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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77. Chapter 75

Dion

The choir of men played around the white circle. They screamed vulgarities at Dion. Dion whom, just punched in the face, crumpled on the floor with his loose teeth hanging down his lips. They did not grow back as fast, as well, as they should. He sat there, on the floor, like a small teething infant, with his hands to his face and the little knobs of white forming on his bleeding gums. He faced down. His body was bruised and healing and bruising again, his flesh changing color from green and purple to pink to tan like a confused chameleon. 

All around him the men threw small bronze coins, crudely etched onto them, a different number and a different face of Astyanax. They threw them on the floor near Dion, somewhere outside a white chalk line. They were betting on him or rather the many things about him: whether he would stand up again, whether he would survive another five minutes, whether he’d win or live even. It went on, some demons taking tallies and small tips as people lost and won. 

The demon in front of Dion walked up. He was nude almost, with a brown cloth covering his genitals. He pushed his scarred and dry, flaking feet on Dion’s face and rubbed it down on his chin. 

“Come on, fight,” Astyanax said from behind the crowd. He was looking with suspicion more than pleasure. 

Dion spat blood on the floor, it tainted a bundle of bronze coins. 

The foot rose high above him. 

“Show me something, I tell ye.” Astyanax screamed. Dion closed his eyes and breathed heavily, the foot hovered over his skull. 

“You won’t heal that, you’ll die. Understand?” Astyanax said. It was coming down, Dion felt the air push back as it did.

“Stop!” Astyanax screamed. All the deranged creatures turned to stare at Astyanax. His chest jumped up and down, his breathing was quick and deep. He stood from his wooden rocking chair and walked to the wrestling circle.

“Why stop me?” The competitor said with that stupid, deformed smile of his. Astyanax eyed him up and down. His face soured and he cocked his hand back. Blood flew everywhere. The competitor hurled back. Astyanax grabbed his head before he could land and sunk a thumb into his left eye until he felt it pop underneath.

“Don’t you ever question me.” He said. The other men heard it better than the demon, who lay on the floor in throes.

 A deviant demon, a small imp-like specimen, shuffled below the feet of the other betters. He was collecting.

Astyanax knelled over Dion, who looked up with his half-healed, half-broken face. It looked like steel sheets at the forge, some of it mended and treated and the other red and dark and malleable. Dion whistled from his broken nose. He coughed some. Astyanax fixed two thumbs around the hook-shaped thing and felt for the cartilage and bone. He snapped it back into place. 

“You might redeem yourself if you’d just fight. I’d even forgive your transgression if you would.”

“I have nothing to fight for. I have nothing to apologize for.” Dion belched snot and blood. “I had a chance to kill you and failed.”

“The men will kill you and rape you and take from you everything. You will be a figure of fun for the rest of your days, is that what you’d like? O’ noble Dion?” Astyanax tapped his face, amicably. “You’re not a pacifist. It’s not in your blood, believe me.”

“If it makes you more miserable, that’s good enough for me.” Dion looked past the king and towards the candle holders and wicks circling the small room. 

“What do I care what happens to you?”

“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?” 

“You’re so stupid,” Astyanax said. “Feel free to meditate in your small box, then.” Two men came up behind him. “Take him away and don’t feed him this time. Starvation will break him.” 

Two demons came around with their beige tunics and lifted Dion, dragged him by his arms and legs through the doors and the many halls of the dungeon. He laid in their arms coming in and out of consciousness and caught glimpses of the blurry shadows across the walls. They morphed and curved.

He awoke again at the height of air. He was thrown into a cell. The four-inch-thick metal bars clanked behind him as he rolled down the filthy floor, stopping only at the end of the room. Near him, a bucket and the smell of excrement.

Time passed even slow down there, as if the everlasting sun wasn’t enough a prod and poker of sanity, there was darkness now. Torches that seemed to burn forever, brick and mortar walls with the small gaps that allowed dust and light inside. There was no change of day, he knew. No escape, he felt. Dion dragged his body up, two joints rubbed against each other wrongly around his shoulder. He snapped it back into place and rested his bad side against the wall of the prison. He was feeling residual pain, which was odd. 

Mortality, after all, was odd for Vicars. 

He laid in a corner of the room thinking that, with closed eyes and his cauliflower ear stinging and ringing. He just wanted to sleep. He just wanted to fall into it, to dream. His eyelids began to burden themselves, to overwhelm him. And just before he could close them fully, before the sound of distant footsteps could disappear, he slipped out of it. Rather, was thrown out of it. 

There was a loud bang in the front of the cell. A collection of successive blows against the metal bars, the sound made the local prisoners aggressive. They began to screech in strange languages.

Dion turned to face the source. He felt worse for some reason.

“What do you want?” He asked. 

Alestor sniffed and covered his nose with one hand. He extended a metal cup with the other, it barely fit through the bars. A drink? Something like it. It looked like that bitter black sludge he had earlier at the kitchen, days ago (or what felt like days). 

“I managed to convince him to give you this. As a diplomatic gesture.” Alestor said. “He wants you to know that you are not, in his words, a plebeian. Though you may act like one. And he would prefer that you, in his words, act with more dignity.”

Dion took the cup and drank. He felt better, his pain seemed to subside a little. Calories, after all, wherever they came from, were vital to that nasty process of revitalization and regeneration.

