Saturday, July 29, 2017

Case 9 - Ep. 3: Proud As Parasites

Convictionist Pride by Beki Yopek
“I’m not protecting the German Chancellor,” I hissed at Pride. “I’m destroying the demons around him.”

Pride’s black and gold uniform radiated authority as she straightened her spine and pointed a wing at me. “That is the same as defending him.”

Nazi soldiers and French politicians stood at the edges of the ranks of humans on both sides of the Fuhrer’s train. His decorated train car gleamed like it was brand new, despite its decades-old body and parts. Smoke and sweat tainted the breeze that blew between the pristine Parisian buildings. Men shouted orders to each other nearby and in the distance. One of those men bellowed in familiar French words. 

I forced myself to focus on the task at hand. The German Chancellor had to have some reason to preserve the cityscape and not raze it to the ground. The flocks of demon thieves The Reaper and I had wrecked must’ve been under Pride’s command. 

“You work for the Coalition,” I said. “Of course you’d think that. The demons that Reap and I slew were stealing the souls that lawfully belong to the Soul Fountains.”

Pride smirked, her sharp-boned face tightening. “Look at the uniform I wear, Avaline.”

My eyes leapt to the coiled braid at her shoulder and back to her mahogany eyes. “Yeah, you re-constructed it with your white collar superpower. You Septuplets are so spoiled and self-righteous. That thing doesn’t mean jack since the Industrial Revolution is done.”

The Reaper stepped forward and tilted his skull at her from beneath his hood. “You Convictionist bitch. What have you found? Tell me what you know or my scythe will devour you and your life force.”

I rounded on Reap and clutched the last paper square of my Blood Magic spell in my left hand. He’d never out and out hated anyone whether they were with the Pneuma Coalition or not. Harvesting souls for the life force within them had been his obsession since he’d first hired me. The Soul Fountains came first. For both of us. 

Why did a Septuplet from my past that he’d never met set him off like that?

“I remember you, Reaper,” Pride said, voice rich as silk. “I’d bet good motes you don’t remember me. I’ll tell you that I haven’t found anything. Why do you feed Heaven’s agenda?”

“The Three Domains need the mote system we’ve built.”

“You are referring to the parasites that take advantage of both your system and the Coalition’s. They hoard motes and steal life force when The Coalition calls on them. I have never been a parasite. Everything you see around us has been Re-Glorified back to its most proud condition. Parasites do not do such things.”

I ripped my eyes from Pride’s and glared at The Reaper. “Wait. Parasites? The Soul Fountains allow parasites?”

The Reaper gestured around the street with his scythe. “Those who mooch off of others do not lead. They do not think for themselves, these stalking saps.”

Pride nodded her agreement. “One cannot be proud of what one is handed. Only of what one builds or restores under their own direction.”

“Then tell me why you are here. Do you oppose The Coalition? Support it?” He lifted Seversoul and prepared to lash out at her.

Tingles flooded my mind and I froze in place. Sharp-dressed French politicians lined up in front of Nazi soldiers and walked solemnly toward the German Chancellor’s train car door. One of them pushed his hair back off his forehead, then ducked his head low. So what if the humans worshipped or killed this Fuhrer. I was here to make sure the souls the SPD was supposed to be protecting made it to the Soul Fountains. 

Wait one second.

French orders shouted to a German army?

Buildings in perfect shape despite the human war going on?

No Seraphs nearby in an urban center they actively watched?

I slapped the last shred of the elephant picture to my bleeding left palm and fired up the Blood Magic. Trumpeting erupted into the air and I aimed the spell at the fallen angel who’d hidden among the Nazis. That would stop him from shouting out Incantations or from starting up the ones he’d already scratched onto nearby surfaces. The gun-toting humans nearby covered their ears to shelter them from the racket.

Shedding his no-doubt stolen uniform, Jack Te-Konos took to the skies and pivoted in mid-air to wave his wings at the train car. Jack. Freaking. Te-Konos. Had Pride sought him out, or did Jack offer her something better than her position as Dean at Phlegethon-U?

An angel in full Seraph uniform stepped from the now open train car, raising a wing to Jack in acknowledgement. She was thin as a stick and her brown hair looked like it took up just as much space as her torso. I recognized her from her days as a Volunteer Guardian Angel. The Reaper hissed next to me and I knew he automatically assumed the worst. I dropped the spell and spoke into the quiet. “Hey Lyndsarial. Did you get promoted or bribed?”

