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?


73. Chapter 72


He could feel his heart betray him. He could hear it enter that quick, monotonous speedy pace. He could feel his pupils shrink and the devil’s blood in him rush, in giant waves of muscle tensions through his abdomen and up to his cheeks. His toes were numb. His fingers were numb. His palms were sweaty and he spent so much time drying them on his pants, then waiting, then drying them again. Over and over, while the men in their metal suits lead him through the giant doored rooms. The villa with its dismal emptiness, with that moaning wind. He stopped, at once, in front of two wooden doors and there, his heart betrayed him again. For although he felt in him that urge to kill, the fleeting sensation of violence, he walked calmly. He waited calmly. Let the two demons move the metal machinations of the door to their side, let the iron chains fall to the floor. Horace came around from behind Dion, he struggled to push the doors. His clothes trapped between the the gaps, stretching and shredding his robes. 

Dion pushed him away. The cloak ripped in two. He looked at the door.

The bars, the chains, the locks all gone, the guards at last nodded their heads. Dion put his hands gently on the door. He couldn’t feel the puncturing splinters, the small beads of blood by the handles of the door and with loud squeaks, he pushed the two doors open. They crashed against the wall, a loud clamor for the room. Then they dangled again, moved back and forth like drunks, whining with their rusted hinges.

Dion walked in. His eyes were fixed on the pillars that cast two different sets of shadows. One black, the other short and gray like sets of clock hands. His eyes wrapped around, up to the ceiling. A gem cut into a pyramid, dividing and focusing light in three directions. The light ran to other, smaller gems. There were no torches, no. All light was divided, all light glistening and colored and frantic and overcast on the pompous pillars and fonts and urns was a rainbow. Dion wondered if he was schizophrenic. No, this was just a vile room. Gaudy and brilliant. Disgustingly illustrious, bordering parody.

The doors were sucked back in, creating a vacuum sound before they shut still. The old-woven tapestry on the walls (flags and stories mostly) blew violently. 

Dion walked up to the center, underneath the white colored gem on the ceiling. He looked in front of him, his eyes following the thirteen steps up. There, a seated Astyanax waited for him. Not so much on a throne, as much as a mound. A collection of stripped leather and bronze armors smelted down it seemed, contorting into a multi-layered stool. The gold colored breasts and sleeves of armor were spilling, giving the appearance of corpses trying to crawl out of Astyanax’s sitting position. Astyanax was hunched over, his arm rested on his knee, his hand carrying his head. 

“How have you been treated?” He asked. 

“How do you figure?” Dion asked. “You left me in a room with the man I’ve been chasing for weeks. How do you think I feel?”

“Like gold, I hope.” Astyanax moved his head from one hand to the other. “I just wanted to remind you of what you stand to gain. That’s all.”

“Yeah.” Dion walked forward. There was a guard for each pillar, twelve in total. The guards looked like clay suits and statues, might have been, had it not been for their quick reaction. A jerk of their round shields and spears. Dion took another step. They moved again. Astyanax waved them back and they nestled into their places, the man-shaped stains on the pillars. They were furniture too, in some capacity. 

“So what’s your answer?” 

“If you don’t mind. I’d like a recap. What is it that you’re offering me?” Dion put his hands in his pockets. It looked almost arrogant. Almost? Was. But it excited Astyanax. Ignited a flame and spasm in his stomach and groin. He clasped his hands and scratched his hair.

“Forget already?”

“I just want to make sure the wording is right. I don’t want to get tricked. After all, you are a demon, right?” 

“Maybe. That’s very uncharacteristic of you.” Astyanax said. “I thought your friend was the thoughtful one.”

“I’ve had time to reflect.”

“A Catholic or a monk, which is then?” No answer. Astyanax stretched his back. It made a cracking noise. “Well, I’ll give you everything that matters. The slaves, Alestor, everything, in return for your servitude.”

“You want one slave for the many.” 

“Oh, sweetheart. You make it sound terrible.” Astyanax said. “I promise your existence here will be everything but. All the islands we can roam and conquer, all the wars to be waged. The love to be made. What’s so bad about that?”

“Morality. You.” 

“You still call yourself a moral man? Oh, my. But I can work with that. What’s violence without prohibition, after all? White noise. Yes, I need a moral man.” Astyanax stretched his neck. Dion stepped forward. “Aha. I can be quiet endearing if you give me time.”

“Yeah. I’ll be giving you all my time. Every second and tick and drop of it. Forever is a very long time.” Dion said.

“Well, if you don’t want to take the deal, say so. You’re free to leave.”

Dion searched his pockets. He gripped something. He put his foot on the floor and stomped at what looked like a small fly, stomped it harsh and brutal until it left a green dime-sized stain on the floor. 

“I got a question,” Dion said.

“Spill your heart out, Hunter.” 

“Why are you treating me kindly - I mean, kinder, than the others. If politeness and civility is your deal, why not extend it to the other people - slaves. You’re inconsistent.”

“Inconsistent?” Astyanax said. “It’s only inconsistent if I consider those worms in the same category as you and me.”

“How can you say that they don’t have fears and loves, like you and I?” 

“And what of fear and love? Dogs can do that all the same, would you say they’re in the same category as us? Don’t work yourself over the other half, that kind of interspecies sympathy will get you hurt.”

“What are you getting at?” Dion pulled his shoulders back.

“Forgive the confusion. What I mean to say is that you and I are of a completely different make as them.” He stood. “I’ve seen over the years, the stupid modes people would use to differentiate amongst each other. Skin, tongue, flag. That’s a dishonest way to categorize. Wouldn’t you say? Especially when they’re missing the point.”

