Saturday, December 9, 2017

Final Episode - Cycle Seen, Cycle Reaped.

Finale In Chibi by Beki Yopek
Nia leaned on the bar and eyed me through a drape of dark hair. “Well you obviously stopped the Cuban Missile Crisis. Earth hasn’t had a nuclear war yet, and it’s twenty-fifteen. I’d say we’re blessed that you and The Reaper are still kicking.”

I put the pencil down, not bothering with finishing this last Case Note. Dim light smudged the smoky interior of The Down South Lounge, but I could still see The Reaper sitting on the stool to my left. He’d taken his hood down and was rubbing his skull between the horns, dark bones scraping against each other and sending gooseflesh up my arms. Sharp mixes of liquor lingered on my tongue. Those shots of Styx Comfort should have burned warm in my stomach instead of congealing. 

“You’re anxious, Ava,” Nia said. “Come on. I’m an angel. You can tell me what’s on your mind.”

“The Coalition just destroyed Reap’s office and all the writings,” I said, exasperated. “We only have Avarice’s disembodied horns as proof of her attack on The Soul Fountains. Apathy and the rest of The Coalition could spit b.s. and continue engineering another global disaster here in the present.”

Ruffling her wing feathers, Nia said, “You’ll be there to stop that one too.”

“Pride survived,” I blurted. “We stopped all the bombs. We did our duty. The VGA dismantled them all and humankind still thinks that no warhead even got launched.”

The Reaper pounded an open palm on the bar and rasped, “No matter what we do, the cycle repeats itself. I harvest souls every hour of the day. We produce millions of motes despite distraction and organized hostility. We succeed in defending The Soul Fountains and the mote system, yet The Coalition’s resources grow. Every effort we make to break the cycle is snuffed or shoved to the back burner when another Earthly disaster springs up.”

Nia laid a hand on Reap’s radius and ulna. “You and Ava are doing the right thing. The best thing. Heaven and Hell survive because of you.”

“Are we?” I blurted. “The Coalition keeps gaining flocks of demon supporters. Every step ahead is actually a step backward. If we’re so right, where’s the support from the Seraphs? If we help so much, where are the demons jumping up to make The Three Domains better? We need to build a better system, but dammit, there isn’t time.”

Nia shook her head. “I’m confused. You got most of what you wanted. Those Case Notes, the rumors you spread. You ended a ginormous threat when you killed Avarice.”

“Yeah, and tomorrow we’ve got a double shift of harvesting on top of answering the Seraphs’ questions about the attack at Reap’s office.”

“Did you expect The Three Domains to change overnight?”

“No, but you’d think each success would bring us a little help at least.”

Shoving his stool back, The Reaper stood and hovered three feet in the air. He paced back and forth between the pool tables and the bar. “How do demons respond to threats?”

“What?” I said, kicking off of my barstool and flapping along beside him.

“How do they respond to the possibility of losing all they have?”

“All the demons I know kill the threat. They’re violent by nature and they don’t question that violence. Lashing out is their reflex and their defense.”

“That means every death gets back to the friends of those who died.”

“Then the murder cycle begins anew. I kill you, your friends kill me, my friends kill your friends, and so on.”

We flew round and round the Lounge, barely noticing the arcade, the flatscreens, and the standing room tables passing alongside and beneath us. The Reaper’s robes fluttered, and I could only half-see his ram-horned skull in the dimness. He rumbled, “That is a lot of knowledge for one demon to gather simply to exact revenge. What if someone wanted their plans to remain hidden?”

“What, you mean like Apathy? He’s still pulling The Pneuma Coalition’s strings. He’ll probably come for us next.”

“Would a mastermind like Apathy generate countless distractions that benefit him no matter the result?”

“Bahaha. Apathy’s the laziest among them.”

“I disagree. He has exerted the least effort publicly, but I suspect that he is cooking dozens of plots privately.”

Thoughts of Apathy’s interests sprang to mind. While we wrote those Case Notes, I remembered that he was the only Septuplet who had a wide range of interests. He liked things as simple as the radio, and he set his sights on things as huge as nuclear war. He’d even tried to make off with The Reaper’s scythe, Seversoul.

The Reaper went on. “Have you ever heard the expression, ‘three can keep a secret if two are dead?’“

“Heh, that’s demon nature right there.”

“Remove the ‘dead’ part and what do you have?”

“Um, three can keep a secret if two forgot it?”