She ruffled her sand-colored wings. “I answer to the Chief Seraph now, and she would agree that you were only defending yourselves.” Then she cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted up to Jack. “You are wrong, Mr. Te-Konos. Every false alarm you raise decreases the value of your word.”

Some pieces slapped together in my mind and I addressed Lyndsarial as formally as the anger pounding through my veins would let me. “Jack’s with The Pneuma Coalition, and he and Pride tried to make The Reaper and me break Heaven Law.”

The Seraph opened her mouth to reply and Jack’s bellow cut her off. “Ava and The Reaper have a reputation for murdering demons and Septuplets. We’re all next on her--”

When the rest of the pieces twisted into place, I let fly with the Blood Magic and turned the elephant trumpeting up as high as it would go. Then I waved for The Reaper to follow me and I dove for Lyndsarial, dragging her skyward by her halo and flapping as hard as I could. Seconds later, The Reaper shot past with Seversoul at the ready, expecting the same attack I was. I cut the Blood Magic and put up my guard, ready to kick the first thing that came at me.

Only silence met with us in the sky above the Fuhrer’s fancified train car. 

Two streaks flew south away from Paris, one in a half-shredded blazer, the other in a black and gold uniform that I hadn’t seen since the Soul Fountains were built.

Heart thudding, I let go of Lyndsarial’s halo and grimaced at the blister that had formed because I’d squeezed it too hard. “You left the Volunteer Guardian Angels and didn’t tell us?”

Her voice was double-dipped in shyness when we’d worked together a couple decades ago. Now when she spoke, it was with practiced formality. “My responsibility is to the Chief Seraph. Jack approached her with a haloxite round coated in your blood. He said you’d used it to attempt murder on him and on Avarice last year on the Khalkin Gol river in Outer Mongolia. I was just here to follow through on his advice that you would strike again.”

I mouthed wordlessly at her. Jack had twisted the events from a lot of our past encounters into a bullshit pretzel, and the Chief Seraph had devoured it and sent Lyndsarial to watch us from the Fuhrer’s train car. And since The Reaper had killed Rage, and I’d gotten fired once for attacking a Septuplet, that had given him even more chips for the bullshit-throwing contest. Pride and her history with me was the dijon mustard on the bullshit sandwich.

This was the last time I’d be underestimating Jack Te-Konos. 

The Reaper hovered level with me and Lyndsarial and pointed down at the train car, where the German Chancellor was inviting the French politicians inside to sign France’s surrender. My boss pointed at the train car and the buildings nearby. “Pride’s function was to disguise the explosive Incantments on the train car and the tenement buildings. They could have blown it. They could have destroyed you and claimed we attacked first, thus ending the Fuhrer and producing hundreds more souls for them to feed on. Pride does not need magic to re-construct objects.”

“We have the Septuplets’ powers on record,” Lyndsarial interrupted. “Voracity causes addictions, Avarice generates itemized copies, and Pride re-builds. As long as the materials they use aren’t magical, the sky’s unlimited to them.”

The Reaper cleared his vertebra. “Our attack was in self-defense. You saw how those demons came at us. That ought to be enough evidence to prove The Pneuma Coalition is breaking Heaven Law.”

“Yeah, like a piggy bank,” I chimed in. 

“It’s enough for me,” the Seraph said. “You’ll have to convince thousands of other Seraphs. I hope you got what you wanted today. We’ll need bigger harvests as this war goes on.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

Case 9 - Ep. 2: Proud As Parasites

Convictionist Pride by Beki Yopek
“We don’t have time to call the SPD,” I shouted to The Reaper. 

He swung his scythe through a hundred souls and they disappeared into the Hellblessed blade, life force and all. The haloxite side glared gold in the overcast lighting, and he spun it to point at me like a nun’s ruler. “Heaven Law is what allows us to harvest in the big cities unimpeded by the Coalition. If we destroy the demon thieves surrounding that train car, then we forfeit control of the harvesting process to the Chief Seraph.”

He pointed down the ladderwork of metal and wood we’d been following on our days-long harvest along the train’s route into Paris. World War II meant a deluge of wartime souls in places outside big cities, and we hadn’t seen an urban environment the whole trip until now. A train undulated down the tracks and a demon in some kind of marching band uniform zipped in the air above it. Why hadn’t he attacked us yet?

