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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85. Chapter 83

Apollo 

They stalked the lands and watched as the crowd thinned out. There were a few stray demons, wandering the fields in mindless bliss, grazing almost, on the heavenly nature of it all. Small critters. So stupefied by the opiate of the view were they, that none noticed or cared about Apollo or the boy traveling. They played and Apollo pulled the boy from the image of the husks, the monsters, in ecstatic pleasure at something as simple as a bit of grass and flower.

They came to the center of the dome, where the crowd who either wandered into or wandered away from and looked about the aqueducts lining the city. 

“Water slides.” The boy commented.

“Not exactly.”

There was a spillage of which they both traveled underneath. The water hit the tops of their heads, it felt cold and oily like something had lived in this water and subsequently died. Bartholomew tried sticking his tongue out, but Apollo tapped his head. He shut it.

“Don’t trust anything here,” Apollo said. “It’s all an act.”

There were small houses near the aqueducts in what seemed to be the outer layer of the place. Circular rings separated every class of building (and citizen). As they approached the center the huts grew into larger, crumpled buildings whose two-story floors now laid collapsed on and about the fields. These were atriums. Buildings of aristocrats, buildings with large broken marbled pools, spilling wild grass from their cracks. Large trees lined the lost gardens of the atriums, the trees overgrown and warping the land with its roots. The further up they went, the worse the land seemed to get and the dirtier it got, which was strange. You’d expect this of the poor. 

Apollo looked up, a giant hole was in the ceiling the dome. Dust came in and out, as did light from there. Maybe the ceiling had fallen? Sounded ridiculous, looked ridiculous. But maybe it was true. 

“Don’t you give up on me now,” Apollo said. The boy nodded and picked himself up from a high step onto the flat land. 

The giant villa of Astyanax was in front of him with all the frivolity of the architecture. The chaotic mess of culture and history that made it seem more theme park than home. Within the walls, the rooms, there were loud noises like a small crowd. Then, shuffling of steps.

“Shh.” He told the boy. Apollo wandered into the building from a side door. There was a moment of silence, then the shaking of metal armor, a yelp. Then two heavy sounds, the sounds of armor falling to the floor. Silence now.

Apollo came out with blood on his face.

“Let’s hurry up,” Apollo said. Bartholomew shook, then straightened out. 

“Alright.” He said in a voice low and uneasy.

Alright.

 


They traveled quickly through the villa, stopping every now and then to assassinate guards who wandered. And it was a strange sense for Bartholomew, to feel revenge and regret both at once as each guard fell. To want to get away and to want to see it through at the same time.

Apollo saw it in his eyes, black, tired rings of eyes and yet a face looking forward, hair split down the middle. He was like this all the way through the villa, towards the back courtyard and into the fields where the crowd gathered. Where giant pillars laid slanted. 

“I don’t like this, the air smells like iron. I can taste it in the tip of my tongue,” Apollo said. “Wait here.”

The fields and the swords planted for each grave lay in front of him, a rounded stretch that ended at the cathedral. Before that, before even the stretch of swords began, there was a slanted pillar.

He rubbed his arms and saw that the band, the string of life, that little sensor of demonic presence was burning him. His hairs on his arm smoked from the intensity and it was a heat that seemed obvious, right in front of him. 

“What’s happening?” The boy screamed from the little spot of dirt he was told to wait in.

“I don’t know, keep it down.” Apollo walked forward. 

He stopped at once at a pillar where his arm burned hottest. The marbled was cracked, the surface was rough and porous. He looked up. His eyes narrowed. His breathing started its hyperventilated gasps. Adrenaline, making his face and arms cold. Tingles, everywhere.

“Are you going to come down?” Apollo looked up to the top of the pillar. “Or am I coming up?”

Up above, the gaudy centurion rested on his pillar. A flamboyant looking thing whose wasted and dark rotting skin conflicted with the bright armor. He had a javelin, pila as it was, to his side. He looked down at Apollo with those two dark gaps for eyes and said not a word, did not so much as blink or move his face. He simply turned and Apollo, who upon seeing this reaction, knew what would come. He looked back at the boy. He stepped away, into the field of swords, where he tripped over a skull. On his knees, he crawled away, behind a round rusted shield. He watched, with one curious eye popping out of the corner of that shield. 

Apollo drew his blade. He has three meters of reach over me, he thought. 

His feet moved minutely, only centimeters forward as he pushed himself to his right with his toes. The centurion put his hand on his spear. The warm wind blew over them. 