“I bet you feel smug and strong, huh? With me behind the bars now.” Dion said. “Does it feel good being a lapdog?” 

“Better out here than in there.” Alestor pinched his nose.

“So was your cry of guilt a lie too?” Dion asked. “Is that all it takes to make you feel good, a little air?”

“No,” Alestor said. “No, none of what I said was a lie.”

“Good.” Dion drank again. “Is there another message from your master?”

“No.” Alestor looked down.

Dion sipped. He limped all the way to right side of the wall and put his back against it to slide down gently onto his ass.

“It was stupid trying to kill Astyanax.” Alestor said.

“Is that what he told you to say too?” 

“You knew that you would fuck it up. You tried killing him with a potted plant, after all.” Alestor rubbed his forehead. “What a stupid plan. Why do it? You had a good deal.”

“You’re still so stupidly gullible, aren’t you?” Dion scoffed. “That’s what my friend would have said, anyways. And he’d be right. I may be an idiot but at least I still have a brain, doctor.”

Alestor wrapped his hands around two bars and pressed his face against them. 

“What do you mean?”

“You believed him when he said he’d bring back your family and you believe him now, with his convenient deal?” Dion asked. “That everyone is nice and safe and that they’re free to go so long as I comply? Did you even see these supposed prisoners?”

“No.”

“Because they don’t exist.” Dion said. “I’ve accepted that fact long ago.”

“He’s keeping you alive so maybe you should cooperate, make your life a little easier.” 

“He’s always wanted me here. It’s all a game to him and I’m the zoo animal. And if he’s frustrated, it’s because that’s part of the fun too.” Dion looked away. “That’s all he wants, company to harass. Company to destroy. Nothing more. Why would he tell the truth, after all? He has what he wants.”

Alestor bit the interior of his mouth.

“He has as many docile pets as he’d ever need.” Dion laughed. “Who am I kidding? He’ll probably be bored within the month. And out again, he’ll hunt for more. A living Venus fly trap. He’s probably sweet mouthing another poor idiot like you as we speak.”

“So that’s it? You’ve given up?”

“I’m taking things as they come.” Dion sighed. “My hot-headedness, my violence brought me here. If I was a bit calmer, more compliant, more thoughtful. If I’d just listen…”

“You could have stopped yourself.”

“I could have stopped you.” The torch fires flickered. “I could have killed you a long time ago. Now? Why does it matter now? Revenge? Revenge only makes my situation worse.”

“That’s right.” Alestor said. “You were a pain in my ass before, so why can’t you show me that same energy now and try and kill that prick again?”

“I’m sure you’d like that.” Dion said. “You’re always thinking about yourself before anyone else, after all, Doctor.”

The word doctor seemed to stab into Alestor’s guts. He twitched. 

“I’m angry at how calm you are with all of this. I’m frustrated that you’d let that demon run around, knowing he still causes that much grief. I’m frustrated you’re a pushover. Who cares what happens to me?” Alestor asked. “I’m already doomed. At least punish him too, isn’t that what you’re here for? Vengeance? Punish him as much as me. We both deserve it.”

“I am punishing him.” Dion laid on his back. “I’m boring him to death. I’m not even giving him the pleasure of watching me. If I suffer, I suffer quietly. That’s the thing that drives him wild, seeing his exceptional pet act in very uninspiring ways. He hates that.” 

Alestor banged on the bars. The other prisoners howled. 

“That’s it?! That’s your plan? Behaving like a fucking saint?” 

“Until my time comes, yes.” Dion said.

“You’re going to rot is what you’re going to do.”

“No, I’m not.” Dion closed his eyes. “I’m repenting. I’m making myself a meek man. And I’m sure the Lord will save me, one way or another.”

“Show some spine.”

“It eats away with me,” Dion said. “Knowing that whatever lives in your king lives inside of me too. That long-lasting desire, that primitive thing. I can’t keep fighting knowing each time I do I get closer to becoming a psychopath like him.”

“Stop being so pretentious, you little ass. Do your job and hunt him down.”

“Yeah,” Dion said. “I spent so much time hunting you down. Enjoying the process, feeling guilty and sad. I don’t even know if my tears were authentic, sometimes I think that maybe, deep down inside, I just wanted an excuse to kill someone. I just wanted to be mad to be mad. And my voracious appetite made me sloppy, it let you slip away. If I had worked as hard as Apollo, together with him, maybe…”

His head nodded back and forth.

“Stop self-reflecting, act.” 

“I’m praying now. For my soul, for yours, for everyone you killed down here. I’m just praying.” 

“I don’t need a Catholic right now.” Alestor kicked the bars. He felt another bout of melancholy coming up. “I need a soldier!”
 
“Then maybe you should start praying too.” Dion said. Alestor cringed, he pointed to the cup, demanded it. It rolled down, below the gates, most of it un-drunk and spilling on the floor. Alestor looked at it for a moment in his hands. He poured out the rest in front of the cell, hoping Dion would watch, hoping he would feel regret. 

He didn’t. He laid down with his back on a pile of hay and his head nodding off to some imaginary rosary, to some imaginary lines of scripture.

He wanted to scream again. But didn’t. He walked away and soon even his footsteps disappeared. He walked away, saying (screaming), into the ward of prisoners: “We both want the same thing, idiot. Why can’t you see?”

It sounded pained, like a groan.

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