Reap cackled. “Yes, but no. I ask for personal reasons only. At least right now. You and I will make sure The Soul Fountains keep flowing whether we unearth the truth or not. We will initiate plans to ah, streamline the harvesting process.”

“I didn’t think learning to kick more ass could be called, ‘streamlining.’”

He tilted his skull down at me like he was eyeing me over glasses. “The Soul Fountains will need more assistance as well. Perhaps your angelic man-toy can help with that. I must return to Fountainia and work with the Seraphs. They may require several days of convincing before they believe we are not the problem.”

“How are you going to do that and harvest?”

“Another being is in charge, remember? I am number two in this organization.” The Reaper put his hood back up and hovered for the door. “I am glad I forgave you, Avaline. Forgiveness is either a strength or a weakness. Forgive the right person, and you will share undying loyalty. Forgive the wrong one, and they will use it as an excuse to walk all over you. Don’t be the latter.”

With his scythe gripped tight, Reap shoved the front doors open and flew out into the reddening New Purgatory night. 

When the doors clanged shut, I inhaled the sulfur and spilled beer scents that had wafted in from outside. Puffs of Nia’s perfume and the suede that covered The Lounge’s stools joined in. Looking over one shoulder, I watched as my best friend the bartender angel sauntered toward me. Her wings and halo were brighter than the flickering flatscreens and neon lights lining the bar’s walls. 


Nia sipped juice from a wineglass and dried her hand on her pink Lounge top. “Did you two find what you were looking for? I helped as much as I could.”

Shrugging, I straightened my blazer and wriggled away from the wire poking me under the button-down. “Everyone forgets history. Either history didn’t impact them on a personal level, or they don’t have time to read up on it so they can learn from it.”

“History’s the best education there is.”

“It feels like a bunch of things have screwed the population out of that education.”

She threw back the rest of the juice. “Everyone in The Three Domains, or just angels and demons?”

I grimaced. “Everyone. Work makes us too busy to think about it. TV shows and hours of chores act like blinders, and yet we choose them over making a big change. I bet that’s one reason that so many demons choose The Coalition over us.”

“Passions for things that only result in benefit for one person eat up everyone’s time.”

“And most of the time, they let their hunger consume them.”

“No one teams up anymore.”

I quirked an eyebrow. “That’s because backstabby angels fall quick, and the demons get smoked even faster.”

Nia glanced behind her at something in the shadowed upper corners of the Lounge. “Yet I keep getting regulars that aren’t dead.”

“If they just ignored all the bullshit, they could team up and fight back to build a better system.”

“They make some pretty tasty b.s. these days. Hard to stop eating it.”

“I did,” I blurted. “Because the mote system is the best thing we’ve got for Hell and Heaven. The Soul Fountains are the mote system. They could go down through brute force, in-fighting, or making the important ones forget.”

My feet carried me from the doors all the way to the bar and back without me noticing. “Did The Reaper mean there’s someone out there who knows important beings and has the magic to delete memories? All it would take is one spy with a brain to wreck The Soul Fountains and all three Domains. Mass distraction would do most of the work for them. If anyone existed who remembered a better way, they’d be a threat to that spy.”

Nia followed, her footsteps lighter than mine. “You’re saying The Coalition designed demonkind’s obedience to their cause?”

I nodded. “Anything could become ‘how society works’ with enough brainwashing.”

“Or memory surgery.”

“Could be that Apathy and The Coalition are good at more than wrecking Earth’s shit.”

Nia's smile stretched and lingered. “Has The Reaper made you a tin foil hat to go with this paranoia?”

Shaking my head to clear it, I said, “No. Reap’s onto something else now. Brainwashing is effective, but not half-of-Hell effective.”

Nia nudged me with a wing. “Engineered ignorance is huge. It’ll take forgiveness and honesty to pull a veil this big off everyone’s eyes.”

I smirked and whipped out my Blood Magic folio. “And unwavering teamwork. We should hurry and start this before the next harvest.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Case 15 - Ep. 3: Souls By Fire

The Reaper's Mercy by Beki Yopek
Haloxite, starvation, and oxygen deprivation. 

Each will kill a demon just as dead as the others.

Over the decades of fighting against my ex-boss Avarice, she had stabbed me, and I’d recovered.

She and her fallen angel Jack had trapped me until I nearly starved for life force, and I’d escaped.

With Avarice’s bola around my neck, I’d choke until nothing was left of me but smoke.