I pointed a wing at the train. “The Chief Seraph needs to give us a vigilante license.”

The Reaper cackled. “I concur, Avaline. However, we are the Soul Fountains. Killing demon thieves means fewer demons to convert to our mote system. The Chief Seraph is relying on that.”

“Conversion's her job. We’ve helped her a ton. This time, our goal matters more than Heaven Law. If those parasite demons don’t see the Soul Fountains are better than the Coalition’s entrepreneurial b.s., that’s their fault. Force them to attack us. Then it’s self-defense.”

He shrugged under his brown hooded robe. “Fine. We will risk destroying the demons only if no SPD agent is nearby. I will watch for Seraphs while you entrap the thieves pursuing that train car. Then I will end them.”

I scanned the cityscape around the railroad tracks leading into downtown Paris, France. Gunpowder and smoke permeated the air and I breathed it in, glad for the smells of home and the abundance of souls around us. Whipping my Blood Magic folio out of my blazer pocket, I tore a magazine picture of an elephant into a couple dozen pieces. Many of them stuck to my sweaty palms when I put the folio away and I cursed. It’d be just a little un-good if the spell I had in mind entangled me by mistake.

Reap flew skyward without needing wings and arced along the tracks a hundred feet up, dragging Seversoul and its two-toned scythe blade with him. I pounded air with both wings and followed him toward the mechanical chugging of the German train that was slowing down half a mile up the track. Nia’s new mote bracelet clung to my left forearm above the Hades watch. I drew life force from the red motes it held there while we flew. I guess the fact that I could even wear her leather creation and plug motes into it made me more fortunate than most demons. I’d need all the honestly-earned life force I could get. 

On June 22nd, 1940, we were killing the demons surrounding the German Chancellor.

All the thin lines we were walking flashed through my mind as we flew over brick-and-stone facades and streets with light poles that stuck up over thousands of marching Nazi soldiers. As long as no Septuplet or Seraph was around, The Reaper and I did the job the way we’d always done. We ended fools.

I was guessing the lack of Seraphs in Paris was because they’d lose too many angels that way. When The Coalition came out en masse like they did in WWII Europe, law enforcement cost the SPD too much. Go figure.

The German train car slowed to crawling speed as we approached. Hundreds of soldiers formed ranks on either side of it. None of them saw the flocks of demons diving down and sapping life force from the newly deceased French souls amassed there. I guess prayers and summonings were beneath the German military. They’d be able to see all of us otherwise. 

When The Reaper and I touched down on the pavement a hundred yards away from the train car, I switched the fistful of paper squares between hands. I dried both palms, then drew out the haloxite knife I always carried. One small stab plus one hot stinging pain equaled orange blood that welled up from the left palm. Most of the paper squares stayed in my right hand, stacked there like a tiny deck of cards ready for the dealing.

Reap would never ruin our reputation of following Heaven Law. When he turned his back on the thieving varmints and presented them a target, it had to have been because he was thinking about contacting the SPD. I swear.

The demon parasites ditched the souls and pelted at the juicy prey twenty or thirty at a time. Excitement thrilled through me at the thought of maybe getting to use my surprise-toed boots in combat at last. 

Reap’s last-second snarl was a wildfire and he spun back around, scythe at the ready. 

I put up my guard. 

Then I opened the left palm and swatted aside the first demon’s haloxite-knuckled punch. 
One blood-sticky square clung to the attacker’s arm and I cranked out the Blood Magic. Her arm, shoulder, and body plunged downward as the spell’s weight crushed along the whole length of her. 

Grinning, I slapped another square to the seeping blood of my left palm and ducked the next attacker’s kick. One open-hand strike later and his leg rushed to meet the cement along with the rest of him.

Five, ten, fifteen, twenty demons assaulted me from all sides and I pancaked each one of them to the ground with a magic-spiked block. The Reaper roared behind me and the staccato scrape of Seversoul against the cement pierced the air again and again. Mix my Blood Magic with The Reaper’s scythe work and you get a trail of dead demons with a don’t-screw-with-us garnish. Clouds of smoke billowed forth from each demon The Reaper finished, and a sharp yell mingled with the hiss of steam as the train car halted.

