Chapter 32

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Apollo

July 20th, 2017

1:02 AM

The Vicars did not see the hellhounds coming. Only felt them, the wind that flexed next to them with each of their violent passes through the doors around them. They saw glimpses of them. Yellow eyes, moving so fast that only the passing after-image could be seen. Blue eyes. Blue, yellow, running across the hallways, through and from doors.

Their fur, like wild weeds growing into black knots. One passed. Dion shot at a hallway. The bullet raced down, illuminating the area and eventually coming out a wall and into the abandoned building neighboring them. He hit nothing. They saw everything. Jagged teeth, snouts so elongated as to look like whips or tusks. They were deformed, awkward, drooping with forked paws. Diseased hellhounds. With long, flat faces. Wide too, especially as they turned their bodies. One of them stood still, near Apollo. He snapped, and inside its mouth, past its sickly teeth, there was nothing. A void. No stomach, no organs. Empty.

“We’re going to get cornered,” Dion said.

“We already are.” Apollo spat. His blade rested against the wall. He kicked it in, caving in a hole for himself. The rubble fell below his feet.

“We need to move.” Dion bent his knees low, he breathed hard. The fumes of his breathing came out from underneath his mask.

“On my count,” Apollo said. “One.” He looked around him. No exits near him, the doors were too far, and there were three dogs in between them all. “Two.” The hole he just made wasn’t big enough for him. Damn.

“Three.” He shouted. The three dogs rushed at him, north, west, east. Apollo raised his blade and let it fall. The floor exploded. The rotten wood and pipe fell from the ceiling like rain; burned, smoldered, melting around Apollo and Dion who took the floor-hole into the lower level. They were in the cafeteria, atop the tables and chairs now dented or laying with their pieces strewn around ground zero.

“Did you get ‘em?” Dion said. He dug wood splinters out of his thighs. The steam from his healing wound rose to the hole, now above them, and onto still-barking hellhounds.

“What do you think?” Apollo struggled to stand. He jerked himself up. The dogs were coming down, from the red, smoldering ring. Like fish into the lake of fire, jumping, with excitement, with rage.

They bit. They bit hard.

One of them came around, scanned and saw Apollo. The first thing devoured was his hand (not the one holding onto his blade, thankfully).

The jaw went clean through the bone into the veins lining his knuckles, veins that gushed blood. When the dog squeezed tighter, Apollo could swear (by the immense pain he felt) that his marrow was being picked, sucked, slurped straight and fast.

When it was done, when Apollo’s mangled arm returned to his side, the hell hound rushed forward. This time, the forearm. It was meatier, more satisfying. Apollo turned his body, he struck the dog. He couldn’t aim, he had no balance. He hit the monster with the flat end of his blade. The monster pushed back, knocking his sword out of his hand.

Fine.

He clenched his fist into a ball and swung strong. A hammer aimed dead center at the space between the monsters four yellow eyes. He hit flesh, went through it. The dog yelped. When Apollo retracted his arm, he ripped some fur along with it, gathering the long knots in between his fingers. Bits of flesh hung from the hair follicles. They looked gray.

It only seemed to anger the beasts more, who galloped with that hungry mouth, with a fast bob and weave too quick for Apollo to rebuttal.

It bit his arm, the one that already had a mangled hand. And it didn’t let go, rather dragged him down into kneeling.

Exposing his back, keen for another hell hound. Yes. The second one came running, through the hole in the ceiling, aiming for Apollo’s neck.

A bullet shot it down. The second dog spun in the air from the impact – a ballet twirl – and collapsed. It whimpered. One of its legs flew away. Apollo struggled with the parasite on his arm. And what of the shot dog? His leg re-cooperated, regenerated rather.

“Don’t just stare!” Apollo screamed. The dog bit down. His strained voice morphed into a scream. “Ah, f***!”

So he did all he could do, he pushed the monster down and pinned it between his body and the floor, and he punched straight down, into one of the eyes. Its mouth opened. Apollo retreated his arm from the grip. He looked at his arm, almost in awe at the ribbons of flesh hanging and the splintered bone and the maw-marks decorating his left arm.

