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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82. Chapter 80

Apollo

They awoke to the sound of church bells. The loud timbre that shook the trees and that caused Apollo to jump from his seat. 

“What the fuck,” He slapped his face awake. “It’s not Sunday.”

The Hyena pointed his sharp face up. 

“We’re out of time, but we’re close.” He said. “Whether or not you’re ready is of little relevance now. You’re going to face him soon.”

He felt the words down to his bones, the oscillation of the church sound up to his brain, both like a fearful rattling of his body. But it was much, much worse than fear. It was existential dread. An impending doom that made his brain scatter in thoughts, that made him feel ill in his gut from anxiety.

“How can you tell? It’s just a noise.” Apollo shook his hair. The boy came out from his den with his hands shutting his ears.

“No, that noise is special, extremely so. After all, how many churches have you seen in Hell thus so far?” The Hyena’s body stretched out. His back was straightened flat, his tail hung and wagged like a hypnotists watch. The boy looked at them both wondering what to do.

“I d-don't know man. Who says its bells? It can be anything here and from anyone.” Apollo could feel his heart palpitating. It sounded like the chug of a train, starting, only getting faster.

“This is his call. That’s a fact. We’re leaving. Now.” The Hyena jogged down the trail. The child and Apollo looked at each other, both afraid, both children in a way. They ended up following the Hyena. 

“I thought you were already used to fighting demons.” The Hyena said. 

“I haven’t fought many,” Apollo said. “And even with the few I fought, they weren’t anything like...this man you’ve described. Astyanax, or whatever.”

“Well it’s time for your graduation then, isn’t it?” Their breaths were hasty as they traveled the land. The boy struggled to follow. There was an incline, all of them felt their knees burn as they went up. And finally, on top of the hill, they saw it. The blight and tumor of this earth. The giant dome. With the chipped, collapsing edges. 

“What the fuck is this?” Apollo leaned away. 

“His home.” The Hyena said. “He built this, probably, two thousand years ago. Maybe further back.”

“We can make the travel in half a day.” The Hyena put his paws forward onto the hill. “It was good that you two slept, you’ll need the energy.” 

He slid down. Apollo took a deep breath, the sense of vertigo hit him. Anxiety hit him, all of it compiling on one another, weights upon weights. This was the feeling of being at the bottom of the ocean, the feeling he felt back at the river Styx. The feeling he felt when he saw Sophie’s dead corpse. The boy looked at him, his lips were quivering.  Apollo grabbed him, held him on his chest and they both slid down the hill. There were entanglements of shrubs and little rocks that cut them lightly and scratched them everywhere. 

They landed with a loud thump. Apollo felt the pain jolt up the heel of his foot, up his spin, all the way to his shoulder. 

“Don’t run.” The Hyena said. “We have to be careful from here on out.”

“What’s the problem? I’ve got some strength back.”

“And yet you’re not strong at all, not really. Not strong enough to fight an army, at least.” The creature pointed out, into the bustling oaks in front of them. There were leaves now, yellow and orange and wide. Cactus too. And the long reaching hands of thorny bushes. The tendrils moved, not by their own will, but by some other. There were people (in a very loose sense of the word) walking through the woods.

There were things, things that moved and stirred life into this lifeless desert. Apollo felt his feet shake. A tremor from a crowd. His arm felt hot, the string of life igniting heat into his forearm.

“What the fuck did you lead me into, demon?” He reached for his sword. The boy froze. 

“Do you think that call, those bells, were just for you? That you were anything special? I doubt the king even knows you’re here.” The Hyena lowered its body. “No, it was for someone else. Some other people.” He walked with a slow gait through the woods. “It was a summons, summons for every foul thing that lives on this island.”

The words were acrid to Apollo. His mouth fell into a grimace.

“It’s going to get more crowded as we go up. We’ll have to wait it out and go in late.” The Hyena said. 

“Why late?” 

“Would you rather go early, in the bottleneck of a horde of demons?”

“Alright then, why go at all? Can’t we wait?”

“You wanted to know whether your friend was alive, didn’t you? I have good reason to believe he is.”

“And how do you know that?” Apollo asked.

“Because I know Astyanax.”

“Then please enlighten me, genius. When I do get there, when I do meet this prick, how in the fuck will I even be able to fight him with all the damn demons in a fifty-mile radius there to back him up?”

“That won’t be a problem.” The Hyena said.

“It seems to me a huge fucking problem. A colossal fucking problem.”

“He’ll grant you an audience and you’ll accept. And you’ll fight and you’ll win.” 

“And how do you know that?”

“Because he is my child.” The Hyena said. “Was, at least.”

Apollo’s head felt empty as if his brains had been siphoned out. He wobbled, he put his arms on an oak tree and stabilized himself. 

“Your child. Your pupil you mean?”

“Yes.”

“You’re having me kill your protege? The fact that you even have one is alarming enough.”

“I am the father of many. Like you and many others. The difference in him, however, is his sanity or rather, lack of one. He lost his direction. He went off trajectory, got too full of himself, wanted too much, wanted too little. Astyanax is someone who suffered from bouts of ambition too deadly for his own good and bouts of depression to twisted for anyone else's good. And it was more than any psychological or physical disease could ever hope to be. It was a disease of a soul that broke his intellect; loneliness. You’re here to alleviate that now. Astyanax is someone who needs to be killed. Needs.”

Apollo held his ground. His eyes flared up. His fist tightened.

“I need to know who you are and what you’ve done.”

“What I’ve done?”
 
“I’m not smart. I’m stupid, which is probably why I ask so many questions. And I’ve got one that’s been burning me up. Call it intuition or a nasty knack,” Apollo breathed deeply. “But when I see desire, I start to get ideas of what kind of extremes those desires might cause.  So here you are, with the desire of having trained me, with the desire of wanting to kill Astyanax. And I’m wondering, what must you have done to make this all possible.”

