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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81. Chapter 79

Apollo

Bartholomew tripped on a small rock and hurt himself on the chest when he fell. They all knew then and there, as he lay rubbing his chest, that it was time to stop. He lifted himself with his small hands. He looked down, noticed his knees were cut and bleeding and blew on the wound. He rubbed the blood out, but there was no sense of pain on his face, there was nothing to read of anything on the boy. 

“Alright, we’ll take a break. We’ve been at this for hours.” Apollo said.

“It’s been days.” The Hyena added. 

Apollo didn’t answer, he blew out air and wiped the grime off his face. The dried trees were dense in this area, they looked like little stakes coming off the floor and were ubiquitous across the uneven horizon like small hairs on an old scalp. The little, black forks in the dirt.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Apollo asked the boy. “I’m starving here.”

“You can eat the child.” The Hyena bemused. “I wonder what he’d taste like.” 

The boy turned away from the beast and walked back towards a log.

“Stop making jokes like that.” Apollo walked over to Bartholomew. “Don’t mind him. He’s a prick.”

The boy said nothing and sat with his hands on his lap. Apollo sighed and went past him, towards the trees.

He took out his blade and started working on them. He could feel his weakness, his hunger, he felt it in his weak swings and his gait and how shallow his cuts were on the trunks of those thin, dead trees.

“Is there a reason why I keep confusing days for hours and weeks for days?”

“You’re losing your corporeal form, is all.” The Hyena said. “Physical beings are something of an oddity down here, in the land of spirits. I’m surprised you’re even material, still.”

“Is that why I can’t tell time anymore? Why I can’t sleep, or why I feel so hungry? I’m slowly dying?”

“I’m not hungry.” The boy cut in. 

“No, you’re not, are you?” The Hyena curled into a ball next to the boy. “However, Apollo isn’t a boy. Or a human, for that matters. Vicars starve much faster down here than any normal person.”

“What does that mean?” Bartholomew asked. He rubbed his legs, still. 

“Are you allowed to tell him, is that part of your church’s creed or would it be forbidden?” The Hyena asked.

“No, I can’t say much.” Apollo felt his hands tremble against the wood. “They’d imprison me for years.”

“Then I’’ tell him,” He closed his eyes and burrowed his snout in his fur. “A Vicar is a name, one of many, for the biggest transgression a mortal could commit. This young man before you,” Bartholomew turned to Apollo, Apollo kept swinging his sword. “This man has bedded a devil.”

“Bedded? Is he a monster or something?” The boy inched away from his little log bench, further from Apollo and now towards the Hyena.

“I’ll let him answer that.” The Hyena scoffed “Are you, Apollo? And how did it happen?”

Apollo stopped swinging. He pushed his shoulder towards the tree.

“Don’t you know? I thought you knew everything.”  The tree fell and shattered on the floor. Branches and twigs scattered.

“I do know, but I want you to say it. There’s a unique kind of peace you can only get by admitting your secrets. I think you’re owed to it.” The Hyena said. “And we both know how many secrets you have. Why not let some out?”

Apollo looked to the sky and let his sweat fall. He took off his armor, it hit the floor like the tree, dead and stiff. He took out his coat from the little gap it had hung on his plate armor. He was still wearing his suit underneath, the pants, the shoes, the shirt, the tie. Though rugged looking as it was, it was more comfortable. The torn holes in his clothes made him comfortable, the small holes that allowed air to enter like ventilation.

“Well, are you a monster?” The boy asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“I guess I am. Though what turned me into one isn’t anything, necessarily special. It’s rather tame, actually, for my line of work at least.” Apollo said. “It started when I was a kid, a little younger than you, a little more depressed than you. I was an orphan always getting into trouble, too much of a mischief for anyone to adopt or care for. So much so that one day I left the orphanage and never came back. I used to roam around the streets of LA, like the little rat I was. God, I hated it.”

Apollo looked out towards the sky, reminiscing. 