I pounded air with both wings and soared over the Florida Straits while I still had the strength. Half the Volunteer Guardian Angels with me and The Reaper were miles back, dismantling the nuclear warhead they’d just caught with their heavenly spells. The other half was plummeting to the water’s surface below, courtesy of Avarice’s conjured bolas. The four Septuplets flying in formation behind us each escorted another atom bomb toward unknown destinations. This Cuban Missile Crisis on Earth would get so hot it could wipe out humanity-and Hell’s and Heaven’s crop of souls-if even one bomb struck a city.

Good thing I was bleeding.

I slapped my left hand to the bola choking me and got blood on the rope. With a yank, the unguided Blood Magic tore it apart and the whole thing dropped away. Thin air rushed into my nose and I breathed it deep, then I swooped in a sideways U and reached The Reaper’s side. I knew Avarice was riding my ass the whole way, so I shouted at Reap, “Nukes first.”

He was already a step ahead of me. Ripping his hood off, The Reaper spun his scythe between bony hands and pelted toward the bomb rocketing along on our right. My current boss knew that if these bombs went off, he’d be out of a job harvesting souls once they ran out. He arced around Voracity and the bomb the Septuplet was escorting. Three demons unfurled their wings from their hiding spots on the back end of the warhead, but I didn’t have time to help Reap wax them. His nightmare of a visage and his Hellblessed scythe would have to be enough.

I dove for his discarded hood and snatched it in my left hand. Once I had the cloth gripped tight, Avarice smashed into me right between the shoulder blades. She blanketed me with both her wings and both arms. We fell like meteors toward the waters beneath the battle. 

Anything Avarice managed to scream at me got lost in the wind rushing through my ears, hair, and jacket. My panicked reaction stirred her blood and she barked with laughter. Bitch probably thought I was terrified of another trap like this because she’d gotten me before. I reached back at a crooked angle, scratched my left hand against her wing scales on the inside, then fired up a surge of Blood Magic. The unguided spell cost me more blood than usual since I smeared her whole wing, but it was worth the dizziness.

She pirouetted away from me like a whirlygig in a tornado, completely unable to flap her left wing with the Blood Magic shoving against it. I seized the energy I had left before I got too lightheaded to fly. Looping downward, I shoved the blood-soaked hood I still carried onto her head and squeaked out a tiny unguided spell. The Blood Magic wrenched her head left and right, piling on the vertigo better than a spinning teacup roller coaster with a three drink minimum. A dozen weapons and implements appeared in her hands while she tumbled. Soliduction was a crazy-good power in a war zone as long as one had the capacity to use it. She didn’t now.

With Avarice out of the fight, I whirled in the air and flapped drunkenly for half a minute. The four bombs were below me, then above, then below again. Sunspots skidded across my vision until I caught my breath and the sky stopped spinning. The Reaper was cackling madly fifty feet above, where severed demon wings and bursts of smoke littered the cloudscape. Moments ago, the sky had been clear. They’d flown into a cloud bank while I was dizzy.

I pumped my wings and flopped sideways when the world lurched again. The cloud was the only skymark close enough to orient on. I focused on it and clung to the knowledge that forward was forward no matter where the ocean and sky were. After an hour-long minute, we left the cloud behind and the quadri-bombs were a hundred feet ahead of me. They’d gained sky while I reeled.

By the time the ground went down where it belonged, The Reaper was chasing Voracity away from the bomb on my right. A few dozen VGA angels caught up to us from the first warhead once Voracity had dipped. They circled the back end and worked their heavenly hoodoo. Bomb number two was safe, and no one among The Coalition bothered deserting their own can-o’-death to save that one. That told me Jack, Apathy, and Pride’s goal was to make sure at least one bomb annihilated its target.

Three left.

Apathy watched the clash around the next bomb on the right from behind a wall of Coalition demons that appeared to hear his every word despite flying hard. Our naked demon friends from the Make-A-Sin Foundation didn’t have a scratch among them. They whittled Apathy’s guards down one by one with haloxite blades. Guess they weren’t great fighters. Apathy himself vamoosed sometime during the fighting, go figure.

Blue-head and Jackhole were duking it out in the airspace above bomb number three. Every time Blue-head flung his fistful of motes at Jack, the fallen angel would dodge and open fire with a rifle he’d summoned to his hand from the bomb’s underside. I made sure to stay in the sun as I flew closer. Jack had strapped maybe thirty rifles to the bomb’s belly, and though I couldn’t hear him shouting over the wind, I knew those were French words he bellowed. It looked to me like they were both using some kind of magicks from Heaven, but all I knew of Heaven I’d learned from Nia, and she wasn’t combative. With each rifle shot, Blue-head lost sky until Jack forced him to fly in a loop to avoid a haloxite round. 