No German Chancellor emerged. A single uniformed demon swooped down from the skies and alighted on the street in front of us, the cloth braids on one shoulder bouncing as she did. So I’d mis-judged. It wasn’t a he, and it wasn’t a marching band uniform.

“Pride?” I blurted without thinking. 

The only Septuplet who hadn’t changed her name during the Industrial Revolution came forward with her chin in the air.

Reap rasped, “How do you know her?”

Stupid brain farts. I leaned toward The Reaper’s ram-horned skull. “Old Dean of Phlegethon-U. My alma mater. Pride’s the whole reason the Military and Assassin Combat programs exist there. We erm, we sparred a lot.”

I kept an eye on her while she approached. Her chocolate hair matched the dark swirled color of her horns and wings. Corded braids draped from her right shoulder to the chest buttons on her uniform. I’d seen that uniform encased on her office wall while I was a student. No explanation needed as to why. The reason still hurt too much.

The Reaper growled, “Black and gold uniform. I thought those had all been destroyed after The Industrial Revolution. Was she a Convictionist?”

Involuntary shudders slammed into me and I blurted, “Shut up about that, Reap!”

Pride stopped a few feet away from us, her booted feet spread in parade rest. Or a concealed fighting stance. Her voice brimmed with a richness that rang like poisoned nostalgia. “Hell’s kind are foolish to keep mum about the Industrial Revolution. It happened, Avaline, and it is happening again.”

Red tinged my vision and I spat on the ground at her feet. “You’re stealing from the Soul Fountains and inspiring demons to keep doing it.”

She tsked and replied, “So many years I spent training you and you still make those snap judgments of yours. Nobody said I was working with The Pneuma Coalition.”

“So you’re defending the German Chancellor out of the goodness of your heart?”

“A system is only as good as the fuel that feeds it,” Pride lilted. “Why do you safeguard the worst dictator Earth has known?”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Case 9 - Ep. 1: Proud As Parasites

Convictionist Pride by Beki Yopek
The Reaper and I ascended up the side of the Motery Center in Fountainia, leaving behind the souls we’d harvested during Hildariel’s morning shift. I eyed his shadowy skull during the flight. He didn’t cast me any wary glances while we landed on his office balcony to find Hildy waiting for us. Her skintight tracksuit held fewer than half the crossbow bolts and switchblades she’d shown off at The Down South Lounge a couple nights ago. My boss hadn’t allowed her to see the unloading ritual we performed to empty the fresh souls from his scythe’s two-toned blade.

I wiped sweat off my face with a sleeve of the pinstriped blazer I’d worn to work. “Do you see now why you can’t use those exploding arrows when you’re in close during a fight?”

She yanked snarls out of her dyed-blonde hair and ruffled her wing feathers. “Get off my halo, Ava. They performed fine when The Reaper was behind me. I fly point, I clear a path, and he harvests.”

Reap clacked toward her on his ebony, bone feet. “Your initial strikes into the swarming demons isn’t what concerns me. When we are surrounded, your choice of weapon forces us to retreat skyward, lest I catch haloxite shrapnel to the dome.”

I was so proud of him, weaving modern English vernacular into his speech. It only took him a century and change.

Hildy shook her head. “Demons typically bow to what I demand once they see their first group of buddies die from an Incanted arrow.”

Incanted. Heaven’s magic required words. I’d had enough experience with Jack Te-Konos and The Coalition to infer that. Hell’s spells required blood. Blood Magic. I stuck a mental post-it on my mind so I’d remember to ask Hildy more about Incantations later.

“Bouncing for Nia is different than bodyguard duty,” I said. “Well paid winos behave differently than broke demons.”

Hildariel scowled at me. “You insult my intelligence? Bar goers have something to lose, and they pay with their motes and their respect. Those are two of the weapons I use against troublemakers at The Lounge. Your enemies have no such respect for anyone.”

“No one lives on respect alone. That’s the difference. Keep training with me during our shifts like you did today and you’ll get the hang of it. Going in arrows blazing’s just going to slow down the harvests.”

“You are asking me to violate Heaven Law and do things your way.”

I shrugged. “It’s part of the job. Three Domains of demons and angels depend on us to keep the motes flowing and full. We only kill demon thieves when there’s no way to call the Seraphs.” I might have left out a thing or two about how The Reaper and I did business. Tiptoeing around the SPD was in the job description.

