Saturday, June 24, 2017

Case 8 - Ep. 1: Blind Faith's Soul

Submission and Starvation by Beki Yopek
Demons and angels didn’t need to sleep, but that didn’t stop most of us from being late to work on Monday mornings. We had brimstone horns and haloxite halos that protected us from pain and harm caused by anything except the opposite material. On top of that, the magic we worked with could re-build cities in days and made human science into rules we broke just for kicks. Over thousands of years, we’d survived apocalypses, rebellions, and The Industrial Revolution. 

Mondays were one evil we’d never magic our way out of.

Warm tingles rippled through me as I leaned against The Reaper’s balcony railing and took in the Fountainia skyline. Heaven’s extravagant architecture to the north, Hell’s neon signage to the south, and The Soul Fountains directly below me in the middle where the two halves melded. Besuited angels bustled this way and that around the Fountains, leading the last of the new souls into the splashing waters at the base and ushering the drained ones into the hell divides and heaven lanes that led to their fates. Crisp, fresh water and life force floated up and filled my nostrils and I grinned.

Yeah I had an awesome and helpful job, but today I’d rather be running my hands along the muscles and cornrows of the Seraph I’d had to leave behind in bed. That warmth swelled to a gush from lips to hips and I shuddered at the goose bumps spreading across my skin. Uniforms did something to--

“Hildariel needs training,” The Reaper rattled somewhere behind me.

I twitched up off the railing and spun to face the solid black skull in the hood that faced me, hovering at eye level three feet off the balcony. “You sneaky bastard, my guard was down.”

Cackling, The Reaper soared overhead and clacked down onto the balcony with Seversoul tight in his grip. “Be happy I am not Avarice, or a ninja.”

Thoughts blended in my head like a bad wop at a college party. “Uhm, that’s a good--ehh, why are you late too?”

Reap tilted his skull at me and I bit my lip. Stupid brain farts. I blame them for letting things slip. The Reaper tapped his bony foot and I answered the implied question. “I’d have been here sooner, but I got busy at home.”

My wings tensed at the ridiculous word choice, but The Reaper must not have picked up on it, because he said, “Working around Hildariel’s explosive weapons causes delays. Harvesting souls in the field is already hard enough with the T.V.T. law still in place. Now I cannot rely on our new bodyguard to cover me while I harvest.”

Since The Reaper was spitting business talk, I shook off thinking of my angel with benefits and crossed my arms. “Is Hildy really that bad at combat? Working as Nia’s bouncer probably made her complacent.”

“It is not her behavior that limits her, but her choice of weaponry.”

“I remember all the knives and arrows she had hidden under her track suit. Thought she was an amazon woman or something.”

The Reaper shook his skull. “Amazons did not bring explosive weapons to the battlefield.”

Leaning against the railing again, I adjusted my blazer and rolled both wings. “Please, elaborate.”

“Incanted arrows and blades that explode are available on the Vice Market in the Third Circle. Hildariel fired on demons with copper-coated arrows that burst with brimstone or haloxite upon striking a target.”

“Ah, so the shrapnel would catch you if Hildy came out shooting at demon thieves that got close.”

“That is the problem. Individual haloxite arrowheads are too slow, and she relies on the magic without considering the consequences.”

“It sounds like she’s a good enough bodyguard, but she has no foresight on how tactics and magic mix.”

“Odd, considering she is also employed at Niariel’s bar.”

I shrugged both wings. “I’ll work with her. Might be she just needs different tools, or better timing or technique.”

The Reaper rattled deep in his throat. Spine. Neck. “New tools will be problematic. The Vice Market is in Voracity’s Circle. He works for The Pneuma Coalition.”

“Go figure,” I said, groaning. “It’s always The Coalition or Heaven Law getting in our way.”

“Heaven supports the mote system a lot, but offers no angelic assistance to me personally.” Reap gestured to the angels working The Soul Fountains. The words ‘Vanna Black’ flashed through my mind as he added, “They send mote bankers and soul ushers to run the financial and distribution aspects, but we do the important job with no support.”

I counted off the work we’d done without any actual Heaven assistance. Soul Harvesting. Route planning across Earth. Building The Volunteer Guardian Angels. Busting Septuplets who worked for The Coalition when the Volunteers were too busy. We even had to call the Seraph Police Department in when Heaven Law forced us not to bust Coalition members ourselves.