Nice weather, at least. Apollo thought. 

A single drop of sweat fell from his cheek.

The sound of wind breaking stirred him.

The hellspawn was the first to strike. Throwing his spear. Picking up another. Jumping down the pillar. Breathing loud and screaming even louder. Apollo moved, the spear hit the floor to his side. The earth collapsed into gravel beneath him and he felt the large cut on his face, like a crescent moon that bled down to his neck. His face would not heal. 

With the smoke still filtering him and blurring his vision, Apollo pushed through. He charged his blade behind him, his arms stiffened. From the blade and its veins, the little crevices began to fill themselves with that intense fire. He struck the column immediately, once the fire reached the jagged tip of his blade. Immediately, the fire began to flood that bastard sword of his, wrapping around the pillar like a snake to a tree.

It exploded. The base of the column shattered and the rest began to fall into collapse. The wreckage left a cloud of smoke, Apollo sat at the center, coughing and wheezing from the explosion. 

Silence. Wind. Rocks tottering and skipping across the floor. 

Where is he? Where is he?! My right! Apollo thought. 

He felt the wind push in that direction and felt his hair move long before he saw the spear. The smoke collected, like a vortex, around that quick jab. He moved his head aside and felt the other side of his cheek cut now, horizontal this time, right below the eye. 

The centurion retracted, returned back to the smoke and turned himself into a shadowy presence. 

Apollo raised his blade again. He felt the blood and sweat co-mingle on his chin into large globs. His head felt light headed. It was death, this sensation. 

Again a thrust, again a shallow dodge. Bobbing and weaving, punctured and prodded, the smoke clearing with every thrust of the spear. The figure came into full view in his metal armor, behind his shield. Apollo, too, appeared amongst the smoke. Wounded, maimed all over with cuts that would not heal, with an arm that burned and warned him and feared for him. 

He was exhausted.

The legionnaire tested Apollo, almost arrogant in the way he jabbed meekly at Apollo. It gave him confidence, the demon. And Apollo could feel his morale slipping, down his bloody chin and onto the floor, each time his sword bounced off the shield and each time he missed with his own shots.   There was no back and forth. Apollo was losing.

Looking to his side, Apollo saw a passage. It was a small curved hall that held the broken aqueduct above. He ran away, immediately, into that enclosed space. The Centurion was hot behind him, his feet like jackhammers as they pushed and stabbed the earth. 

They approached the hall. And he (Apollo) felt, again the flurry of the spear strikes. Inside that tight space. The Centurion fired off, screaming, with confidence into that small enclosure.

The soldier, striking. Apollo, blocking. The soldier moving deeper and deeper in the enclose, pushing Apollo further and further back. 

And yet, with momentum on his side, and yet, with Apollo pressed back, the Centurion worried. A small anxiety that was only really an afterthought.

The Centurion kicked Apollo’s sword. Apollo’s feet ripped the floor as he was pushed back. It gave the Centurion an opportunity to look behind him, to see how far inside he was in this small canal. He looked up, the aqueduct tunnel trickled with impotence. He felt, from a loose brick above, a water drop touched his face and looked back down to Apollo who was meters away from him, who seemed to be smirking in the shadow of the alley.

Too late, Apollo thought.

The Centurion grit his rotten teeth, he thought to run back, out into the open space.

But it was too late. That blade of Apollo’s, that thought-to-be-neutered-thing sputtered a sign of life. As the veins and cracks of its widebody began to glow, and as it began to heat and flame up and for a moment so brief, the centurion cowered. He put his shield. Apollo pointed his blade forward.

Out the explosion shot. Contained, for a moment. Contained, until every brick began to spill with the hellfire. Contained, until it all shattered and broke down.

A cloud of smoke jet out the alley. Following it, a streak of fire like a jet engine. The aqueduct above collapsed and water came down onto the explosion. Steam and smog both coming out from the exploded base of the aqueduct. A figure appeared. Bartholomew rubbed his eyes.

It was Apollo. Who moved, tired. He looked for the corpse of the centurion, not noticing his damaged and bruised body, not noticing the burn marks on his left face and neck that now replaced his cuts. The fires screeched as the water hit it until it died into a crackle. Apollo wandered the smoke, looking for the corpse, for a heart to eat. But nothing remained of the centurion save for his calcified ashes and the outline of where he stood and died. It was just a shadow on the floor of a man holding his shield. 

Apollo sighed. He walked away from the explosion, towards the boy. He fell halfway.