The angel unfurled her wings and hissed, “Thin line to walk.” With that, she launched into the sky and flapped over downtown Fountainia, veering north toward the Heaven side of town. Her b.o. from the day’s work wafted at me and I waved it away with a wing. Trepidation skittered up my skin beneath the blazer and blouse. 

I faced The Reaper, searching his hooded skull for signs he was suspicious. “Not sure how long she’ll be working with us.”

He nodded once. “If we stopped harvesting the instant we spotted a demon thief among souls, Hell and Heaven would already be starved.”

“And I refuse to carry a cell phone. Demons are so violent they’d stalk my friends if they got their hands on it. I’m your bodyguard. If the SPD wants us to follow their laws, they can enforce them on the level they seem to want us to do. With their own angels.”

Reap cackled, crossed to his office door, and pulled it open with his free hand. “Right you are. We must discuss that extra defense you mentioned before we begin writing.”

Huh. Seemed like he hadn’t read the writings we’d done last night. The job itself always did distract him to the point of obsession. Maybe he wouldn’t fire me or kill me for stealing souls. That was almost a hundred years ago.

I entered The Reaper’s ultra-modern office and flicked the lights on. Words carved into the switch plate shimmered and firelight emanated from the LED bulbs overhead. File cabinets lined both brick walls, chocolate wood flooring lent a homey feel to the renovated dungeon atmosphere. Out the far window, life force from the Soul Fountains spouted up to eye level and fell again into the haloxite-rimmed marble bowls. Crimson and ivory motes sopped up the life force and floated in strings onto desks I couldn't see beneath The Reaper's office window. Beyond The Fountains, the glass-and-steel skyscrapers gave way to an unspoken dividing line where neon signage marked Fountainia's south side, and pristine architecture shone on the north side.

One more slip like the one I’d made a week ago and I’d never see this view of the city and system I fought for again.

The Reaper passed me and sat down at his glass-topped desk, then placed his scythe on top where it clanked to a standstill. “While you ready your pen, explain the added layer of security you have planned.”

Tidying up my blazer, I pulled folders, pens, and paper from the file cabinet drawers. “Phlegethon University is my alma mater. The Assassin’s Combat professors still remember me from my decades of martial arts work there. I’m going to get ingredients from the Brimstone Chemistry department next door to my old dorm.”

The Reaper crossed his arms, the elbows and wrists clacking together. “Doesn’t Brimstone Chemistry exist to cause explosions?”

I snorted. “Brimvisibility fluid is also available there if you learn and work the recipes right. I’ll have batches ready in a few days as long as Terrence doesn’t distr--”

Amused rasping burst from The Reaper’s jaws. “It was my assumption you were either spending all your time off at The Lounge, or you were getting some.”

Bemusement flushed through me and heat radiated from both cheeks. I’d covered a career-ending crime only to toot a brain fart.

The Reaper rapped his carpals on the desktop. “I’m surprised you haven’t rubbed it in before now. You are the one with the actual parts to--”

“Whoa,” I blurted, the laughs flooding out of me. “I’m not trying to think about--wait, you’re a virgin. You have to be.”

Stifling his cackles, The Reaper jabbed a finger at the papers I’d scattered on his desk. “And you have a responsibility to write. We have another shift after we document the Paris harvest of World War II.”

My hackles raised at that and I slithered into my chair, crossing both arms. “Pride was a--” The word and its memories choked me and I tried again. “She was a Convictionist. What are you looking for this time? Some hint about a pre-Industrial Revolution insurrection?”

“The Convictionists,” Reap hissed, “wanted to preserve prayers and summonings as the core of our lifestyles. Angels who received prayers got life force for their work. Demons summoned by humans devoured life force once they destroyed their target.”

A thought wave surged into me and I blurted, “You’re curious about the job of reaping. Of harvesting the souls of the dead. Didn’t you just harvest ghosts all the time before the Industrial Revolution wrecked us?”

The Reaper gripped both horns and snarled an earthquake’s snarl. “We do not have time to dissect everything. For now, it is about the Convictionists and the Fountainians. Now write.”

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Case 8 - Ep. 3: Blind Faith's Soul

Submission and Starvation by Beki Yopek
Pinned beneath tons of World War II Russian tank.

Taunted by an old enemy and her new fallen angel pet. 

No haloxite for me to use to cast any Blood Magic.

Starving for life force because I’d worked more than a double and hadn’t touched a mote in almost 24 hours. 