“I’m sick of stealing humans’ cell phones to call the SPD while we’re harvesting,” I blurted. “Blind faith makes hypocrites of the faithees. C’mon, Reap. Let’s get this next Case written so we can train Hildy.”

Crossing the balcony, I held The Reaper’s office door open for him and cranked my hearing up to eleven. Sooner or later he’d drop a hint about his plans beyond ending The Pneuma Coalition. Then maybe I’d learn what scared The freaking Reaper so much he’d keep secrets even from me.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Case 7 - Ep. 3: Heaven's Blind Spots

Trapped and Bloody by Beki Yopek
When a fallen angel whoops your ass, you start to think Heaven has blind spots. If freaking angels can fall and trap you with magic, then someone up there must have screwed up big time. The Seattle Port Commission land that Hooverville had been built on already got burnt like fried chicken once. Government during The Great Depression wasn’t the smartest, so of course The Pneuma Coalition convinced the humans to burn Hooverville again and again when the homeless rebuilt there. That’s why I didn’t see signs of magic among the rubblicious shanties.

Continuous rebuilding plus continuous burning equaled thousands of free souls for The Pneuma Coalition. All without bending Heaven Law. They wanted the humans to burn it over and over, and they twisted the weakened American government to make it happen.

This was a cycle we had to break before Jack and The Coalition repeated it.

I writhed against the twin tin slabs that pinned me in mid-air. Jack Te-Konos’s conniving voice shouted more French words and the tin sheets sandwiched me horizontally. He switched to English and belted out a laugh. “Heaven’s only into itself, Ava.”

The words reverberated off the tin and I slid my left hand closer to the haloxite knife in my trench coat. I tried gripping the handle, but Jack bellowed and I slammed to the dirt between the two former shanty walls. Dust choked me and the grit turned to mud in my mouth. I spat and made to shout a retort when pain lanced along my left palm. My own haloxite knife had sliced my hand wide open while Jack contorted me against the ground.

“The Septuplets chose me to help them tear down the Soul Fountains,” Jack screamed. “Heaven has always held itself above everyone, like the other Domains owe them something.”

I let the idiot talk and ground my teeth, then twisted my bloody left wrist around.

Jack kept ranting. “Damn those who want to make their own way.”

The tin smooshed me awkwardly and whatever spell Jack was using to keep me trapped would have worked for decades. IF--

“Jack Te-Konos wants something better. A grand place he built with his own magic.”

I tossed a verbal knife. “You mean magic that Heaven taught you?”

“Shut it, slave,” Jack barked, adding some French at the end like vitriol.

The walls whirled and lurched, and the slit of daylight I could see above me spun in circles. Crimson locks of hair tangled around my face and horns, and red flecks swam behind my eyes. This fangel thought he could disorient me on his psycho merry-go-round, but I’d been flying since before some kings were born. Pressing the bleeding hand against the top-most tin wall, I winced and made absolutely sure that the orange blood seeping from the wound covered a long streak of metal.

“You’re a slave to a system that lets the useless have the same chance that geniuses do,” Jack rambled, stepping closer to my whirling prison. “Jack Te-Konos did the work. He earned his spot with the Coalition. Thanks to him, we’ve got more plans than this measly soul farm. Heaven doesn’t get to take what’s ours because they wrote some law saying they could. And you and your buddy The Reaper enabled it. You’re letting the SPD and Heaven itself take advantage of demons and humans.”

“Bahaha,” I blurted. “That’s what you think? Eat metal.”

Blood Magic surged out of me and I used the unguided flow to shove the top wall skyward. Snapping both wings out, I scissored Jack’s legs from under him and sprang to my feet, then allowed the Newtonian kick-back from my unguided spell to cement myself to the ground and stop the bottom sheet from spinning. Jack’s shocked yelp twisted into a snarl and he beat his wings, shoving himself back along the dust and away from the haloxite knife I’d just brandished.

Jack righted himself and brushed dirt off his slashed blazer and his ruff. “You can stab me all day with that and it won’t even tickle.” He switched to French, but I sprang up off the tin slab a second before his spell kicked in.

Wings pumping, I flew high, swerving behind the tin slab I’d sent skyward. I unleashed a second wave of unguided Blood Magic. The tin clashed against the slab Jack had magicked up from the dirt, and I spotted French words etched on both sheets. Details of Heaven’s magic were lost on me, but I recognized that for most angelic spells to work, words had to be either spoken or written on the object. Grinning, I barrel rolled and let the Blood Magic spin the tin along with me, scratching up the words on both slabs.

