It was jarring to see the corpse of a creature, animated as it was. With Apollo underneath like an amateur puppeteer, with his hands firmly injected into the open chest of the beast and Bartholomew directly above him laying still in the corpse. Apollo dragged the heavy thing towards the crowd of demons and monsters. All of whom stared, all of whom laughed and joked and prodded the stiff mammoth. Smelling it, eying it.
Apollo put a hand up towards the jugular of the creature, his whole body hidden underneath the hair of the monstrosity. He tried moving the head of the creature. It was surprisingly light, even with the long drooping snout, and thick tusks and bobbing eyes (three exact). There must have been no brain, or at least too little brain in the head of the demon corpse.
Now controlling the neck of the creature, Apollo had the advantage of nodding, of manipulating ticks and gestures. And the advantage of smacking the small impish creatures that tried to play with the dead creature by hopping on its back or tugging on its body. Apollo flexed his muscle. The snout came out in a sweeping motion, drawing a line in the sand. The other demons stared at it, some intimidated and moving back, others coming closer to taunt the creature (though, actually just Apollo).
A guard wandered up. He saw the commotion and walked up, somewhat hesitant.
Apollo looked down, underneath the body everything was shadowed. He was looking underneath and behind him, to see if he had left a trail of blood. No, good, check. It had all been drained. He looked behind, to see if there were any entrails he hadn’t trimmed, check. He looked the part, now he had to act it. So, what would a stupid, giant, animal do here?
“Are you causing grievances in the capitol? Do you come here to trouble, the king of kings, Astyanax?” The guard asked.
Apollo jerked his arms, they felt like giving way to the body. They almost did, as the body dropped an inch. He immediately responded, moving his thighs to balance himself. His heart beat quickly as he shouldered the weight of the corpse. The sweat came off his hair like shoots of black, mildewed grass, dead and wet. He moved his hands again, though his arms were beginning to wobble from the weight. He hoped he had made the corpse nod.
The guard scratched his chin, looked back to the other eleven guards and furrowed his brow. Flakes of skin came off his dead skin. Apollo could notice, between the small gaps on the curtains of hair. Was he suspicious? He thought.
He gulped the spit in his throat.
“Is there something wrong, plebeian?” The guard poked the head, the corpse's eyes rolled around like those cartoonish googly eyes, loose in the head.
Apollo moved the head again, nodding no. The boy, still in the stomach of the corpse, shook. The dead beast seemed upset now, or sick. The child stretched his hands, they poked out the side of the creature like undigested, live food. Apollo smacked the body from below, the vibrations scared the child who remained quiet. The guard came closer, his breath stinking of rotten sweet death. The scent came through the thin layers like a smoke screen of malaise just pouring in. His helmet rattled with his bobbing head as he inspected every corner of the creature.
His neck was now feeling that strange sensation of anxiety, the prickly feeling, the cold feeling, the shocking feeling. Apollo felt the urge, at once. He stuck his arm into his coat. He held his breath and thought, I’ll kill him. I’ll leave the kid inside, and kill the rest. That’d be the best chance. He felt for the handle. Holding his breath lowered his heart beat, a lower heartbeat eased his shaking hands, calming him from the presence of the prodding guard.
He saw fingers peeling back the hair, going inside towards Apollo. His blade felt light, his knees ready to pounce.
But there was a noise elsewhere. A loud banging. Smacking. Slapping. Chaos, somewhere in the crowd of demons. Two demons were fighting.
“My shiny.” One said, rather stupid and slow, with a dragging lisp as if his tongue had been cut down the middle. It spat everywhere as it spoke. This creature, poor and lame, was fighting another for what looked like a small gem. A rock, a kind of treasure. It must have been something of importance at least because they dragged their fight through the crowd and rowdied everyone. The more brutish demons huffed and cowered. The human-sized ones, with language and desire and the kind of fetishized desire for violence, cheered them on.
The guard looked away from Apollo and the mammoth corpse. He removed his hand from the body and left in a jog towards the fight. Three guards went as well. They dragged the two out of the crowd.
“Alright, that’s enough. I know you’re angsty.” One of the guards said. “But that’s no reason to sully the place.”
They pulled the two apart, faced them towards a guard and in one quick move, stabbed them clean through the neck.
Smiling even at the corpses now wiggling and dragging themselves through the dusty floor. Their hands to their necks as they wheezed out.
The nosy guard from before went up to them, stabbed their hearts and looked back as he cleaned his blade.
“All of you, in. I don’t want any more trouble.”
The doors opened. The air sucked itself inside as if the dome lived in its own vacuum, its own Hell within Hell. And the sensation of the pull made them all sluggish. Trepidation grew hold of the fleet of demons before they heard the scream from behind, the guards who egged them on. And they all walked, all towards Astyanax.
The road was dark and there seemed to be no end. Apollo couldn’t see much of anything and only followed the sound of footsteps. His legs long since losing their feeling, he walked on numb trunks and showed as much when every other step had him flinching and kneeling.
“Are we almost there? It smells in here.” The boy stuck his head out to breath.
“No,” Apollo whispered.
“We’ve been going for a while.”
“And we’ll go a while lon-” Apollo felt air push down from underneath, a warm breeze. “Almost there.”
They came to a stop and no longer felt the brushing shoulders of demons large and small. They ran now, gasping and laughing like jovial children. He didn’t notice it, didn’t see what had all the others gasping and ruffling through what sounded like grass. He moved to the side, away from the entrance and simply laid there. When there were no more demons (or at at least the sounds of them), the boy crawled out.
“It’s alright,” Apollo said. “No ones around.”
“Mhm.” Bartholomew hummed.
His small body came out of the corpse, his clothes sticky with a mucus-like substance. His hair and face, dyed orange. He crawled underneath the hair and was the first to step outside of the two. He gasped. His body was still. He stuck his head inside again and smiled at Apollo. He went out again and began running.
“Hey!” Apollo let go of the corpse. “Don’t wander.”
The heavy body landed with a thud, almost crushing Apollo as squeezed himself out.
The color of the sky nearly blinded him as he stuck his hands to find the boy. When the blurred image reappeared, he understood the clamor and surprise and awe. All across, in front of him, were the green fields. The patches of flowers, bright and yellow and the roof, a gaudy thing brilliant from gems and riches. They looked like stars, the floor looked like heaven. The green trees were sparse, but their noise was loud and wholesome. The light shaking of full-leafed trees.
And further beyond the garden, further from Eden itself was the little black mark. A smidgen on the horizon. A fantastic blemish that began to drain the feeling of joy like a slit wrist.
Apollo touched the sharp grass, each blade rubbing his fingers. The wind encompassed him, coming through the small cracks on the dome wall. The capillaries made a whistling noise that got quieter as they moved towards the center. Then, then there were just the bells. The loud bells, coming down from their rapid metronome to that lower, more paced beat.
It was no less oppressive, maybe even worse with hard the noise shook the ground and the air.
He was in enemy territory, he felt it now. Apollo’s head turned restlessly side to side. His body hunched down, below the grass line. All that showered the small blotches of black where the tops of their heads were.
“We’re not dead yet, which is good,” Apollo said.
“Mhm.” Bartholomew covered his ears as a breaking sound of a ring came towards them. Apollo felt his skin vibrate from the noise.
“It’s not as good as you think, is it?” Apollo asked. His ears were ringing. “We’re still in Hell, after all.”
The boy frowned again.
“Our guide is gone, there goes any plans or answers.” He looked up with his hand shielding him from the bright ceiling. “All we can do is walk forward. Amongst the enemy.”
Bartholomew looked up towards Apollo.
And I’m scared out of my fucking mind, Apollo thought.