|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.”