Jack’s mad yells filled the air as much as the screeching of metal on metal. About time too. I couldn’t stand any more of his shenanigans. Shoving forward on the Blood Magic, I pummeled Jack into the ground with both shanty walls and he flopped underneath them, helpless. Clouds of dust kicked up around him and humans from nearby shanties gathered around to see what must have looked like a collapsed shanty having a seizure.

The Reaper hovered up from somewhere nearby and cackled, his hood covering his solid black skull. “Thank you for killing your inner demon, Avaline.”

I narrowed my eyes and peered sideways at him. “You’re lucky I know what you mean by that. I wasn’t about to kill Jack. He was too busy waxing philoso-bullshit, and I’d rather bust every single member of the Coalition.” Patting the holsters at my back beneath the trench coat, I added, “I didn’t even need the stilettos or my new boots to wreck Jack.”

The Reaper gripped Seversoul in one ebony hand and pointed down at Hooverville with the other. “Apathy is in The Coalition. Whomever he answers to ordered a perennial soul farm to be built here, and I have ended it.”

Maybe it was the stress or the absurdity, but I laughed and watched Jack flump around and scream about himself. “A fallen angel babbled in the third person, and The Reaper said the phrase, ‘perennial soul farm.’ “ Thought waves washed over me and I added, “Jack the Hack down there mentioned plans within plans. Or multiple plans, or something.”

The Reaper raised Seversoul and looked at the carvings in both the brimstone and haloxite sides of the blade. “We have us, and the SPD, and the Volunteer Guardian Angels. The Coalition has an unknown number of Septuplets, and an unknown number of plans. The work is ours to do. Now that you have earned your bodyguard position again, let us move.”

Back at the Down South Lounge, I put the pen down, glanced at Nia behind the neon bar, then at Reap’s hooded skull. Hard liquor and cool ice filled the air with scents, a sweet distraction I had no choice but to block out. I slammed the rest of my now warm Moloch and Coke, never taking my eyes off my boss’s. 

Plans within plans. 

I’d been writing these Case Notes for a week now. Was The Reaper after more than just a way to de-throne the Pneuma Coalition?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Case 7 - Ep. 2: Heaven's Blind Spots

Trapped and Bloody by Beki Yopek
The Reaper and I swooped into Hooverville in the early 1930s, and it was prettier than a slumtown tornado, but not by much. Seattle city officials had burned down nine acres of shanties because homeless hobos had erected them on Seattle Port Commission land. The flames had killed the tin-roof shacks better than the residents, and hundreds of men were busy re-building the flimsy walls that went around their moth-eaten mattresses. Odors of burnt wood and b.o. mingled in the air like they did in my home Circle, New Purgatory. Only we had strippers’ perfume and sweet wine scents on the wind to spice up the place. 

I tucked my newly filled Blood Magic folio into the inner pocket of my trench coat and flew in close to The Reaper. “You can smell the death from here. Guess we’ll be busier than we thought.”

The Reaper shouted the way an avalanche does. “Keep your guard up, Avaline. Human death might be natural, or it might be engineered by The Pneuma Coalition.”

Raising a hand to block the sun’s glare off Elliott Bay on my left, I grunted. “Yeah, don’t remind me how powerless the law is. You’d think Heaven would be better on the enforcement end of things.”

“The Volunteer Guardian Angels can only watch so many cities at once. America’s economy is in a recession. Humans have thrown themselves from buildings rather than face reality. Do not forget where I found you last year after firing you.”

My lip zipped itself shut without me asking it to. That made two times The Reaper had worked with me after the biggest screw ups I’d screwed up. It was time to rebuild, not repeat the past.

I checked that the twin stilettos in the holster at my back were there, then touched down at the edge of the bay with The Reaper landing next to me. He gripped Seversoul in one black bony hand, and secured the hood of his robe over his head with the other. The sight of the scythe sent a spike of adrenaline through me and I marched right for Hooverville’s center, intent on finding the Septuplet who’d dodged Heaven Law, caused hundreds of human deaths, and blamed it on The Great Depression.

