Saturday, May 27, 2017

Case 6 - Ep. 3: Mass Produced Soul Destruction

Fallen Fisticuffs by Beki Yopek
When those who enforce the law are away, the villains come out to play.

I pumped my wings hard and swerved low around the bow of the Marie Celeste, whipping a 1922 photograph of an absinthe bottle out of my folio. Salty water splashed into both nostrils from below with each wingflap, and it seeped through my crimson blouse and into my trenchcoat. Sunlight glimmered off the ocean in front of me, so I squinted and flew hard toward the yacht where the potbellied demon was flying among the partying humans and spiking their drinks. Whoever the beer-gutted bastard was, I’d clean his clock so hard I’d knock the stains off his smoking jacket. 

“Avaline, fly back here now,” The Reaper bellowed from somewhere behind me. 

Ignoring my boss, I flew straight for the partiers and pierced my left pointer finger with the haloxite knife I’d drawn seconds earlier. I smeared my orange blood on the photo and kick-started the Blood Magic. We were supposed to be done with the Pneuma Coalition. The Acheria Board’s new tenant should have put a stop to these animals stealing life force from the mote system. I never should have put my faith in Heaven’s politics. 

“Don’t you dare destroy him,” Reap screeched. “We have life force to harvest.”

Yeah, not much. This glutinous freak stole most of it. Flecks of red flared in my vision as I shot over the yacht’s prow and snarled. Defending The Reaper was my job, but the T.V.T. tenant was Heaven Law now, and the actual act of harvesting souls was supposed to be easy as thinking. No way would I let this demon continue with the Pneuma Coalition’s parasitic work. 

I screeched as I barreled toward the drink-spiking demon. He snapped his head around toward me at the noise, but the party-heartiers were in his way. Blood Magic flaring, I swooped between three half-naked women and slapped the absinthe photo right on the demon’s gut. “That’s what you get for stealing from--”

Before I could stab him a good one, I crashed into a man in a boater hat and tumbled horns over heinie into the water. Humans on the yacht screamed while I re-surfaced, sopping wet and missing my folio. The Atlantic must have eaten it when I face-planted into the surf. Spitting, I pumped both wings and shot upward, seeking the chubby thief. 

Reap hovered twenty feet above the yacht, and he tugged the absinthe photo off the demon’s clothing. He was chatting with that demon in mid-air instead of destroying him. People scrambled about on the boat, some slugging it out, others calling for a truce so they could find out what happened. None of them noticed me, Reap, or the thief, and I realized it was my fault they’d gone nuts in the first place. They had no summoners or prayers on board, so of course they hadn’t seen me smack into the boater hat guy. 

I flapped over the edge of the yacht next to The Reaper and dripped water onto the deck. I jabbed the haloxite knife at the thief. “He waited until the volunteer left so he could steal life force with no witnesses. Why’d you let him live?”

The Reaper swiveled to face me and hissed, “Voracity here is not violating any tenants of Heaven Law.”

Raising a balled fist, the thief ranted with the offended brusqueness of a celebrity chef. “You don’t get to screw with a Septuplet. Heaven Law’s behind me now. I can manipulate whatever livestock I want.”

“I saw you stealing that life force,” I snapped, pointing to the glow-less ghosts on board the yacht.

Voracity raised two fingers and a wafer-or was it a tablet?- appeared between them. “I was marinating their cravings. They’re the ones killing themselves. Humans are livestock. Earth is the slaughterhouse, and if a Seraph didn’t see me taking life force, then it never happened.”

I squeezed the knife’s handle and bared my teeth at him. All the Septuplets contained such intense magic in their bodies that they carried one superpower to go with any spells they’d learned from Hell’s or Heaven’s colleges. Voracity’s addiction pills-if that’s what they were-wouldn’t kill a human outright apparently. So we couldn’t report him as violating the T.V.T. tenant, or any Heaven Law. “You’re lucky you’re a Septuplet. Nobody’d miss a random demon that got killed in the thieving process.”

The Reaper’s next words were scalding icicles. “Your employment with me ends here. Get thee back to Hell.”