Jack summoned two rifles to him and gripped one in each hand. Blue-head cut his loop short to avoid the first shot, but the second went off at the same time and caught Blue-head in his right wing. That hole in his wing joint was enough to send him packing. He wobbled while he retreated and even dropped some of his motes as he fled. 

I had maybe one more spell in me before I lost so much blood I passed out. Pride was as good a martial artist as I was, and Jack had some number of rifles left. He summoned another one, took aim, and opened fire at the VGA angels who were trying to catch the two bombs that The Reaper and the naked demons had freed up. The round he fired was brimstone.

It ripped through three or four angels. So did the next one, and the next. I seized the opening and pelted toward the fallen angel. Jack’s maniacal rage against his former brethren turned on me too late. I knocked away the next rifle he summoned with a forearm block and lowered my head. Both brimstone horns penetrated the protection from his haloxite noggin ring. One gouged a hole in Jack’s left cheek. The other scraped his halo and chipped a sliver out of the front.

He didn’t seem to notice anything at first; Jack countered the flying headbutt with an uppercut. That gave him enough sky to catch another rifle he summoned. Before he got the shot off, Reap blindsided him with a knee to the face. Jack screamed louder than the wind in our ears and flopped out of the fight with one hand clutching each cheekbone. I’d wounded the left side, and Reap had apparently crushed the bones beneath the right side with his ebon knee. 

That wasn’t supposed to be possible; halos protected angels and their fallen opposites from pain and harm the same way a demon’s horns protected us.

I let Jack fall and focused on the bombs. The Reaper swerved and circled his scythe blade around the nearest warhead’s outer shell. Every remaining rifle of Jack’s fell apart in two pieces. With that, the only threats left were Pride and the bombs themselves. A hundred angels finished halting the third of five bombs and flocked toward Jack’s and Pride’s deadly escorts. 

“Land coming up fast,” an angel belted out.

I squinted through the bright Atlantic sunlight and saw the gray-blue arc of islands dotting the ocean in the distance. 

The Florida Keys. 

If we were going to keep these last two bombs from detonating, we had less than two minutes to catch them.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Case 15 - Ep. 2: Souls By Fire

The Reaper's Mercy by Beki Yopek
Closing time at The Down South Lounge didn’t exist unless Nia said it did. When Apathy’s skyscraper night clubs shut down at 2am for clean up duty, the after-partiers left downtown New Purgatory and flocked here. Every demon living in the First Circle had spent motes and waged war on their livers at the bar where The Reaper and I now sat. None of the demons in any Circle could know how bad The Coalition had wrecked us.

That’s why Reap and I used the last of his brimvisibility to sneak into The Lounge and ask Nia to clear the place out.

I watched Nia shoo a blue-haired grifter demon out with a pushy, “Get the heck out, please,” then downed half of my Sin and Tonic. I couldn’t even taste the alcohol, and the flatscreens behind the bar blaring their music videos sounded as flat as their sources. A paranoid glance around The Lounge showed me the warmly lit standing room tables, the dart booths behind them, the pool tables to my left, and the arcade way at the back. The glass reappeared when I set it on the bar’s polished wood and let go. Adrenaline still prickled in my veins from the fight at the Motery Center. Tonight, I needed shots.

The Reaper audibly slugged the rest of his Hallelujah Tequila, the full highball glass vanishing when he grabbed it and materializing empty. “We will appear to be even weaker after today. Prudence’s fall and our failed trap set us further behind. It sends the wrong message.”

When I heard the double doors snap closed, I shucked my torn blazer and let it fall to the floor and reappear. “Now we’ve both killed a Septuplet. I don’t think The Coalition will screw with us anytime soon.”

Nia flapped behind the bar on vanilla wings and brushed her dark, crescent moon hair back with one hand. Then she squinted at the six barstools nearest her. “I could help a lot more if I could see you. Can’t you switch that brimvisibility off?”

I shook my head.

Nia’s lips quirked up. “You’re shaking your head aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I grumbled, kicking myself. “And no I can’t. Brimstone Chemistry isn’t like Blood Magic. Wait. You know that. You studied Haloxite Chemistry in college.”

She bobbed her head and grinned wider. “I know. Good thing you’re invisible, or The Reaper might see how embarrassed you are.”

“I’m strung out, Nia. We both almost died and you’re being all devious and walking me into verbal traps.”