Mud squished under my boots and I made a mental note not to wear my Aurora flats or Persephone heels to work. Earning my job back with The Reaper meant utter professionalism, including work boots-with something in the toes-and weapons I’d left at home before. This was a trial run, so I paid attention to every fresh soul we passed on the way to Hooverville’s center. Half of them were chockablock full of life force, and the other half were drained husks that barely had any shimmer left to them. Every piece of information I could glean was a piece that could help me keep this job for centuries to come.

Spinning and tripping in the muck, I faced The Reaper and stood straight. “There’s no leadership here. The humans are rebuilding, but it’s like they expect to get burned out again.”

The Reaper swept Seversoul through a dozen souls and the drained ghosts around them. He made sure he didn’t hit the half-built shanties by accident. “Are there demons about?”

“No demon thieves,” I replied, “and no signs of any kind of magic. No Surface Magic, or Brimstone Chemistry, or--”

The Reaper harvested dozens more souls and a cluster of ghosts. “What are The Septuplets known for?”

I put a hand on my hip and watched raggedy men in dust-caked shirts moving in and out of the nearest shanty, carrying sheets of tin and hammers. “White collar super powers. Fourteen beings in existence have super powers, and The Septuplets make up half of them.”

“Can magic cause destruction like this?”

Taking in the burned soil and the plywood the men hauled into town, I said, “Blood Magic could. Or maybe some Heaven brand of magic. I can’t see a sign of it though. No demon’s blood, no pictures, no writings on the tin or in the dirt.”

“Logic should be telling you something important.”

No angel would use Heaven magic to burn a hobo homestead to cinders. Plus, no Septuplet I knew had a power that could immolate nine acres at once. Sure there were hundreds of souls here, but if The Pneuma Coalition was using magic or powers to devastate the homeless here, the SPD or VGA would have seen something by now.

A rolling tenor I recognized spoke from within the nearest shanty. “Thank you, Mayor Jackson. It is an honor to assist the residents of your little conglomerate. Rebuild. It is the best thing for everyone.”

Jack Te-Konos emerged from the shanty with Apathy following along behind him. Jack’s torn-up blazer and ruff flapped in the breeze, and that smug attitude matched his slicked down hair and tar-colored wings. Apathy, the bald careless Septuplet, cracked a smile when he saw me and The Reaper. One wink and Apathy was airborne, flapping toward Elliott Bay where the sun was setting into the rippling waters. 

I snarled and snapped both wings out, ready to stick it to Apathy in a high-speed flight. Jack spoke something in French and a tin wall from a nearby shanty blitzed me like a linebacker. I leapt upward and barrel rolled to avoid the attack, but the fallen angel yelled more French words while I did. A second tin slab sandwiched me against the first one in mid-air. 

Reaching for my Blood Magic folio, I screeched, “You don’t get to screw with me a third time.”

Jack’s shout reverberated against every air molecule around me and The Reaper. “Heaven intervened on your side and that backfired. Now The Coalition has human officials under our claws too." 

Pinned by two heavy slabs of metal, I couldn't even reach the stilettos in their holsters. 

The fallen angel extended a hand and hissed more French spell words. Then he swept his greezy hair back. "I explained you were flying into a hurricane. Not my fault you didn’t listen, Avaline.”

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Case 7 - Ep. 1: Heaven's Blind Spots

Trapped and Bloody by Beki Yopek
Nia slid a fresh Moloch and Coke in front of me and leaned in close, the scents of her perfume and feathers rising on the bar’s humid air. “I thought you were supposed to be writing tonight, Ava.”

Mellow chills slid along my tongue as I downed half the drink. My eyes slid sideways onto The Reaper’s grinning visage. “What does it look like we’re doing?” I indicated the file folders, papers, and the pen on the bar, then waved behind us with a wing. “It’s midnight on a Sunday. You think we came here to shoot darts?”

Behind Nia, The Down South Lounge’s neon liquor shelves and flatscreen TVs backlit her vanilla wings and dark hair. She tilted her halo at me. “You look so bushed I doubt you could throw a joke or a dart.”

I pointed a wing claw at her pink spaghetti strap shirt. “And you look like neapolitan ice cream.”

She slumped in fake disappointment and talked over the wingball game on TV. “Oh, that’s cold.”

Lacking a drum set, I slapped the bar once, twice, then clanged a wing claw against the metal barstool. “You’re a cheeseball angel, you know that?”

“Forgive Avaline,” The Reaper rasped, adjusting his barstool. “We worked three hours of overtime today. There are some things that can only be laid bare over drinks.”