My mouth hung open and I dropped ten feet before catching myself and flying level with them again. “Excuse me? Get the Chief Seraph over here to arrest the shit out of--”

Voracity buffeted me with a blast of air from both wings. “I will make sure that the Acheria Board ousts The Reaper for this. Avarice will take my side and so will the rest of the Coalition. The next Reaper won’t stand for his bodyguards’ insubordination.” 

My next shout died when the Septuplet pumped his wings and soared away the same direction Jack and Apathy had flown minutes before. I lost him in the shining afternoon sun and peered down at the yacht to blink the spots away. Men and women darted glances in my general direction, avoiding the spot where my soaked trench coat dribbled water on the ship.

The Reaper swiped Seversoul at me and I beat both wings hard to back away. Its sharp two-toned light gashed the air around it. “What was that for?" I bellowed. 

“Voracity used to work alone. Now you have given him a reason to seek our enemies and join them. Avaline, if we kill every demon and Septuplet that resists the mote system, then no one will trust us or the system.”

You killed Rage during the Great War, not me. Hypocrite's too light of a word to describe you."

"Heaven has asked us to put our faith in their ministrations. The SPD and The V--"

"It's divine dumbassery," I snapped back. "They force their 'justice' on the Three Domains and then get pissed when we enforce it?"

"It was our actions that started this and we are responsible."

"We wouldn't have to bow to Heaven if they busted the Coalition like they should. Jack and Avarice and the others are tougher than ever because of you. What the hell did Rage transform into before you finished him?”

The Reaper pointed a dark hand at me. “The Pneuma Coalition had no leverage over us during World War One. Now they do. You have become reckless. I have to be better, and I cannot do that with you endangering the Soul Fountains.”

Scarlet swam in my vision and I pointed the haloxite knife at The Reaper. “Law doesn’t stop criminals. They’ll steal again as soon as the SPD’s back is turned. Voracity is living proof.”

“Your job was to protect me, and now you use me as an excuse to kill. You don’t think and adapt to what is needed. Those old violent instincts of yours are taking you over again. That makes you as closed-minded as Avarice and the Coalition. When Voracity reports this to Avarice, the Seraphs will hunt you and be justified by Heaven Law. I am glad to be rid of you.”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Case 6 - Ep. 2: Mass Produced Soul Destruction

Fallen Fisticuffs by Beki Yopek
The end of the Great War meant The Pneuma Coalition got smarter. Flooding battlefields with demon thieves might have worked in 1918, but stealing life force form dead human souls in war zones died out when The Reaper formed the Volunteer Guardian Angels. We paid heavenly recruits several motes a week to work with the Seraph Police Department. The VGA watched Earth’s big cities for Septuplets and demon thieves, and reported them to the SPD, who cleaned up in the name of the Soul Fountains. By 1920, we were filling millions more motes with life force than we had ten years ago. We could pay the VGA, the SPD, and still have an abundance of life force for the demon and angel masses.

So the Pneuma Coalition snuck themselves back into prominence during Prohibition in 1922. America’s ban on alcoholic beverages turned the entire yankee population into surly teenagers, doing the opposite of what Uncle Sam said just because he said it. The Reaper and I soared up from a hell divide in Manhattan and swerved out over U.S. territorial waters to where almost a hundred ships, schooners, and sea vessels swarmed with humans. An angel in a dress of wavy gray material flapped in the skies above a single boat with the words, Marie Celeste painted in huge on the side.

We dove for the Marie Celeste, odors of salt and dead fish wafting up from the sloshing ocean surface. The Reaper put his back to the shining sun while he flew and I did the same, so we could actually see the stick-thin brunette angel and her sand-colored wings. She slipped the bodice off of one shoulder to reveal the VGA patch-a golden ring with “Volunteer Guardian Angels” stitched around the rim-sewn into the dress’s underside. “Reaper, sir. I am Lyndsarial, the Manhattan volunteer.”

“Please tell me there’s only one Septuplet down there,” I groaned, double checking my trenchcoat pockets and finding the Blood Magic folio and haloxite knife I usually carried. 

The Reaper hovered closer to Lyndsarial and hissed, “The Pneuma Coalition is using watercraft to steal souls now?”

“Not the way you’re thinking,” the volunteer replied. “A fallen angel and a Septuplet have been in and out of this area. They’re meeting in private with a rum runner.”

I held up both hands. “You mean they’re not killing humans? No demon thieves either?”

