|Heavenly War Propaganda by Beki Yopek|
True demon-versus-angel combat feels a lot like 1918 at The Battle Of Amiens. American and Allied infantry advanced on the German army like a wolf pack sensing weakness. The British Expeditionary Force plowed forward with tanks and made it rain artillery on the Germans’ heads. Royal Air Force planes bore down on the exposed enemy and dropped phosphorus bombs by the hundred.
Soaring alongside The Reaper and Prudence, I gazed hundreds of feet down at the countryside of northern France. Smog and the scents of torn flesh enveloped the entire battlefield, making the landscape southeast of the city of Amiens smell like home. The Allies slow-rolled over the German troops and flocks of demons stayed behind to mooch off the dead souls both sides left behind. Fallen angels, their halos glaring red, swooped among them and stole life force from the newly deceased humans.
It was our legal and moral prerogative to kick some ass and harvest some souls.
I dipped underneath The Reaper and flapped alongside Prudence. She was one of the Lucky Seven, a heavenly virtue in the flesh. Her full-moon halo hovered behind her head the way they do in those fancy-pants paintings of saints. Five-eleven, pixie cut brown hair, tan skin, and honey-gold wings and eyes to match her halo. She wore tight ivory sashes around the hips and bust, and nothing else.
“Hey Prudy,” I shouted over the artillery going off below us. “You showed up half-naked to a tank fight. Is that prudent?”
Her hand shot out and gripped the lapel of my blazer before I’d finished the question. She snarled, “It is important to deny The Reaper’s enemies any advantage. Clothing your opponent can grip is detrimental.”
I barrel-rolled and slipped out of the blazer, then snagged the sleeve and whipped it around Prudence’s wings. Her feathers crumpled and she started to fall toward the warring humans. “I feed targets to my enemies. Makes ‘em more predictable.”
A haloxite bayonet floated over Prudence’s head and sliced my blazer down the middle. It fluttered away behind us and Prudence re-gained her altitude, laughing. “Stop trying to comprehend one of the Seven, Avaline. It isn’t prudent for you.”
Throwing my own wordplay and fighting techniques back at me. Guess that’s why she’s The Reaper’s day shift bodyguard. It didn’t help that the Lucky Seven had a superpower to go with their divinity. Well, it did help, but--that’s--no, scratch that out.
Prudence was freaking telekinetic, and she only used it in small doses. The Septuplets I’d ran into fighting the Pneuma Coalition each had one power too, and that’s how Avarice had smacked the bejeezus out of me in the past. Prudy chose to spread the hurt around instead of letting loose like the Septuplets did. Maybe that was why we were losing this war against the Pneuma Coalition and their demon thieves. We needed something bigger.
The Reaper waved us closer and we darted in on either side of him. His voice was a cannon blast. “We cannot continue to support The Soul Fountains alone. Today, we destroy the Coalition’s thieves and send them a message. Then we recruit angels to track their movements and alert us to soul thieves.”
Gritting my teeth, I made sure the top button of my crimson blouse was buttoned. Then I pointed down at the warzone, where a forest on high ground was growing nearer. “There’s no time for heavenly war propaganda right now. We should harvest souls from the outside in and destroy any thieves. We’ll stay together so any Septuplets in hiding can’t pick us off while we work.”
“That would take too long,” Prudence yelled back. “The souls will still be there once we’re done finishing each individual thief.”
“If we waste time hunting thieves one by one, we allow the others to steal life force we’re bound by law to harvest.”
“When we destroy all thieves first, we send a message.”
“And can you be in thirty places at once?”
A grin of mad scientist proportions cracked Prudence’s lips. “Watch and be envious.”
Prudence patted The Reaper’s shoulder, then dove toward the chaotic area south of the hilltop forest. Multiple haloxite bayonets hovered around Prudence as she flew, and I blinked, confused as to where she’d hidden them. Probably in the sashes. The bayonets were chipped or sheared in half, and a few still had pieces of rifle attached to them. Huh. Those would have been demon-slaying equipment for humans or summoners. Where had she gotten them?
By the time I shook the questions away, Prudence had already flown in two east-to-west passes among the Allied and German infantry. The demons were too focused on stealing life force to see her coming, and the confusion of war only helped Prudence. Bayonets lanced out from her shining form and pierced demons by the dozen. Smoke clouds burst from the demon flocks while they died, and with each sweep, Prudence ended at least forty or more thieves.
I flapped close to The Reaper and drew a brimstone stiletto and its haloxite twin from the belt sheathes at my back. Sure, it’s important to leave The Reaper exposed in the middle of the Great War. My internal cynic’s ego got a stoke when three fallen angels flapped upward away from the battle toward me and The Reaper. The lead fangel wore a torn sport coat, a shirt with a ruff, and ripped leather pants to go with his tar-black wings and scarlet halo. His cronies had even less dress sense.
I’d prepared for this fight with a little Blood Magic: a picture of a train blaring its horn stuck below my windpipe with my own blood, and a political cartoon of a charging bull stuck to my right bicep. The blood was more than half dried now, but it’d stay liquid long enough for the Blood Magic to flow so I could trounce these clowns. When the lead fangel saw me raise my left hand at him, he balked and slowed down. The other two kept coming, haloxite sabers waving like fly swatters in The Reaper’s direction.
He raised Seversoul to strike at the same moment that I let Blood Magic flow. I hollered, “Back off,” and the magic amplified my voice tenfold. It also kinda made me sound like a train whistle. Shrieking sound waves stunned the fallen angels long enough for The Reaper to swipe Seversoul through one, and for me to impale the other with the brimstone stiletto. Their peerless leader u-turned and fled toward the forest at the top of the hill.
“Get back here,” I screeched, diving after the fallen angel. He was close enough to finish off, and Prudence was soaring toward the trees on the hilltop. The Reaper cackled and looped downward in wingless flight, harvesting the souls Prudence had freed up for him. I gripped the brimstone knife in my right hand and let the Blood Magic surge, seeking to finish this idiot and get back to The Reaper’s side.
When Rage and Avarice streaked out of the forest and over my head, I was already flying too hard to change direction. They blitzed The Reaper, drew pistols, and fired haloxite rounds.