There was only one way to save myself: I had to get shot.

“Take these,” Avarice spat, standing above me. She passed a fistful of haloxite revolver rounds to Jack Te-Konos, who slipped them into an inner pocket of his combat-shredded blazer. The sharp golden-glowing cartridges fell from a hole in the pocket and scattered in the mud around his shoes. Avarice’s lolita dress swished as she stepped away from Jack, pointing her finger first at the revolver in his hand, then at the rounds on the ground. “Get some functional clothing, Jack. You’ve got more than enough motes after what The Coalition is paying you.”

I glanced at Avarice’s do-me-now boots and the formidable cleave bulging from the dress’s bust. “Ha, ‘functional’ clothing.”

Jack, who’d assumed his pocket worked properly, was peering at the hundreds of demons harrying The Reaper in the skies above the Khalkin Gol river in Outer Mongolia. Clouds of smog that used to be living, fighting demon thieves obscured the sun the way millions of midges would. I sucked in a breath and nearly choked on the metallic odors of blood, earth, and rust on the air. I knew what was coming next. 

Jack gritted his teeth and grunted, “Jack did not realize The Reaper had been trained in martial arts. More than half of our--”

Both of Avarice’s horns whipped down and butted Jack in the head for the second time in five minutes. I flinched involuntarily, hissed through my teeth, and forced my eyes off the ghosts and the lone scrumptious soul fifteen feet away on the river banks. My old enemy’s shrieks hit plane-engine levels. “Incompetent slave. Give me that revolver.”

Pearly white blood dripped from Jack’s bruises that had torn open on Avarice’s second blow. He passed the gun to her on his flat palm, his eyes wider than I’d ever seen them in the years we’d fought each other. Then the fallen angel scrambled to retrieve the rest of the haloxite rounds he’d dropped. His shoes squelched in the muck and he stumbled in his hurry to obey.

I wriggled my left wing and claws, the only limb I had free that could help me escape this shit sandwich. 

Avarice batted Jack aside with her wing, loaded the haloxite round she held into the revolver, and fired at me the same instant I whipped my free wing up from the ground. Hot agony sliced along the ridge of the wing and I seized the pain with my voice and will. Blood Magic flowed unguided and I shoved it with every ounce of effort I had left. Bullet, gun, and shooter launched skyward along the line of blood I’d smeared onto Avarice’s revolver and arm. 

Gasping, I flipped my wing around and slammed the bleeding ridge into the tank that trapped me. Then I dragged it from left to right at an awkward angle. The smear I left was sloppy, but enough of my orange blood had slathered the metal for me to unleash a surge of unguided Blood Magic that covered most of the tank’s side. The tonnage tipped up at an angle and I pumped both wings, expecting to fly free. I’d been so hungry for life force I forgot to direct the Newtonian kick-back that came every time I shoved something with Blood Magic. 

Instead of soaring out from under the tank, I rolled in the mud like a drunk demon falling off his barstool. Human blood and churned soil from the recent Russia vs Japan battles caked my skin all over, squeezing into my boots and tangling my scarlet hair. When I struggled to stand straight, the ground-shaking thud of the tank landing on its treads wrecked my balance and sent me sprawling again. 

Jack face-planted too, and I couldn’t get my limbs to move for me to get the jump on him. 

Life force starvation. I had maybe ten minutes. 

The fallen angel sprang up, shook mud from his tar-colored wings, and took in everything happening around me. Then he stepped closer and crouched down, bringing his crimson halo whipping down at me. Pain crackled and burst at the back of my skull. Swirls lit up in my field of vision. All I could hear was Jack’s seething voice. “You are seconds from starvation. Your Reaper will return to find a cloud of dead Ava, or a hypocrite who’s forced to maintain a lie for her life’s sake.”

Feathery wing flaps pounded the air. Then nothing.

It might have been one minute or nine, but consciousness came charging back in time for me to register a small group of human ghosts had wandered close by. One isolated soul thrummed with life force. I swear I could hear each chiming pulse of it, and I drooled without meaning to. Blood surged through my pounding heart, oozing out the wing wound and onto the dirt. 

Life force. An arm’s length away.

With both arms, I propped myself up and squinted skyward.

There were no more demon thieves in the air above the river.

The Reaper descended from on high.

