the sky and looked out into the horizon. 

“How far is it?”  Apollo asked.

“Turn to your right.”

Apollo did. He saw the smoke rising that way, the black rings that made the air undulate and shake with heat. A rising cloud of smog covering the implosion of the locale. 

He looked around himself, checked his armor, checked the small cape that hung by his shoulders and spat on his hand braces. He was rubbing dirt and blood off them as he walked towards the wreckage. The corpse lay behind him, the Hyena having urinated on the body and walked. Both of them chasing destruction, having already laid waste behind them. 

That was the fifth demon Apollo had killed in his time down here. It would not be the last.

 


  
When they arrived at the doors (or what should have been doors) Apollo hugged the walls carefully and peaked through the corner of his eyes. He noticed the quietness. There was no sound around them past the crackling and popping of wood and adobe. No cries for help. No moans, nothing but the distinct sound of a dying city, pops and wheezes and collapsing wood. He pushed the doors of the barracks aside, they nearly collapsed at his fingers. The pointed-tip wood walls were splitting into logs in front of him, separating, rolling down like some kind of medieval trap. He jumped over two. Nearly burned his feet on the second. He heard the roof of a building next to him fall, he jerked away. Behind him, skewered heads and scalps now burned to crisp like giblets at the campfire. He wanted to shout, but couldn’t. His mouth was covered by his hands, the fumes were seeping through his fingers and down his lungs. He just nodded his head in sadness, in disgust. There was no time for anything else. 

He came to the other end and suspected this was the source of the flame, an archers tower laying on the floor as ash. It had no more fuel to give, it laid smoking with the charred remains of soldiers buried beneath the ash, their armor still a hot red, their leather burned and either ash or glue upon the floor. Next to the tower was the opposite door of the barracks. He went through it. He heard the wooden arc behind him collapse. There were bodies on this road that stretched on, into a field of cactus, into a trail of even more smoke. 

He heard breathing. Apollo jumped back, his hand on his sword handle. A demon lay on the floor, his nose (or rather, hole) dripping blood. The Hyena pointed with his snout. He was pawing at the armor of the soldier. 

Apollo walked over, still cautious. He knelt, picked up his ponytail and raised the demon’s head. 

“Are there any survivors?” Apollo asked. The demon inched his face towards Apollo. He spat. It hit Apollo across the forehead, the mucus and bloody substance that was sticky at the touch. 

Apollo slammed the demon’s head down on the pavement. He did this twice until all that remained of the foul green face was red and dirt-brown. He brought the face up to him again.

“I’m not in the mood for your shit. My body is killing me and I’m out of time, you understand?” He said. “I’ve got a deal. Not a good one, but a deal. And I'm very fickle, I'll have you know. You tell me where this road is heading. You tell me what this caravan was doing. You tell me it, now. Or never, and enjoy the nothingness of death.”

“Why should I trust you not to kill me, smooth-skin?” It was Half-face, his voice reduced to rasps.

Apollo slammed his face on the floor. “There’s my evidence.” He bashed his head on the floor again, teeth flew out. “Who are you, a monster to judge me, a man?”

“I’m...I’m not a man?” Half-face whistled through the gaps in his teeth. “What do you think I am?” 

His rotten face peeled. The Hyena sniffed the air.

“A couple seconds away from worm meal. Answers, now.”

Apollo raised his blade. Half-face reached his hand underneath his belly. A slight move.

“You’re weak. You think weak. You will not be my killer.” He was breathing through a broken mouth. It sounded like a long winding wheeze. 

“You’re talking but you’re not saying the right things.”

“Oh?” Half-face found his grip on his sword. “Let me show you want I know. All of it, boy.”

Light reflected from Half-face’s blade. It struck Apollo in the face. Half-face rose, his eyes with that glare, yellow and strained. His face wet with spit and mucus and blood and puss and mud, the makeup of warriors. Apollo opened his eyes again. He was staring at the point of the blade. Getting closer, closer, closer. Coming up. High, to his head. Straight through, yes, to his brain and he imagined it then, as he moved quickly to bring down his sword. He imagined the sword through his lobes, down to his stem, severing it all. And he thought, maybe I can kill him with me. Maybe my momentum will carry out the kill.

But Half-face never made it to his mark. He was gripped. 

The Hyena had bit down on his neck and immobilized him. A growl. A crunch. The Hyena mauled through bone and flesh spilled everything every which way. The shattered spine looked like small white seeds below Apollo’s feet. The small nerves like curled and split hairs inside the gelatin of marrow from the now open spine. 

“Fuck,” Apollo screamed. The birds scattered. The Hyena came up, jumping and prancing atop the body. He delivered five more clamps, almost enjoying it.

“Get this shit off me.” Apollo was wiping his face.

He looked down at the body, then to the Hyena and looked around to the other corpses, almost collapsed. His hands were on the blade handle and his upper torso was low. 