Lyndsarial shook her haloed head. “No deaths caused by demons, or Septuplets.”

Reap’s voice was metal on metal. “Demon thieves were recently banned by the Acheria Board. Since I destroyed Rage, every being on the Board forbid hostilities between Septuplets and Soul Fountain representatives.”

The ostentatious courts of the I.R. Conference Chamber in Acheria flashed through my mind. When the Great War ended, The Lucky Seven-the virtues embodied-had ordered a gathering in Acheria to address the Pneuma Coalition’s organized crimes and The Reaper’s slaying of Rage. I still didn’t know what The Reaper had seen Rage change into before he killed him at the Battle Of Amiens in 1918. At least Reap’s new leg surgery in Eden had gone smoothly.

Politics and laws pissed me off, but six of the seven Acheria Board members had agreed on a three-piece Theft And Violence Tenant.

T.V.T. One: No Septuplet or demon could steal life force from a dead soul.

T.V.T. Two: No Soul Fountain representative could harvest souls in a Septuplet’s or a demon’s presence. 

T.V.T. Three: SPD and/or VGA angels could go anywhere, anytime to find and prevent theft and harvesting that could lead to violence between demons, Septuplets, and Soul Fountain representatives.

I looked Lyndsarial down and up, then smiled. “Thanks for interpreting the T.V. Tenants the way you do.”

She beamed at me, all innocent and formal. “The SPD helps the Board however they can. It was the Chief Seraph herself that added the T.V. Tenants to Heaven Law. They make up the thirteenth Tenant now.”

Waving a hand to blow away the political stink, I said, “I meant it’s hilarious how freaking angels twist the law in their favor. You and the SPD literally chase the Pneuma Coalition away whenever we show up.”

Reap raised a finger, like a wise old man without the beard. Or skin. Or hair. “Heaven is helping demons do benevolent work. I can taste the irony.”

“You don’t even have a tongue,” I snarked. 

“Think about that,” Reap rattled, “while Lyndsarial sends the Septuplet away. How many did you spot?”

“One,” she replied. “Let’s board the Marie Celeste and get to work.”

We swooped closer and flapped alongside the Marie Celeste, invisible to the humans on board. No surprise there. Bootleggers praying to angels or summoning demons? They had guns and factories now. Not much need for us.

Lyndsarial boarded first and crossed the decks, then pulled open the boat’s cabin door. Moments later, three figures emerged. A man in a white button-down and a floppy hat carried a case of irish whiskey in both arms. He carried himself like the ship’s captain, and humans on board greeted him with shouts of, “McCoy,” and “Shots for the captain.” 

McCoy's no-thank-you reply ceased to register when I saw who emerged from the cabin next. Apathy came out right behind him, his bald pate and stumpy horns standing out like a satyr at a soiree. 
Apathy’d gotten chubbier since I last saw him during the Battle Of The Somme. He wore slacks with no belt and a plaid shirt that clashed with every fashion that existed both then and now. Jack Te-Konos followed close behind them, his slicked-back hair, ripped blazer and pants clearly designed to make him look like a business angel who'd just won a bar fight. 

Jack’s crimson halo and tar-black wings snapped out to the sides and he shot me and Reap a sneer. “You’re flying into a hurricane, miss Vasaga. No law can stop the Coalition.”

“Good idea,” I snarled. “Talk smack to the woman who wrecked you last time. Why don’t you throw a spell?”

Jack nodded toward Lyndsarial in the cabin, tapped the side of his head next to his eye, then launched off the stern a second later. Apathy ignored us and flapped his grease-gray wings behind Jack, flying into the sunlight after him.

I threw an arm in front of The Reaper’s rib cage. “We can’t look for souls to harvest yet. Those two could lie in wait nearby and ambush us in an area with no souls, Seraphs, or Volunteers.”

Reap cackled. “Do not worry, Avaline. Our exit strategy is better than theirs. Ready your Blood Magic.”

I whipped the knife and folio out of my trenchcoat’s inner pockets just as Lyndsarial emerged. “Apathy was silent, like he always is. You do your job. I’ll see if I can track him and learn his ties to the Coalition.” She waggled two fingers to indicate she’d fly nearby and observe, then leapt into the sky and flew into the glaring afternoon sun.