Nia clapped a palm on her chest over her Down South Lounge top. “I am not devious. Looks like you need a refill.”

“Two shots this time. Phlegethon’s Kiss.”

“Ooh, the heavy stuff,” she breathed. “You better tell me what happened at work.” Nia whirled around and lifted a pink decanter off the top shelf, then giggled and put it back. “Whoops, that one’s too dangerous.” She snagged a bottle of Styx Comfort and two shot glasses with her hands, and a bottle of amaretto and an acetylene torch from beneath the bar with her wings.

An exhausted laugh escaped me at the sight. Some weight whisked off of my mind as Nia juggled the bottles and the torch between pours. Either it was a miracle she didn’t spill any, or she had bar tending down to an exact magic. Flames flickered from both shots when she slid them toward me. My hand reappeared along with the rest of me when I reached for one, and The Reaper’s black bones shone once more from the stool next to me. 

“You look like krapfen,” Nia said.

“That’s a swear word,” I replied, downing a shot flames and all. Dual fires burned down my throat and I groaned, then smacked my lips. “It burns so sweet.”

“Krapfen is a German dessert, Avaline.” The Reaper rumbled. “No more tequila for me, thank you. With our Case Notes destroyed, we might as well update Niariel now while it’s fresh in our memories. I am sure she will listen to our account of the Cuban Missile Crisis before we have to return to Fountainia. Once we contact the SPD from there, Seraphs will arrive to document our stories, and that will take time.”

Nia put the bottles back and tilted her halo at us. “All your writing’s gone?”

“It is,” Reap said while I threw back shot number two. He steepled his finger bones. “Almost everything went to plan, save for the shot to The Soul Fountains’ reputation and the loss of the Case Notes.”

Nia pouted a little, then hurried into the office behind the bar and emerged with a handful of loose leaf paper and a pencil. “Finish what you started, and I’ll help with the lost stuff. Now screw the taboos and tell me everything.”

Amaretto lingered on my breath as I let it all out. I shared Reap’s two-week plan to suss out The Coalition’s leader. The way we lured Avarice to his office. How I’d ended her existence with Seversoul. 

Just when I’d finished venting, Nia pushed the paper and pencil at me. She found my eyes and held them, her voice solemn. “It means so much that you worked up to telling us about your history with Avarice. I don’t think either of us will forget the day you told us. I know how long you suffered under her. That pain will stay there even though she’s dead. However you justified what you did as her bodyguard, don’t use that pain to justify another downward spiral. If you feel yourself slipping, you can fall back on us.”

It was probably a little more than the alcohol spreading its warmth from my chest outward. I smiled and twirled the pencil. “You’re such a cheeseball angel.”

“And you wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Damn right. So, the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Nia’s wings ruffled in excitement. “That’s one I haven’t heard yet. I thought I was your best friend.”

The Reaper cackled while I continued. “Avarice had just dropped Prudy a couple thousand feet out of the sky. . .”

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Case 15 - Ep. 1: Souls By Fire

The Reaper's Mercy by Beki Yopek
Glass imploded behind The Reaper and I pumped both wings and leapt backward by reflex. Grenade after grenade plunked down between Reap’s chair and the wrecked windows. Each one exploded within a second’s time. Over a hundred decibels slammed into my eardrums. All that stopped me from deafness and immolation was the physical protection my brimstone horns lent me.

The Case Notes I’d been writing fluttered every which way. They crumbled to ash and joined the maelstrom of debris that had been Reap’s office seconds earlier. The flames and the splintered office furniture devoured everything in the room except the building’s supports. Flaming file cabinets blew outward through the office door to plunge thirteen stories where they’d crash and hopefully alert the Motery Center’s banker demons and usher angels.

Tangs of metal and burnt wood charred the air I managed to breath amid the heat and dust. I staggered backward when Avarice swooped into The Reaper’s office. Her hair was as messy as the runway dress and pumps she wore. The Septuplet conjured a pair of whips with her Soliduction power and searched for me and The Reaper. 

She wouldn’t find us. The Reaper had chugged a vial of brimvisibility and vanished as planned. We’d been expecting a Sunday ambush since we started writing down Reap’s incidents with The Coalition.

After a century of duking it out with the spoiled satanic skank, I knew how Avarice fought. Conjure expendable weapons first, then remove the biggest threats in the confusion and save her favorite non-magic weapons for last. Thank goodness she couldn’t conjure haloxite or brimstone. Even the sins re-branded had limits.