A lascivious grin quirked Nia’s lips. “Ooh, I can’t wait to hear The Reaper’s juicy secrets. The only confessions I get are the tipsy kind that involve more boob contact than eye contact.”

I snorted mid-sip and Moloch and Coke spurted out my nose. Coughing, I said, “You just heard how he fired me back in the day. What else do you want?”

“Nothing,” Nia squeaked with an innocent look up at the ceiling. “Seeing you dribble on yourself in front of The Reaper will make a good bar story.” She glanced toward the arcade section near the back of the Lounge and added, “Shawn won’t believe it when I tell him.”

I sipped the Moloch and Coke more carefully while Reap pointed Seversoul at the lone figure among the plethora of game booths. “You mean that demon there? I have seen him before. We do not need anyone else listening to what Avaline is writing for me.”

One glance at the blue-clad demon pounding on the pinball machine and I blurted, “He’s scared shitless of you, Reap. Ran like a pansy last time you were here.”

“Exactly,” Nia said. “Maybe he’ll open up a little if I can convince him The Reaper’s not terrifying.”

Memories of the day I’d approached Reap after the Voracity incident flashed in my thoughts. “Yeah,” I scoffed. “He was cute and cuddly when he re-hired me too. I had to earn my spot back with his scary self.”

Reap laid Seversoul on the bar and crossed his arm bones. “Niariel, You care about your patrons and employees. That is what makes this difficult. I need a new bodyguard, whether temporary or permanent. I had hoped to borrow your bouncer until we can make more permanent arrangements.”

Nia’s eyes narrowed. “Was it Contressa or Prudence?”

I chugged my drink like it was a painkiller. “Prudy fell this week. Might be working with the Pneuma Coalition now, but we don’t know where she is.”

The Reaper’s whisper was an icicle. “Motes will become scarce until we get a new bodyguard into our rotation. Tell us if you hear anything regarding her and Avarice.”

Nia nodded once, tucked her wings in and stood on her tiptoes. She cupped her hands over her mouth and called, “Hey Hildy. C’mere a second.”

From the glass entrance doors, Hildariel strode in and moved behind the bar. She’d re-dyed her hair to a wispy blonde, and it fell in a ponytail between her butter-yellow wings. “Mister Reaper,” she said. “When did you become a regular here?”

“I’m the regular,” I said, “and he’s the recruiter.”

Reap steepled his fingers, the bones clacking together. “I have need of a temporary bodyguard who knows Heaven Law and is practiced in combat and magic.”

Hildariel brushed her hands down her black and gold track suit, where numerous weapon-shaped bulges stood out. “I wasn’t aware this would be a formal interview. Are you sure you want a demonstration right here?”

Nia snapped her wings up and one of them smacked into the flatscreen behind her. “Outside please. I like my liquor shelves intact and not in pieces.”

“In the morning,” The Reaper said pointedly. If he had eyebrows, I knew they’d be raised. “What Circle do you live in?”

Pointing up with a wing, Hildariel replied, “Heaven. River Gihon, just downwind from that employment agency.”

“Bring your brimstone and your haloxite weaponry. Contressa Vexus will escort you from the Gihon hell divides to my office. Five-thirty.”

The bouncer peered sideways at Nia. “You writing a new schedule for your bouncers, boss?”

Nia eyed her as though over invisible glasses. “That will be easier than training as The Reaper’s bodyguard. And weren’t you looking for an excuse to blow up some crap?”

Hildariel beamed, and it hit me as more sinister than sincere. “Thanks, Nia. I’ll feed my explosion jones while I train, then you’ll see me here nights.”

“Great, now Ava and The Reaper have work to do. Finish your shift outside, please.”

Turning on her heel, the bouncer marched right back out the glass entrance doors and stood sentinel. Odors of sulfur and deep fried food whirled inside and I breathed it deep, then spun on my stool and faced The Reaper. “What case we working on this time?”

He sat straight up and towered over me and Nia, tilting his ram’s horns forward. “Seattle during The Great Depression on Earth.”

I brightened and slid my empty glass toward Nia, then picked up the pen. “Oh, yeah. The easiest time we ever had harvesting souls. I don’t think we ever made more motes than we did during that era.”

The Reaper leveled his dark skull at me. “I was referring to Jack Te-Konos and Apathy.”

Grinding my teeth, I muttered, “Great. That shitstorm.”

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...