“Almost died again.” Apollo breathed heavily.

“But you didn’t.”

“Well isn’t that obvious!” He screamed at the Hyena. His eyes flaring crimson. They stared at each other, standoffish before Apollo looked down. “Sorry. And thanks.”

He took off his balaclava from his face, took his helmet too and wiped everything off. Then seeing the bone and blood on his cloth, dropped it to the floor.

“Look at this mess.” He poked the body on the floor. “What happened here?”

“How would I know? It could have been anything. It could have been nothing. Maybe it was an idea, maybe it was for fun. What do you think?” 

“I think everything is fucked, is what I think.” He threw his helmet on the floor, he rubbed his eyes, they still felt blurry. “I feel like the world is collapsing and here I am, standing on a little piece of dirt as it all falls down around me.”

“Well, it is Hell after all. There’s only one way.” The Hyena almost laughed at the claim. “What did you expect?”

“What did I expect?” Apollo said. “If I expected anything I wouldn’t have come down here.”

“But you did.” 

“Great idea that was. They should give me a fucking Nobel.” He kicked his helmet away from him. “I didn’t want to be an ambassador.”

“If we all knew what trouble would come to us at every moment, who would find the courage to do anything?” The Hyena. “I reckon they’d be too afraid to get out of the cover of the bed.” 

“You’re damn right they would be.” Apollo snickered, a little high pitched too, the noise you’d find in an Asylum perhaps. “Especially if they knew they’d be in another plane of existence, in a fucking desert, with a bunch of walking Roman corpses chucking spears at them.”

“You’re right. And then no one would do anything in the face of danger. And if people did nothing. If they held their breath upon every terror that came their way, nothing would change.” The Hyena sneered. “That’d be pretty boring, don’t you think?”

“I hope for boring. I would kill for boring. Boring is a godsend in this godless place.”

“Well, there’s the price for making a decision. They’re not always all good. But at least they’re yours.”

“Yeah, mine.” Apollo took his sword out of the dirt. “These great decisions of mine.”

“That’s free will for. Surprise, suffering, freedom.”

“Fuck surprise. Fuck suffering. Fuck freedom.” 

The Hyena’s tail straightened. His face became unusually stern, his snout tight. He walked to Apollo.

“Freedom is everything. Take it away and you’re left with machine men with machine hearts who pump that cold oil through their mechanical bodies. Who live only to exist.” He looked up to Apollo. “Don’t be mad now, that for the first time in your life you’re beginning to feel what it means to be a free man.”

“Free? When have I ever been free?”

“You were a slave before.” The Hyena said. “To your church, to your philosophy.” He paused. “To your teacher and your friend.”

Apollo winced.

“And now, for the first time in a long time you’ve made your own decision. And you want to take it back all of a sudden? Because it hurts a little? Because it’s a little awful?” The Hyena kicked dirt to the corpse of Half-face.

“This isn’t just awful. It’s insane.” 

“It’s a test, nothing more. A test to see how easy you break and how easy you fix. And if it’s too much for you, go ahead and take that little cup in your back pocket and get out.” He said. “Because if you can’t move forward, you were never meant to.”

The air blew across and pushed smoke away. Apollo saw the road ahead, the many bodies still waiting. Some of them, with their chests still breathing low and steady. He put his blade to his side, sighed and walked ahead.

“You’re such an asshole, you know that.”

“From you? That’s a compliment.”

Apollo shook his head, rubbed his scalp with his free hand and walked through the mounds of bodies. He picked out a helmet from the dead, a nice shiny one if there was ever one. It was lean, oval and came down on his nose bridge snug. It blocked the light from the top and made it easier to see the empty expressions of the corpses past him. Most of them, demons. Some, some few, humans. He spent a lot of time killing them, for all had nothing left of them but a painful death. It was mercy. 

He sucked in his breath. His face showing a renewed resilience. 

He came upon a demon with his body hunched over, two spears through his chest. He was fatigued, still breathing and screaming. And he faced a direction, a trail of footsteps that wandered into the cactus and Joshua tree forest to his rear. He looked back to the pinned figure, the demon spitting and coughing at him. Below the legionnaire, some unidentifiable flesh. He was eating - No, cannibalizing, mindlessly and baking in the sun. Apollo had nothing to say. A thank you, for the road, perhaps? No. A farewell. And a welcome, a message maybe, for Astyanax or any other legionnaire.   

Apollo picked up a gladius sword to his rear. He raised it high and brought it low.

The spears pinning the demon to the floor vibrated. They made a desperate rattle and shook for minutes. Then, stillness. 

“I thought you’d let them suffer?” The Hyena said.

“That wouldn’t be proper.” Apollo jumped up to the steep hill. He grabbed a cactus and felt a prickle. He looked at his hand, to the small dribble, like a red pearl. The wound did not close, but he did not stop. The trail was hot, fresh and he knew there was someone, or something, at its end.
 

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