I slunk back into the smoke and dust filling the room to obscure myself. Avarice swung a whip at random through the middle of the wrecked room. "Come on out here, traitor. Killing you will convince The Coalition that I was right."

Was Avarice their leader if she had to convince them of anything?

Wrapping both wings tight at my back, I bent and drew the haloxite lancet pen I used for Blood Magic in place of my knife. I jabbed my thumb and crept to The Reaper’s burning office chair. Then I reached into the flames engulfing it to smear orange blood on the back. 

Avarice’s eyes snapped my direction and she whirled both whips over her head. 

I surged the unguided Blood Magic before the blood started boiling and the chair shot toward her.

She batted the thing aside with a wing and screeched, "You would live through this day if you were still on my side."

Fear of the past spurred the adrenaline into my veins faster than the threat of death did. I seized the only other object on the floor-The Reaper’s scythe-and raised the awkward thing in both hands.

Wings beating, I leapt toward her and threw out a flying side kick. The heavy weapon weighed me down enough for Avarice to lash both whips around my leg and hips. She wrenched them downward and I crashed, rolling through seared debris and smacking against the shattered window frames.

Seversoul tumbled like a wrecked helicopter blade toward The Soul Fountains below.

Avarice dropped a whip and drew a haloxite switchblade from inside one of her pumps. "All seven of us raised you to be my partner, Avaline. We raised you. The Coalition."

I arched my back and kipped up to my feet to take wing, but Avarice swept my legs out with the whip she’d kept hold of. "We cast The Convictionists down and adapted to Earth's metamorphosis. Why did you backstab us during The Industrial Revolution?"

Flashes of conversations I had with Nia back then hit me and I spat, "I was a better bodyguard than you deserved."

Her laugh was a banshee’s shriek. "You still fight and twist words rather than face what is true."

I twisted my hips and threw a leg sweep at her pumps. It whiffed by a foot. "What's true is I was never yours."

Avarice spread her wings and snarled, "Everything you are belongs to us. Your ideas and your training."

"You chose to teach me. I took that and did what you should have."

"Heaven Law will never erase the human farms we set in motion. Demons need the life force from our tortured souls."

"They don't need the eternal backstabbing game you forced on them. Demons. Need. Hell."

Her giggle was iced sulfur. "Pride will be jealous that I murdered her former student."

My ex-boss pounded her wings and lashed the whip that bound me. She flung me up against the ceiling and let me drop to the floor in a heap. 

With that whip of hers, Avarice could keep me at a distance and no amount of martial arts would help. 

Blood Magic was useless unless I bled on her whip. I could use that. 

I shoved forward and reached for the leather weapon binding my leg. Avarice’s mocking laugh saturated the air while she beat her wings and ripped the whip upward. I smashed into the ceiling again and this time, Avarice readied the haloxite switchblade. 

Flapping hard, I soared over her head and her knife slash missed my stomach by half a foot. Her enraged cry sounded like she’d taken a huge gut punch.

I pounded air and flew out the office's wrecked wall. I cranked some unguided Blood Magic and summoned the scythe I’d bled on moments ago. Its haft snapped into my hands from thirteen stories down. 

Avarice didn’t emerge to fight me, so I seized the chance and smeared blood along the back of the two-toned blade and on the bottom of the handle. I would spin the blade at her like a cartwheel of death if she came at me. 

Cautiously, I flew closer to Reap’s burnt out office to find Avarice’s arms pinned to the floor by an unseen force.

I cheered at the mad image of The Reaper sitting on Avarice’s chest, unseen thanks to the brimvisibility vials I’d mixed up. In two flaps I was back in the office where the Septuplet writhed against Reap’s invisible weight. Her whips disappeared when she conjured grenades in both hands, but she couldn’t reach over to pull their pins. So he wasn’t sitting on her chest. He was standing on each wrist with his legs spread.

Avarice writhed and twisted her legs and wings. “Avaline! I’m gonna tell The Reaper everything. I'll smoke you for what you did to us. You will be a jobless washout again.”

The Reaper’s snarl was a landslide. “Your threats are as empty as you.”

“Wh--what spell is this? Blood Magic? Incantation?”

A scraping sounded from the floor. That haloxite switchblade Avarice dropped vanished. The Reaper rasped, “Ava told me everything herself, you husk of a bitch. I did something no being from Hell would expect. I forgave her.”