The boy ran up, staring at him. There was no joy in victory, not for either of them.

“Are you alright?” He put Apollo’s arm around his neck and tried to pull him up. Apollo laid, prostrate on the floor. His sword (what remained) in his hands. It was reduced, no longer a large hunk of metal, no longer a bastard sword. It had been used and abused and now, in his hands, Apollo’s sword was nothing more than a stick, a rod of hot steel. A thin and sickly thing. It must have been a tenth of its original size. But Havenbrook and Hell had both done their job at filing it down and now, it was nothing.

Just a burning stick in Apollo’s hand that glowed and fumed. 

Apollo dropped the sword. The grass underneath it began to smoke. Apollo scrambled to pick it up again. Bartholomew squirmed at the sight of the weapon.

“What happened?”

“I overused it is what happened.” Apollo pushed himself.

“How are you going to kill him with that?” 

“It’s got some energy left in it. I might be able to burn through his armor,” Apollo grunted. It sounded more like sarcasm than truth. He limped forward, the boy helped. “I can’t blow anyone up anymore though, that's for damn sure.”

His voice was tired, hoarse. He wheezed in between his words and his eyes kept falling to the floor. 

“Maybe I’ll poke him to death.” Apollo laughed. He left his blade on a concrete step of the cathedral, the stone began to warm into a black and red surface. Apollo sat next to his warmer, arms clutching his sides.

“I can’t stand.” Apollo rested his head on the steps. The crowd behind him was loud, booming, and expanded the walls of the cathedral it seemed.

“You’re going to have to.” Bartholomew pulled on Apollo’s arm.

“God, I’m so tired,” Apollo said. “And so hungry,” He sighed. “And so stupid.” 

“Start moving,” Bartholomew yanked harder until he himself tripped. 

“I want to sleep, kid. Won’t you let me? Just for a moment, enough to let my eyes rest.” He shut them and lay there, breathing deeply. 

“Are you going to die on me too?” Bartholomew felt his nose dribble.

“I wish,” Apollo laughed. “Dying is a lot easier than living.”

“Am I going to kill you too, like I killed the others then?” Bartholomew put his hands in front of him. He cradled himself, shaking back and forth. His nose blew out snot, his eyes teared up.

“No, kid. If I die it’s because I deserved it.” Apollo said.

Bartholomew hiccuped. His throat was full of mucus.

“Are you worried you won’t make it out?” Apollo asked. He reached into his coat and looked for that cup, angrily throwing it towards the boy. “There’s your ticket. Make sure you take it with you when you go.”

The boy stared, confused.

“But what about you?” He began to cry.

“What about me?” 

“Don’t you want to get out too?”

“You don’t even know me, kid,” Apollo said. “Save your tears for the people who are worth them. Me? I’m trash.”

“No, you’re not.” He yanked at Apollo.

“You know, before this. At the campsite, you were right. When you called me a monster? You were right about that.” He looked up at the sparkling ceiling.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.” Bartholomew pulled until he slipped away and fell behind Apollo. He hit the back of his head but didn’t feel it much. “I’m really sorry, so stand up. Don’t die like the rest.”

Apollo’s eyes returned to normalcy. They came around, black, like thrown coal as he stared up at the boy.

“Do you really think you killed them?” Apollo asked.

The boy dug his head into his knees. 

“Don’t get angry with me, but tour friends died because they were weak.” Apollo groaned. The boy suffocated his weeping. It sounded like choking. “And I’m going to die because I’m weak too. It’s a hard lesson to live through, not many do. And it’s an even harder lesson to learn from. But you will.”

“Why,” The boy let out. “Why do you make it so hard to be a friend? Why are you so mean? I don’t understand you. You say one thing but act out another, I don’t understand you.”

The boy rubbed his arms against his face. 

Apollo felt his fingers move. His flaming sword still burning into the concrete, reducing it to something molten.

“What don’t you understand? The weak die, that’s it.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about.” The boy screamed. “Why do you say mean things.” He hiccuped. “When you’re a good person.” 

And something stronger than any punch or stab or gunshot wound punctured Apollo. He looked away from the boy, from that crying, smart gaze of his as if afraid of the light of observation he had. He scrambled, shook his head and fell silent. The boy sobbed behind him, the crowd of demons in the cathedral drowned them both out. 

Apollo opened his mouth. He held it open as he thought of something to say. At first, to figure out a way to sugar coat his message and then, realizing he couldn’t, tried to figure out a way to admit it.