“Maybe it was okay. I don’t know, I met some people then, other kids like me without a place to go. But I guess I couldn’t really hang onto them, not with my luck at least.” He said. “It didn’t take a long time after I ran away to be adopted by the church, all it took were a couple free meals and a shower every now and then for me to buy into the whole thing. Scrounging trash cans loses its appeal quick and starvation isn’t any fun.”

He took a deep breath and hacked at the second tree.

“I had no future, not until they gave me one.”

“The church?” The boy asked.

“Yeah,” Apollo said. “A kind of church. One that sent me to strange places to get strange testing. Weird diagnostic checks, weird stuff with wires and groups of people who analyzed every little thing I did, from the way I breathed, to the way I ate, to the way I walked. Though I didn’t know what they were at first, I realized it a little too late. I just thought they were losers in white trench coats, weirdos with too much time on their hands. Then one day, one night, they knocked me out and operated on me. They cut my chest open. At least they were considerate, they made sure to comatose my ass for two weeks. Dreamt through the whole thing. I still feel like I’m dreaming, to be honest.”

“That sounds horrible. You were abducted and tortured.” The boy said, his voice showing a bit of life. Some pity, which was a strange thing to be optimistic about, though Apollo was.

“It sounds worse than it was. But how bad was it, really? Who did I have to listen to my protest? No one. What would I have done had I known ahead of time? Nothing. And if I died? The world would spin, without losing even a bit of momentum.” He looked sullen at the fallen tree. There were red bugs crawling out of it, long and slimy. They stared up before going back into one of the eaten holes of the tree trunk. “They said, after I awoke, that it was plain luck that I was alive. Luck! That the operation shouldn’t have worked. They said, those church surgeons, that I now had a devil’s heart in me. That’s not figurative either. It is, quite literal.”

The boy left his mouth open. He looked just about to ask a question, but held back, confused, afraid. 

“H-how does that even work?”

“Do I look like a doctor? If I had that kind of ambition, I wouldn’t be swinging swords at giant bugs and tin cans.” Apollo scoffed. 

“Believe me when I say, it used to be worse. Transformations of those types usually aren’t as cut and clean.” The Hyena said. 

“Let’s not talk about those times and those operations.” Apollo nodded his head. “How do you even kn- Never mind, of course. Right.” 

Bartholomew rubbed his head.

“Devil’s hearts.” The boy repeated. “How? Where? What?”

“You know these monsters down here?” Apollo smirked. “What if I told you they exist up there, on our little green and blue satellite too? Though rare. Much rarer than down here. And often times, scarier too. If you could believe that.”

“So. You kill 'em? And steal their hearts?”

“Or eat them! Aha.” The Hyena added with roaring joy.

“Sometimes, yes. There are particular methods and other Vicars who specialize in that kind of business. There are too many factors for me to ever consider that kind of work, I’d rather just kill them, quickly and easily.”

“So you eat hearts?” The boy stuck his tongue out in disgust. “Do you eat people too?”

“No,” Apollo said. “I’m still, somewhat, of a human being so that’d be cannibalism.”

“How does your body handle that thing. That demon heart thing?”

“How does anybody handle an organ transplant?” Apollo said. “With difficulty, of course. The procedure is so dangerous because of how many people reject the damn thing. That’s why the doctors said I was lucky. I wasn’t supposed to live. I was too frail, too much of a failure to live. But I got lucky. I’m just a lucky man.”

The boy dangled his legs up and down.

“So you’re a monster, huh.” He said, whimsical. “Is that why you’re strong and fast? And tall and ugly?” 

Apollo stopped. 

“Ugly?” He laughed, he felt it down to his stomach. “Yeah, I guess I am ugly. Would you believe me if there are worse people than me? I’m actually considered one of the weaker Vicars. There are much, much, stronger men than me. Some can even use arcana. Or I guess you’d call it magic.”