“The Coalition will own the Three Domains. We will not st--”

A gaping wound sliced open Avarice’s ribcage and she screamed. Orange blood poured from the flesh and pale white ribs parted like curtains. Heavy bones clacking against the floor told me The Reaper had stepped off of Avarice’s body. Hefting the scythe, I brought it down like a sledgehammer on Avarice’s chest.

Smoke gushed outward from the corpse and Avarice’s body disappeared. While the smog remained, the glowing white life force siphoned into the scythe’s blade like she was just another soul we’d harvested. Her brimstone horns thunked to the floor and I picked them up. They were the only evidence that anyone from The Coalition had acted out against The Soul Fountains. Not that one being’s horns were enough proof that The Coalition had decimated Heaven Law. Without the Case Notes intact, they could claim murder, or tragic accident, or some other bs. 

Magic made it way too easy to cover up a crime.

Dozens of wingbeats pounded the air behind me and I spun around. Motery Center demons and angels surrounded the thirteenth floor where I stood in plain view with The Reaper’s bloody scythe gripped tight. I didn’t know how much of the fight they’d seen, but I knew better than to let the adrenaline from the fight control me, so I stood tall and faced the flying crowd. 

Waving both wings, I stepped aside to let Soul Fountains staff into the office. Some talked of calling the SPD, others spoke of an internal vendetta against The Reaper. The majority fell into asking me questions, piecing together the rumors from the past two weeks with the sudden explosions and raining debris that Avarice’s attack caused.

Amid the chaos of bringing order to the scene, The Reaper’s disembodied voice rumbled one word into my ear. “Lounge.”

An invisible hand took one of mine off the scythe and placed a vial into it. Brimvisibility.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Case 14 - Ep. 3: Engineered Starvation

How F'd Are We by Beki Yopek
“Do you want to tell them we’re fucked, or should I?”

I brushed sand off my cerulean admiral’s jacket and waited for Prudence’s response. The Reaper’s other bodyguard tied her long brown hair up and pushed past me with her honey-gold wings. She strode across the Cuban beach toward the Volunteer Guardian Angels I’d been training with moments ago. Prudy’s deep blue dress and sandals lent her a stiff movie-starlet image that she hadn’t exuded until recently. She might be one of the Lucky Seven, but her white collar powers and full-moon halo weren’t free passes to trample on others.

Her ugly mood and my blood loss would help us stop a nuclear missile strike. Yep, they sure would. Time to fake it like we weren’t underprepared and exhausted.

Breathing the salty ocean air wasn’t enough to calm my nerves. A last check of the weapons and the Blood Magic folios under my jacket helped more. I waved The Reaper over and crossed to the front of a company of a hundred demons from the Make A Sin Foundation awaiting us on the beachfront. Sand slid and squished beneath my haloxite-toed boots. The sun slathered us with so much heat I was surprised Reap wasn’t melting under that heavy brown robe.

Towering over me by a foot and a quarter, he pointed his brimstone-and-haloxite scythe skyward in one bony fist. His voice was a bone-on-bone bullhorn. “A bomb that would destroy the humans whose souls we harvest could launch into the sky above us. If that occurs, more could follow. It is our responsibility to prevent this. If you stand here with us Fountainians, then you believe in The Soul Fountains and what we do for all three Domains. For Hell to have a future, we must infiltrate Cuban bunkers and watch the skies for nuclear missiles. Are you prepared?”

One blue-haired demon called out to The Reaper. “We have brimstone horns, big guy. An atom bomb wouldn’t even tickle us.”

The Reaper’s voice was a cat-o-nine-tails. “Do you want humanity to nuke itself to death?”

On any other day, I’d be proud of Reap’s sarcasm. Speeches like that might set some of these demons off today, so I stepped up and announced, “We are all demons here. We’re the superior ones. You want to prove it? Then stop the men in this missile crisis from doing something that your inferiors chose to ignore. The SPD is ignoring this and so are all the demons that didn’t show up today.”

Blue-head blurted, “Maybe I like the idea of not having to work for my life force. That’s what The Coalition’s all about. They want abundance, and you want everyone to starve so that a select few can hoard the life force. Why not let the war happen? Free life force for all of us.”

Spots flared red in my vision and I almost pounced at the blue haired demon. What, was this guy the ringleader? Maybe he was Coalition, and maybe he didn’t know any better than to toss insults. I’d already assumed The Coalition had something to do with this global tension, especially after Reap and I discovered their underground human towns during The Korean War. It looked like none of these demons knew that. Arguing the opposite point would just turn the demons against each other and against us.