His hand twitched. He felt some life in him still.

“I killed my friend when I was your age.” He said.

The boy looked up, the tears dragging across his face like a windshield.

“I’m not lying,” Apollo said. “I killed my friend when I was young, just as I joined this stupid business of demon hunting, not by choice mind you. We went to the docks in San Diego, I remember it. The smell, the sound of the ocean slamming against the warehouses and wooden planks and boats.  The whole block was closed down, the church in accordance with the government had isolated the incident. The public would go mad otherwise. I remember it clearly, nothing since has been able to rub the memory off my eyes. Age won't, death probably won't. It happened when I was thirteen.”

His arm shook. He clenched his fist. 

“It was me, my friend, and my teacher all in the heat of the fight and chase, I made a mistake. I overestimated myself and I tried to kill three demons, awful things. Long slender, snake-like things that still haunt me with their waxy scales and terrible hiss. I was stupid to think I could kill them by myself. And I felt dumber when my friend decided to save me. He didn’t die with any pride or dignity, not like the Vatican says we would or could. He was bitten, ripped apart and eaten right in front of me. That’s when I realized a man wasn’t special, just a meaty body and some glue that keeps it together. I guess you’d call that the soul.”

The boy shook.

“I know what powerlessness feels like. It’s paralyzing, isn’t it? Like a snake bite. I know what it is to feel like a useless victim, to be saved and to hate yourself for being saved. To live every day of your life, to spend each living moment knowing that your time was borrowed from someone else. That someone else paid the bill that had your name on it.”

“You’ll ask; why me, why me, why men and no one will answer you. You’ll wake up late and angry every fucking day. You’ll want to kill yourself, then feel ashamed for having the thought and then you’ll drag yourself through knowing that this life does not belong to you. It belongs to people who died for you.”

“And you won’t make friends! Because they all die on you anyways. And you won’t get along with anybody! Because you won’t need friends. And you won’t change! Because routine is easier, even if it kills you.” Apollo screamed. “Why care, why put your heart out? So it can get stabbed again? So you can hurt again? I don’t need a reminder.”

Apollo dragged his arm to his face, he tried to stop his tears. 

“That’s why I’m mean, kid.” Apollo shook his head. “Because I’m too bitter to live and too afraid to die.”

He sniffled.

“Don’t end up like me, Bartholomew. You’ll hate yourself for it.” 

The boy walked up to him. He grabbed his arm and pulled, stronger, almost to cause injury. 

“I’m not going to end up like you.” He said. “I’m still walking and trying. I’m already better than you.”

“Why even try?”

“Because I’d disappoint the people who helped me if I didn’t.” The boy said, innocent, firmly, as he pulled and yanked at Apollo. 

“Who am I disappointing? My friend is dead.”

“You’re disappointing yourself. That’s who.” Bartholomew fell. He stood immediately, rubbed his knees and tried again at pulling Apollo. “It would be unfair of you to die right now. You haven’t earned it, so stand up.”

He stopped pulling and ran to the cup and laid it on Apollo’s stomach. Apollo looked at, the black liquid inside and saw his reflection. He felt a smile creeping on him. His body moved a bit, his legs began to stretch out. His fingers wandered, just a bit, searching for where his blade lay.

“You’re much stronger than me.” Apollo stood.

“I don’t have to be. You can change if you want to, you just need to want to.” 

Apollo took three steps. He tossed the cup at the child who fumbled it and who held it close to his chest. Apollo hunched over, the child grabbed him. He helped him up three more steps.

“If you had asked me a few weeks ago of what I wanted to do, I would have punched you in the face, grabbed that cup and gotten the fuck out of here.” He laughed. “I guess I can’t do that anymore, can I?”

“No, you can’t.” The boy nodded.

“And if I told you, you should drink it and get the fuck out of here, what would you say?”

“I’m not leaving without you.” The boy said. He nodded in affirmation, his face stern and his eyes focused.

Apollo stood in front of the doors now, his arm pushed against the metal. His sword in his other hand, his lungs pained and aching. He smirked.

“Then give me a second,” He said. “I’ll be quick, I promise.”

The boy walked up to him. He tucked the cup under his shirt and put both arms against the cathedral doors. Both of them pushed, slowly and the doors began to creak and scream as they did so. Inside the cathedral? The roaring sounds of clamor and ecstasy, an embassy house for every evil in every corner of this island. And at the center: The king, Astyanax.

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