“Do they make rabbits disappear?” The voice rose on the boy. He was invigorated. The Hyena rolled tighter into a ball until his face was comfortably inside the fat, furry stomach of his.

“There are legends of men who move mountains and rivers and who rain fire for weeks on end. I’m not good with that kind of stuff, never liked it. It seems much easier to me to just chop someone's head off. But I know some magic. Basic stuff.”

“Show me!” The boy shouted. Apollo looked back at him and smirked. He reached down and found foot long stick. He pointed it towards the boy and let him watch it carefully. He removed his coat and held it in one hand, the stick in the other. He moved the stick towards the coat, moved it inside and revealed his hand. The stick was gone, Apollo demonstrated, as he showed both sides of his coat and let the boy feel the pockets for any foul play.  

“Where’d it go?” Bartholomew asked.

“Nowhere,” Apollo said. He put on his coat, reached his hands deep into the flaps and stuck his hands deep inside one of the little sigils inside, with the red string stitching. A stick came out. “It never went away.”

“How’d you do that?” The boy asked. 

“Believe me, it’s more the coat than it is me.” Apollo said. “It took me months to learn that trick, it takes most people weeks. Some mystic hermits from the church told me, in their haughty tone, that I had damaged Empyrean reservoirs. Whatever the fuck that means. It’s like a vein or something. The heavenly gift, they say.”

“It’s not a gift from heaven.” The Hyena protested. “Trust me.”

“As if it matters to me,” Apollo said. “Power is only as good as what you make of it or what it makes of you. And abuse seems rampant, in the church and outside. For every holy, pious mage there are five times as many corrupt fucks. The number is worse for half-devils like myself.”

“It’s necessary.” The Hyena said. “Demons are savage, and savagery must be met with savagery. It stands to reason, then, that you’d need a whole army of psychopaths to fight.

“I’m not getting into politics with you.” Apollo said. “This is just a small summary of my business, is all.”

“Oh,” The boy sat attentive, absorbing everything. 

“You’re forgetting one part.” The Hyena said. “You forgot to explain what made you, you. And it was no surgery, was it?”

“Goddamnit, and I was having a pleasant time.” Apollo sighed.

“Look, he won’t admit it.” The Hyena looked at Bartholomew. “Tell him, Apollo. Tell him about your tragedy. Unholy science might have designed your heart, but the cruel universe forged it.”

“Why would I? I barely know the kid.” Apollo walked in and out of Bartholomew’s vision. He was arguing, the child noticed. And he was carrying the bundles of sticks, he noticed too.

Bartholomew stayed silent. His brain seemed exhausted from the talk. He tipped from one side to the other, teetering between falling forward or backward. His eyes drifted, his lids were heavy. He was just about to fall, only inches off the floor when Apollo caught him. He raised him up. Bartholomew rubbed his eyes and looked in front of him. A den was made, a small collection of twigs and dried leaves and the soft bark upon the sand forming a kind of bed. The boy looked at Apollo who was dirty on his dark face, whose eyes too, seemed tired. 

“Go on, you’ll hold us back if you pass out. Sleep for now.” He said before sitting on a log, opposite the den, near the Hyena. 

Bartholomew nodded and though experience told him not to trust the hole or the place, that he could be attacked at any moment, his body disagreed. He could not protest and wandered into the small bed. After a few minutes, he drifted. And Apollo waited outside, closing his owns eyes though trying to hard suppress the feeling.  

“You two have more in common than you’d admit.” The Hyena said. “And he’ll end up just as bitter as you too if you don’t talk to him.” 

“Why would I care what happens to him after the fact? My job is to get him out, that’s it.” Apollo kept his eyes closed. “Besides, what do you know about me?”

“Everything.”

“Yeah, I figured.” 

Nothing was left to say. Apollo’s eyes too, were exhausted. He folded his arms on his chest and fell asleep, sitting on that log, pretending to keep watch. It was stupid, dangerous, and comfortable all around. 

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