Anger took over then. He grabbed the dog by its long snout and slammed it onto the wall, until its skin went white from dust and asbestos and until its face looked dull and until its whole red-smudged body fell with lost vigor. Then he threw it on the floor. And stomped. Stomped. Stomped.

All the while, Apollo’s lame arm dangling by his side.

He raised his foot, eventually. Eventually, after he regained some semblance of sanity. There was blood all over his mask, his foot. It greased him, he almost slipped on it.

The monster lay squashed, its heart exposed. He picked it and put it in his mouth. Sweet, chalky but with the heat of his mouth, softening, like once-frozen Turkish delight.

His arm was beginning to heal, the damage was too severe for it to be immediate though. He slumped forward, going towards his sword.

And bending down to grab it, he noticed something. A creature was across from him, on the other side of the cafeteria behind a mess of tables and chairs.

“Of course,” Apollo smiled behind his mask, almost laughed hysterically.

They were both low, both primed and high-shouldered. They breathed and sniffed the same smoky air and went in circles midst the dark room, like a private dance.

The dog flexed its hind legs. It jettisoned forward. Like an arrow camouflaged in the darkness. Apollo met it halfway, leading with his right straight-punch. He broke the beast’s teeth into glass. The teeth flew out, towards Apollo, some even sniping bits of his mask. They fractured the mask and cut Apollo’s cheek into a Glasgow sneer. And his arm was inside the warm mouth of the beast, his only good arm. The beast yelped but did not let go. Apollo wiggled, he tried scratching the inside of the mouth, but the monster weighed him down onto the floor.

He could feel the gum-less teeth of the dog reforming teeth. They were beginning to stab into his arm.

I can’t lose this arm. I can’t lose I can’t i cant lose i i i i no no no no. Not again. Never NEVER

The sweat and blood mixed well on his now exposed face. He looked shiny beneath the ring of fire. He screamed. He bent his knee forward, found his center of gravity and pulled the beast and himself off the floor. He raised the animal (was it an animal though?) high above his head, the blood and sweat and moist flesh of the hound’s drooling mouth coming down fast.

His clothes went sticky and damp.

“Never. Again!” He slammed down his fist. Until the crater left threatened to break the floor, until every bone on the dog’s body was beaten and cracked, until the hound submitted and let go with a tired and wheezing sigh.

Apollo went for his blade again.

He knelt and picked it up and angled it against his shoulder, behind him.

He went over to the dog and aimed it high.

The hell hound found some footing, it barely stood.

The dog barked, tired and broken.

It rained blood. The lower half went flying, its innards spraying the walls and floors. It was a cut so fast that the hound didn’t even register it, his face just stared off as if nothing had happened at all. Eventually, it understood, and its muscles went limp, and it fell with a thud.

Apollo’s eyes felt heavy. He keeled over and breathed, the sounds of violence and Dion’s struggle right behind him.

He wanted to help. He dragged his hand in the direction of the fight. But vision faded, and with time, so did sound. As if noise through an empty tunnel, slowly fading into the depths.

Somewhere deep in that tunnel, Apollo remembered something. Something that shook his will alive.

Never again. I won’t let that happen, not that.

Apollo shook his head. He looked deeper into the body of the severed monster, he found the glow of the philosophers stone and rubbed his mask upward with the knob of bone hanging barely on his wrist. His mouth salivated, his chin felt cold in the open air.

Apollo reached down and dunked his head into the body of the animal. It looked almost…like a carnival game. His head, bobbing for apples. And it wasn’t difficult to find amongst the viscera, there wasn’t much left. He rubbed his mouth past some organs; the liver and the lungs, past the stringy flesh and muscle, past the ropes of guts.

He dug his mouth deep into the dog. He caught the philosophers stone in his teeth and swallowed whole.

His red eyes glowed from the consumption. His muscles regenerated first, then skin. Strength returned like glycerin in his veins.

He felt it in his feet and he stood up.

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