“She should have brought more angels,” I said, glancing at a hundred-foot yacht approaching. Over a hundred humans yelled and cheered, guzzling illegal liquor and dancing amidships. A few dozen ghosts already robbed of their life force lingered among them, where a demon darted through the air among the humans. His beer gut jutted out from the waistband of his plus-size slacks, and stains peppered his shirt front and smoking jacket. Two short, thick horns curved up from the top of his head, and his mullet flopped like a tentacle each time he swerved in mid-air to steal the last of the life force from a soul onboard.

Not only was he stealing life force, he was screwing with the humans’ drinks. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Case 6 - Ep. 1: Mass Produced Soul Destruction

Fallen Fisticuffs by Beki Yopek
Contressa Vexus jammed a flask of Devil knows what into her too-tight jeans, then spread her leathery bat wings and launched off The Reaper’s office balcony. From underneath it, I watched her and her wispy hair flap toward the red, green, and blue traffic rings above the dividing line between North and South Fountainia. She blended with the flight traffic in the hellbound bottom circle and flew through an iridescent hell divide. Once I knew she wasn’t coming back, I swung out from under Reap’s office balcony, gripped the railing, and twisted to land like a gymnast. 

The Reaper emerged and slammed his newly repaired office door the second I touched down. His hood was up, and he squeezed Seversoul’s haft over and over. I checked my Hades watch-2:05pm-and dusted off my pinstriped blazer and grey blouse. "I know it’s Saturday, but was Contressa drinking on the job?"

His grunt was the grinding of an engine. "That flask of hers is a component in Surface Magic similar to your folio. Didn’t you go to Styx Academy Of Sin with her?"

I grunted right back at him. "Phlegethon-U. I double majored. Blood Magic and Assassin Combat programs."

"Oh, right. I must have forgotten. When did you tell me this?"

Crossing my arms, I eyed him the way Nia eyed me when I’d brain farted. "Job interview, 1880, after the Acheria Conference. Your brother Death interviewed me late in the day and you and I started work right away. Well, among other things. Nia was there. How could you forget her?"

Reap chuckled the way dry leaves scraped together. "Pardon my absentmindedness. Prudence’s fall means you and Contressa will be working four hours of overtime a day."

"Until we find a new bodyguard. How about we ask Nia to hook us up? Or maybe Hildariel could jump in as a temp."

"Nia’s bouncer?"

"That’s right. I used to spar with Hildariel when she visited Phlegethon-U."

"Can she handle hundreds of demon thieves at once?"

"She’s a go-for-the-kill type. I admit she’ll bide her time in a fight, but that’s just because she doesn’t grapple or strike unless it’s a finishing blow."

"And her magic?"

I glanced around to make sure none of the banker angels from the Soul Fountains below were flying up toward us. Then I leaned in and breathed, "Brimstone Chemistry. She loves her weapons, and she has connections on the Vice Market."

The Reaper harrumphed. "So she spends motes on weaponry and makes them explode?"

"It sounds so insignificant when you put it that way," I said, mimicking his voice. " 'Oh, Hildariel only blows demons up. When I interview her, will her job history be all splodey splode splode?' "

Reap’s cackles filled the air, echoing off the Motery Center and the dozen skyscrapers and pyramids in the near distance. "As long as she doesn’t use firearms, I would be content to interview her. Perhaps we should visit the Down South Lounge again soon?"

"For the interview or a stiff drink?"

"Both sound appealing. Now let us begin writing. We will be too fed up to care about it after our shift, so now is the time." 

Reap opened the door for me and I strode in. I dug new folders, paper, and pens out of the file cabinets along the walls, then took a seat across from his glass-topped desk. He placed Seversoul on the desktop, then sat in his carved-out chair and spun it so he could gaze at the Soul Fountains below us. Bone scraped bone as he rubbed his hand back and forth along his forehead. 

I breathed deep and thanked whatever lucky things I had that he hadn’t asked why Hildariel and I stopped sparring. I had a new partner now, and I chased thoughts of him out of my mind by asking, "Have you ever thought of updating your wardrobe?"

The Reaper shrugged and plucked at his hood. "What’s wrong with my robes?"

"A handsome, professional look with the right dress clothes attracts potential employees."

"But if one robe gets destroyed, I can acquire another from home."