“Hmm.” The Hyena walked a bit away from Apollo.

“I’ve got a feeling,” Apollo got closer to the Hyena. “That you had something to do with all of this. With the cup, with this island. With Hell, with Havenbrook.”

“Oh, my.” The Hyena looked up, he contained a smile behind his dagger teeth. “Will knowing change your goal? Will knowing stop you from killing him? You still need his heart don’t you, to get you all out.”

“It might.” Apollo barked back. “What did he try to do that angered you? What did you do to get me here? Who are you?”

“If you survive you might be worthy of those answers.” The Hyena looked back to his original direction and wandered into the woods. “But that’s a big if.”

“Hey, hold on.” Apollo chased after him as he turned behind a tree, he reached it, went around and saw nothing. The Hyena disappeared.

Apollo looked back to the child and flinched, there were noises afar, loud footsteps and the grumblings of a populace angry and hungry. Apollo stood dumbfounded, with his meek sword to his side.

“What do we do?” Bartholomew asked. There was no answer.

 

 


They spent their time in the forest, low to the ground. The feeling of worry building up with each successive sweep of footsteps, the menaces that harbored themselves behind the leaves and thin tall trees. They saw shadows amongst them, all of them heading to the singular direction: the loud, metal doors at the side of the mountain dome. The giant ringed handles, the giant wooden doors that swept swathes of dirt and dust. He could hear the chains, hear the dozens of soldiers at the front keeping everything orderly and proper.

Maybe I should just kill them, Apollo thought. It wouldn’t be too hard.

It wouldn’t have been, not the dozen soldiers at least. But the other three dozen demons? The looming creatures, odd shaped and fantastical looking, the very embodiments of bizarre homunculean creation? Those would be harder to kill, take longer, and supposing Apollo could even survive it would not guarantee the child would. 

He bit the edge of his thumb and spat out the chunk of flesh and blood and nail. 

“Wait here,” Apollo told the boy. He climbed a tree to his rear and sat on the branch, perched like a crow. He kept himself still on those arms and surveyed the lands. There were more creatures, not anywhere near him but coming closer still. He watched the gates and how they opened on groups of what he supposed were of twenty or perhaps twenty-five people (calling them people was a stretch). 

“I have an idea,” Apollo told the boy from up high. “But I don’t think you’ll like it.”

“What is it?” The boy said back. 

“Ever heard of a Trojan horse?”

 

 


They stalked the side of a road where the creatures came in droves of threes and fours. It was a little stretch wedged in an area before the doors and little after the woods, a slope down where the trees weren’t as dense and the crowds not as big. They waited behind small boulders and a dip in the land.

“Are you sure it’ll work?” The boy’s teeth rattled. 

“No, but it’s our best chance,” Apollo said.

The loud footsteps approached. 

“Be quiet, alright?”

Bartholomew nodded. He could feel the vibrations up to his knees and feet. 

The creatures were approaching. The first view that came was the image of the mammoth-like thing with a wide body and even wider sheet of fur that curtained down its humped back to its rough hooves. They extended up to its small head and shielded everything save for the smirk on its dumb face. The slobbering thing left drool like a string-trail that dragged along the floor.  Next to it, a lanky serpent whose elongated neck spasmed and jerked about, this creature was smaller, though still stall if compared to a grown man. A little behind the two, a smaller thing with a swollen head who turned in full rotation and whose bulbous white head frightened the boy. Like a sickly owl, plumed, wrinkled and fully-pale. 

There must have been a hierarchy to this world, an explanation as to why these monstrous creatures were not as dignified as they looked and acted and why they wandered like exiles as they did. Apollo didn’t care to find out though, he was too keen on killing them now as they approached his side of the road.

He waited, prone on the floor, his shoes digging deep.

He revealed his blade, broken and bleeding a red hue amongst the cracks. He cocked one hand back to throw and with the other, started working out a trajectory with his fingers. A bit like a game. In one move, he flung his arm forward and let it break wind. 

The creatures heard it too late. 

The snake was the first to go. His head squirming as it lay on the floor, decapitated. The body wandered confused for a bit, spurting blood out and venom before it fell, some yards away from the head. 

The blade landed on the floor near the corpse, Apollo jumped towards it. The small, white creature jumped back. Too slow. Apollo kicked his sword up and flung it, watching it spiral in the air. It stabbed through the chest of the creature, suffocated the lungs with blood presumably. 

He ran to that body now too, putting his foot down on the corpse to remove the weight. 

The tall behemoth was the last to die and the last to run. What a strange thing, for such a monstrous creature to run from Apollo. But it did, well, tried to at least. 

Starting its gallop was hard and slow, and it gave too much time for Apollo to run towards it. It didn’t take much after that. He got under the creature, past the hair-curtains, and punctured his sword into the side of the beast. It ran a bit, under the influence of pain, (the stupid thing). And its running extended the width of the wound until all his underside was burst open.

It must have gone a dozen yards before it realized it was dragging its guts. But by then it had lost too much blood and simply laid on the floor on its side with all its innards on display. It breathed, quick, painful breaths. Apollo walked over to the dying thing. Squinting his face at the scene, with all the large organs displaced about.

It was hard to tell what compelled Apollo, pity or efficiency, but he stabbed it nevertheless, right through its exposed heart.

He ate it, that heart, digging his hands through the carcass like some starved animal. His arms came out of the creature, blood covering them with a black coating. The child looked at him, shivering. And it made it that much harder to convince him to join. And even harder than that? Convincing him to climb into the corpse. 

He was wedged inside the body, Bartholomew, and he moved around to try and fit himself somewhere in between intestines and lungs.

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