“Point? We’re all humans, you and I. We should be helping each other.”

“Didn’t you call me a demon earlier?” Astyanax took his index fingers and tapped his temples. “And you were right. I am a demon, as are you. We are part of a deadly species, we’re warriors. You and I. Why should we mingle with the weak? The only category in the census of man that matters, the strong and the weak. The haves and the have not.”

“Men are more than the way they kill.”

“Are they?” Astyanax walked four steps down. “All men are killers or leeches, never both. And they both utilize the craft that suits them best, either force or pity. I have no interest in playing the game, so I kill them all the same. That’s it.”

“How can you say that of all the suffering souls here and beyond?”

“I say it with ease. Pity and the laws they instigate are the means to disenfranchise the strong. Stop playing their games. Stop living for them. Do what you want, for yourself and no one else. There is no other way to live life”

“You’re crazy.” Dion walked forward. His hands on his side, his right hand gripping something discrete. 

“Because soothing my pain, my boredom, is of a higher order than soothing someone else's. That’s why. Because anything short of selfish greed is stupid and an exercise in suicide. Suicide of the self, the ego.” His hands were open, almost in an embrace. “There are hundreds of billions down here who suffer, who will suffer, seemingly for eternity. Will you help them too? Can you? Probably not. So why try? It’s much better to live for yourself.”

“You’re just bored?” Dion walked forward, his gripping arm carrying his stride. 

“I’m not crazy, I’m just trying to wake up from an abstract boredom. A three thousand years long boredom.” They walked towards each other. Have you ever watched the sky for years just to realize it never moved? Not a cloud, not a sun or star. That’s torment” Astyanax smiled. 

“It’s enough to make you cry, isn’t it? To harbor your sympathy?”

Dion ran forward. The guards tried to move. He avoided them. The wind broke past him. The tapestry fell from their hanging places from his gallop. Dion had in his hand a piece of clay, a shard of it, that very clay of that very potted plant in his room. 

The dagger was in front of him, he reached his arm forward and aimed for Astyanax’s neck. He skipped the first two steps of the stairs, jumped. He was heading for it, waiting for it. His eyes a hungry crimson as they sought the tender white-skin of Astyanax’s neck. All momentum, all forward. It was the quickest, he thought, he’d ever been or ever would be.

And all it took was a quick sidestep to dodge. 

A shuffle of feet, rightward, for Astyanax to turn. 

Dion watched it all slowly through that adrenaline high. It was just a dance move to Astyanax, just playground games. Dion tried to move, but in midair, knew it to be worthless. He instead braced himself, readied his hand to bounce off the floor and to try again from a new angle. His hands reached out again to touch the floor as quickly as possible.

They never did. 

Astyanax grabbed his arm with both hands, and in one move lifted him above his shoulders, then slammed Dion back down. A judo flip, as it was. 

“I haven’t seen this much enthusiasm since Troy fell!” Astyanax roared. “Since the butchering and rape.”

The floor shattered. The rubble fell down the steps. Dion tried to breathe but found himself caught in between screaming and gasping. His left shoulder felt broken, in four different spots and he clutched them. He could feel himself healing, slowly though. Weak from famish. It wasn’t fast enough to stop the pain, it might have worsened it even. Dion turned his head to look at his wound. He saw bone sticking out near his bicep. There was a piece of rock in his ribs and breathing out, he could feel it move and loosen from the hole. It fell, weighed by blood and rolled down four steps. 

The guards moved forward but stopped, almost afraid, as Astyanax raised Dion’s good hand and forced it to wave. Somewhat like a puppeteer. 

“Let’s see what’s in this hand.” He straddled Dion by the chest. Dion felt his air push out like someone had taken a rolling pin to his body, had flattened him and had forced every ounce of blood and juice and oxygen out into a defeated gasp. 

Astyanax worked on Dion’s hand. After a while, he stopped and just broke his fingers and watched the clay dagger fall to the floor. He picked it up, inspected it with childish glib, then shook his tips above Dion. It was almost playful, had Dion not wheezed and coughed blood.

“Now what’s this?” He presented the evidence to the court. Horace in the back stood, somewhat ashamed. “No one thought to baby-proof his room?”

Astyanax laughed. Alone.

“What an affront to my offer.” He slapped Dion’s face and pushed it side to side, letting him spit blood everywhere like a pressured hose. “In the old days, my people would have cut your head off and offered you to Zeus. Your scalp would have been made a weight for the holy scales of the tribunal.” 

Dion’s eyes rolled around like billiards on the break. 

“Could you heal that? Decapitation? Would you, would you?” Astyanax slapped him. “Aye, Vicar?”

Nothing but wheezing. Astyanax paused. Disappointed, almost, beginning to form a frown on his lips. He shook it off and stood off him. 

“My uncle, Aeneas, founded Rome. Do you know what the Romans did to people like you?” Astyanax walked down the steps. Two guards came to lift Dion. “They’d crucify you with three nails, no more, no less. They’d stab you and bake you out in the open sun and they’d play a guessing game of what would kill you first. The heat, the bleeding, or the insanity.”

Dion’s body dangled off the two men. His feet made a loud thump with each step he passed down.

“Maybe they’d all come at once like a hot fever. Would you like that?”

There was nothing to Dion, nothing but a string of blood and saliva that hung to his lips like cut webbing. 

“Well how about that then. If you can’t decide how you’ll live under me, then you’ll decide how to die under me.” He waved the men off. They saluted. “Send him to the dungeons.”

“Ave.” The demon’s said with their broken faces and their broken souls, all eager to satisfy King Astyanax.  

Author's Note: Woke or insane? Hmm.

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