"I can ask Nia to pick out a few classier outfits that would fit you."

"I’ve got three dozen robes at the Vault Cabins in the Sixth Circle."

"We’d have to go the big-and-tall route," I said, sizing him up.

"We are both of us digressing."

"But this is for the Soul Fountains, Reap. That getup screams medieval wrestler monk."

"It makes me more frightening. A thick, flowing robe announces my presence and sparks fear."

I tilted my head at him. "Until a demon thief grabs it and drags you around."

The Reaper seemed to realize he wasn't going to win this one. "Ready your pen, Avaline. It was well after World War One and we had just finished building the Volunteer Guardian Angels." I grinned at his silent surrender as he continued. "While they patrolled big cities and battlefields to report on Pneuma Coalition activity, you and I were visiting Rum Row in New York for news on their newest recruit."

Oh great. Prohibition. That era wrecked demonkind almost as badly as the Industrial Revolution. Not to mention The Reaper fired me that day.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Case 5 - Ep. 3: Heavenly War Propaganda

Heavenly War Propaganda by Beki Yopek
Haloxite rounds exploded behind me and I fanned my wings out too late. The Reaper’s screeches pierced the cacophony of gunfire, tanks, and aircraft roaring below and above us. I forgot all about the fallen angel I was pursuing, forgot about The Battle of Amiens in full swing on the French countryside, and banked hard in a u-turn. Avarice and Rage, two of the Septuplets working for the Pneuma Coalition, flew after The Reaper with their one-shot pistols trained on him.

The Reaper would not die because of my screw up.

Wings pumping, I pelted after the two Septuplets and triggered the Blood Magic stuck to my throat under the crimson blouse. I sucked in lungfuls of air saturated with odors of gunpowder and blood, then screamed, “Prudence, to The Reaper, now!”

The picture of a chugging train stuck to my throat guided the Blood Magic and souped up the words to a hundred forty decibels. Everyone’s horns and halos were intact, so I wouldn’t be causing permanent eardrum damage no matter how much I yelled. Slowing them down was all I could expect.

Every being in the skies-Septuplets, fallen angels, and myself included-sagged in mid-air, stunned at the second overwhelming burst of sound in five seconds. Ebon smoke swirled up from The Reaper’s robes when I caught sight of him, the remains of his leg and foot that one of the Septuplets had shot off. 

I recovered first and flapped hard toward Avarice. Her dark lace dress was torn at the knees and she flew like she was walking on a runway at a modeling show, swaying her hips and flashing leg. Avarice lagged a few feet behind Rage and his shirtless gray beefcake self, so I surged forth, grabbed Avarice’s blonde hair in my right hand, and set off the Blood Magic on my right bicep. The political cartoon of the charging bull stuck under the sleeve guided the spell and I hurled Avarice toward the earth at a right angle to the battlefield. She smashed to the mud a hundred feet down, but leapt back into the air, protected from all but haloxite by her horns.

Since I’d lost my focus in chucking Avarice to the earth, both stilettos I’d carried moments ago had fallen to the ground before I realized it. Great. Now I had no haloxite, and Rage was reloading his one-shot pistol. 

Hot fear chilled its way through me and I rode the wave of it, soaring after The Reaper as he fled from Rage. In the hands of a demon or an angel, brimstone and haloxite rounds went off all at once if we fired one shot. Something about the magic in our veins screwed with the gunpowder and caused it all to kersplode, even the rounds in a magazine or a pocket. How the hell was Rage re-loading? 

I pounded air in an arc toward a hilltop forest. It was the same forest I’d been chasing that fallen angel into. When did we get turned ar--

Tar black wings and a scarlet halo smacked into me as hard as an R.A.F. airplane. The fashion-less fangel had crept up on me, probably after giving Rage and Avarice more haloxite rounds. He wrapped me around the ribs and yanked downward. My wings tangled with the fallen angel’s and we plummeted, the yuck of too much cologne filling both nostrils. I jammed my hands up between my ribs and his forearms, then twisted hard to the right, channelling the Blood Magic on my bicep. One of his hands lost the hold and I beat both wings to break free. The second I slipped his grip, he butted me in the face with his halo. 

