|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.