Calm washed through me and I put a hand on my hip. “An all-you-can-eat buffet this year means no life force next year. Think of humans as crops if you have to. We still need to keep growing them.”

Naked, armed, and crazy, the demons murmured and actually nodded their agreements. Blue-head tilted his horns sideways. “Guess that makes sense.  We can’t exactly eat happy thoughts.”

The Reaper cackled and all the Foundation demons flinched. Hundreds of angel wings fluttered in sync behind me, peppering us with sand. Fear needled every inch of my skin and I searched the skies overhead. A single dot rocketed upward from Cuba’s mainland, and Prudence led the Volunteer Guardian Angels in a webwork formation straight up into the bomb’s path.

I tasted dust when I shouted, “Live nuke overhead. Demons, hit all the Cuban bases you can find and kill the humans in charge of launching bombs. It's your job to prevent more launches. Reap, stay with the VGA or with me or Prudence. Blue-head and the naked ones, with me.”

At that, I launched skyward and re-opened the scab on my left hand with a haloxite knife off my belt. I checked behind me and found everyone was flying along in a loose cloud. Dozens of demons slugged vials, spun inland, and vanished from sight. A handful of full-frontal demons flapped closer, and the blue-haired demon opened his hand. Scarlet and white motes darted away from his palm and formed a bi-colored halo over his head, the coins spinning in a ring around his horns. He yelled, “Gonna cuddle me a bomb today.”

I didn’t have time to snicker. We were three-quarters of the way to the bomb when I noticed four more streaking along in a line behind the first. The VGA was already swooping around the first missile and slowing it to a stop. I recognized the Septuplet that was clashing with Prudence in mid-air alongside the first warhead’s flight path. 

It was Avarice. Her expensive hairstyle and pin-up girl’s uniform wasn’t made for fighting. The former tangled in her face and the latter tore a little every time she flapped her wings to dodge Prudy’s telekinetic blows. I hadn’t seen her cut loose with her white collar super power since The Battle Of Amiens. Dozens of broken, jagged, and half-sheared haloxite bayonets swirled around Prudence’s body in a spherical cloud. Pair after pair lanced out, missed Avarice, and returned to the sphere as she flew.

Only the seven virtues embodied and the seven sins re-branded had abilities, and only Avarice and her Soliduction power could gain airspace on one of The Lucky Seven. 

Avarice conjured an oversize bola in one hand and slung it at Prudence. She cut the flailing weapon out of the sky with one of her bayonets. More bolas appeared in Avarice’s hands. With each manic sling, she got closer to entangling Prudence.

She and I knew that traps were more dangerous to demons and angels than brimstone or haloxite. Prudence pumped her wings hard, staying close enough to the streaking bomb so Avarice couldn’t stop the VGA from catching it. An explosion now wouldn’t serve The Coalition, and Avarice knew it. A pair of Prudy's bayonets circled behind Avarice for a psychic backstabbing. Avarice shot toward Prudy and heaved two bolas into the open space in her sphere. Ropes wrapped around my colleague’s wings and legs. They cinched tight. 

Avarice conjured bola after bola and unleashed them at Prudence. Every time she sliced a rope free with her bayonets, she shredded her dress more and took two or three more bolas to the body. In moments, she was a mummified pincushion plummeting to the ocean’s surface thousands of feet below.

My pissed-off shouts did less than Prudy’s falling bayonets. She tried harrying Avarice with them, but the farther Prudy fell, the more the haloxite weapons became a danger to me and the Foundation demons following behind me. She wasn’t as experienced at escaping immediate traps like I was. It probably never occurred to her to try anything but slaying her original target.

Reap switched his grip on his scythe and tried to shoot forward, but I seized his robe and bellowed, “Stop. Avarice will trap you too.”

Before I could nab a picture from my folio, Avarice surged straight at the VGA flock. Soliduction wreaked chaos among them; every second it took us to catch up was another bunch of thrown bolas binding more angels’ wings to their sides. They flopped out of the air and plunged after Prudy’s form.

I caught up to Avarice first, snagged the bola she flung at me in my bleeding left hand, and hurled it back at her with an unguided surge of Blood Magic.

The Reaper shrieked behind me and I wrenched my eyes away from Avarice before the bola connected. I focused on Reap long enough to catch the words, “--Konos and more Septuplets. One with each bomb.”

My eyes found a being escorting each of the four warheads following the first.

So I didn't see as the bola cinched off my windpipe and wrenched itself too tight to yank off.

Final Episode - Cycle Seen, Cycle Reaped.

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