It pierced my horns’ protection and ground against my nose, breaking it and snapping the bone to the side. Orange blood sprayed out of me onto his halo and I cried out with the pain. I lost track of where I was and tried to trigger Blood Magic to amplify my yells again, but the blood against my throat was dry and the picture had fallen loose. 

A single bayonet made of haloxite zipped down in front of my eyes and I seized the non-pointy end. Prudence’s telekinetic self flew underneath me a second later, caught me under the arms, and hoisted me upright again. One second later she was off, flapping her honey colored wings and tearing after The Reaper and Rage. Pain blinded me for another few seconds, and I oriented on the forest a dozen yards away. Then I searched the skies for that fallen angel. He’d hesitated when Prudence was near, but he started to dive for me again headfirst, his red halo aimed straight at me.

I grinned, smeared fluid from my nose onto the bayonet’s ends, then flared guided and unguided Blood Magic. The unguided spell let me shove any object with my blood on it forward or backward, and I got the choice to let the Newtonian kickback affect me or not. Yay magic. I launched the bayonet sideways into the fangel’s vermillion skull donut, and it caught in the middle of it like the cross of a do not enter sign. 

The fallen angel’s holey blazer and leather pants rocketed at me and he raved, “Jack Te-Konos is honored to kill you.”

Then I shoved the unguided spell forward using the increased strength of the guided spell on my right bicep.

His halo yanked him in the opposite direction so fast that his entire body became a wet towel. He flew. Away. Dragged by the bayonet I’d jammed in his halo. Haloxite ammunition tumbled from his pockets as he careened into the distance. I lost sight of Third Person Jack seconds later and flew into the woods after The Reaper, Rage, and Prudence. 

Allied marines leapt over logs, took cover behind trees, and rooted out German gun emplacements with clusters of gunfire from multiple directions. I whipped through the trees, endorphins racing through me and dulling the pain. The Reaper led the pack and swatted backhand blows at Rage’s arms with Seversoul. Rage snagged one of Reap’s horns and slammed him into a tree where he fell in a heap to the forest floor. Rage dipped to the ground some yards away and landed in a thick copse of trees and shrubbery.

Avarice touched down next to Rage and he morphed into an exact copy of Avarice, complete with the torn dress, the hair, and the sweater cows. I’d forgotten about the Septuplets’ white collar superpowers. Just like Prudence and the Lucky Seven, each Septuplet had one to go with whatever magic they’d gone to college for in their seriously long lifetimes. Rage looked like himself until anyone looking at him got angry. Then he’d appear as the person that enraged each viewer the most. Red flecks swam in my vision and that demonic instinct for unrestrained violence threatened to rip control out of my hands.

Marines charged up the slope behind Avarice and Rage, cheering with victory at storming the German army’s gun emplacements at last. Both Septuplets unfurled their wings and pounced on the humans, slaughtering dozens with their wing claws and their horns. I swooped in a J shape past where The Reaper and Prudence were picking themselves back up, then pivoted mid-air and swung my right foot out in a flying side kick. I hit one of the Avarices and she flumped to the ground among human corpses and fresh souls. Life force from the newly dead flowed into her and I cursed at myself for letting her steal more thanks to my loss of control. 

I pulled up and flapped back to Prudence’s side to regroup, reaching down to help the injured Reaper with his foot. 

He wasn’t there. 

The snap of robes and the swipes of a scythe came from the direction of the fallen Septuplet. Reap hovered over the Septuplet on the ground and drove Seversoul into its chest. One Avarice burst into smoke and disappeared into the air among the trees. The other Avarice screeched, “Lawbreaker. You slew a benevolent Septuplet and signatory of the Acheria Conference. The Seraph Police Department will hear of your treachery.”

I readied more unguided Blood Magic and made to fly after Avarice, but Prudence’s hand clamped tight on my shoulder. “Don’t. The Pneuma Coalition wants the law against us. The Reaper needs surgery at Abel Memorial Hospital. We must plaster Heaven with news of the war if we hope to prevent this rampant soul thievery.”

Three thoughts whirled in me as I watched Avarice flee. Did The Reaper kill Avarice or Rage? Would any angels choose to help us, or would Prudence be forced to draft angels? And what form did Rage take in The Reaper’s eyes to make him so pissed he’d abandon what we agreed on at the Acheria Conference of 1880?

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 Mis...