He was probably too far up to see me.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Case 8 - Ep. 2: Blind Faith's Soul

Submission and Starvation by Beki Yopek
The tank flying through the air at my face was a pretty good reminder I screwed up. Jack Te-Konos bellowed French words that echoed around the Outer Mongolian battlefield and I reacted slower than a salted slug. Tons of armor plated Russian tank barreled into me, landing on top and pinning me to the blood-soaked mud. His Heaven brand of magic couldn’t make mundane materials penetrate the protection of my brimstone horns unless it was haloxite that brought the pain. 

Not that it made the space beneath the tank more comfortable or anything.

The Khalkin Gol river flushed past me twenty feet away, the banks swollen with rain and debris from the fighter planes and ground troops who’d died here. Burned out husks of a hundred tanks lay in the murk the way dead june bugs do. A late August sun beat down on the land like a burger joint heat lamp. Delicious souls bursting with life force peppered the entire landscape, and The Reaper darted among demon thieves in the skies above me, trying to carve an opening in the swarm with his scythe. For every bunch that burst into smog as he slew them, another cluster filled in the space and slung Blood Magic as they did.

Words were carved into the side of the tank just above my head. “Piege,” and “Prendre” and some others. French words on a Russian tank just had to be part of Jack’s magic. Craning my body up in a sit-up, I scratched the words off the metal with my left horn. The tank kept sitting on me, but the movement had given me space to wrench my left wing out from under me.

Jack rounded the tank’s upended side and waved behind him for someone to join him. I yanked my wing back down and jammed it a little way under the burned out machine, as though it was still held down. The fallen angel strode a whole lap around the metal monster, tidying up his blazer and waistcoat and indicating the tears and bullet holes in them. “See those, Ava?”

“What, you mean cojones? Nope.”

He whipped out a revolver from his torn blazer and shot me in the cheek. The blast echoed in my hearing and I knew the bullet struck me, but it was metal jacketed, so it bounced away into the mud and buried itself. I didn’t feel a thing except the jolts of fear that flooded my every nerve. If that round had been haloxite, no more me. I locked both eyes on the nearest cluster of souls and found they’d all expired or been drained by the swarming demon thieves, turning them all into ghosts. Except one. Sweat poured down my face and I swallowed. 

Jack emptied the rest of the metal rounds from the chamber and loomed over me. “So many beings have tried to kill me that I wear their murder attempts with pride. This border dispute between Russia and Japan is about to go full war, here. After today, you’ll be nothing but another slash in the wardrobe.”

Another figure stepped past the tank, kicking muck off her do-me-now boots. Avarice was decked out in a lolita dress and wore a Japanese naval officer hat at a jaunty angle on top of her deep blonde hair. The Septuplet that had it out for me most crossed to Jack’s side and towered over my left shoulder, with Jack above my right. Avarice’s horns were brimstone, and Jack’s halo, haloxite, so I couldn’t even handle the bigger threat with the one wing I had free.

Something. Had. To. Give.

“Why were you so slow to react?” Avarice purred, crouching down. “Is Jack learning your secrets better than I did?”

I shoved the sharp words and the history I was about to spit to the back of my mind. I already knew that my haloxite knife, Blood Magic Folio, and something-toed boots were all stuck beneath the wrecked tank. No way to get blood for a spell. They’d known of course that trapping a demon like me was just as effective as killing one.

Jack yelled over The Reaper’s screeches overhead. “Every nation on Earth will be part of this new World War, and your ridiculous Seraph Police Department will be spread so thin enforcing their new T.V.T. laws that The Coalition will--”

Avarice horn-butted Jack faster than I could blink, and her horns penetrated the protection from Jack’s halo. He might be a fangel, but that halo’s still made from haloxite. Bruises bloomed on Jack’s forehead and cheek and he twitched away from Avarice. She hissed, “You are useful to us only as long as you delay The Reaper. Blabbing helps them.”

“Jack Te-Konos has already proven he is superior,” the fallen angel babbled. “I am only stating facts. We cannot kill The Reaper, so we target--”

He twitched away again when Avarice leaned her head back for another head butt. Then she produced a handful of haloxite revolver rounds from her schmancy dress and I tore my gaze away from the lone soul to focus on the only method of escape I had.

The Septuplet’s eyes locked on mine and she grinned like a demented fox. “Ah, you have not touched a mote today. Did your precious mote system fail you? You must be so close to starving from life force deprivation."

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...