Sunday, August 27, 2017

Case 11 - Ep. 1: Bandwagon Pride

A World For A Secret by Beki Yopek
“You never told me Jack Te-Konos shot your toe off in the Spanish Civil War, Avaline.”

I eyeballed The Reaper the way a death-fearing human wouldn’t. “What about your leg during The Battle of Amiens? You never mentioned you had surgery either.”

We entered The Reaper’s re-built office and he sat behind his new glass-topped desk. “I went to Abel Memorial Hospital in Eden. Bones are easier for them to rejuvenate than the whole flesh package.”

His modern vernacular was getting better. Or worse depending on whether you saw the obvious joke or not. I tossed my crimson hair, then wiggled my toes in their chemical-toed boots. “One toe is a lot easier to rejuvenate. How’d you get your leg back?”

“Myth Medicine. You?”

“I sat on my ass and chugged life force from motes for two weeks so it’d heal on its own. Didn’t you ever wonder why Contressa ran double shifts after Madrid?”

When The Reaper shook his head, the firelight LEDs overhead flickered and lent his shadowy skull even more shadows. “You are a responsible demon. I presumed Niariel helped you or you’d gotten surgery on your own.”

The old bag of bones respected independence. One reason I enjoyed working for him. I smirked. “I’ve only been to Heaven recently. Something about self-righteous angels and the SPD’s snobby attitude keeps me away usually.”

“Ah,” Reap replied. “Your new angel with benefits.”

Yep, his modern sensibilities were getting too fine-tuned. Reading subtext was now on his list of powers. I strolled over to the filing cabinets that lined both sides of his office and opened a drawer. Removing pen, paper, and folders, I took the bundle to the desk and sat in one of the chairs in front of it. “You and Nia are way too interested in him. What’s the deal?”

The Reaper waved the ebony bones of one hand at the bay windows behind him, where dozens of usher angels and banker demons ran fresh souls through The Soul Fountains below. “To use your own words, ‘There is only one angel I trust.’ Now there are apparently two.”

“Reap,” I drawled, dragging out the “e” sound for a couple seconds. “It’s Thursday. We just harvested from a million-plus city. You sure you aren’t strung out after Sydney?”

“Who are you talking to right now?”

Maybe having the old job-obsessed Reaper back would be better than the Reaper that’s come out since we started writing these Case Notes. I rolled my eyes. “Okay, okay. Maybe you’ll meet Terrence after we get done writing these things. Nia's got a surprise for you tomorrow, so don't wear yourself out too much." 

I dropped the big point like a word bomb. "Seems to me you’re looking for whoever plots things out for The Pneuma Coalition.”

When The freaking Reaper stared at you with his mandible hanging low, it meant you’d genuinely stunned him. I pressed on. “You said The Motery Center or someone plots our cities and when to harvest from them. Last night you asked me to recall Madrid, and that was the night we discussed route plotting before Avarice sicced Jack Te-Konos and his infinite rifle spell on us.”

Nodding his skull, The Reaper rasped a dragon’s whisper. “Yes, Avaline, that is on my agenda, but do NOT write that. In fact, I confess I threw away your final page from last evening. Musings that seem true will mis-direct any Coalition members who catch onto what we’re seeking. I left those in.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him. “So you’re an editor now?”

The Reaper raised five black phalanges and counted off on them. “It is public knowledge that you detest cellular phones.”

“For a damn good reason, yes.”

“Rumor has spread at The Down South Lounge that we are training new bodyguards.”

“We shouted that one out to the whole floor of gamers there.”

He ticked off his last three bone digits. “We’ve been seen in a destroyed office more than once. It is known we don’t like being interrupted while you and I are alone here. And finally, no Seraphs have been seen here at the Motery Center since we began.”

I did the mental math and came up with an equation I hadn’t known The Reaper was balancing this whole time. “You conniving genius. We’re luring The Pneuma Coalition here. That’s why you wanted me and Nia to sneak in the ingredients last time. Once the mastermind in their ranks sees we’re ‘weak and vulnerable,’ they’ll come to this office themselves to try and end us while the SPD is ‘gone’ and no one’s paying attention.”

If The Reaper had lips, they’d be sliding up into a cheshire smirk. He purred, “And you thought your boss was angry yesterday for no reason.”

I snorted a laugh. “Hey, you got a hug from Nia. She’s genuine with those who are genuine with her. You were actually pissed.”

“Of course I was. I remain as angry as ever. If I had more time among harvests and writing with you, I’d be plotting a better system for harvesting souls."

It was the chilly office that made me shiver. 

It wasn't the guilt digging itself up from the mental grave I'd buried it in.

The Reaper didn't seem to notice and he continued. "A system where the Seraph Police Department could keep The Coalition away from our souls indefinitely.”

Crossing my arms, I said, “Do you even want the brimvisibility for your own protection?”

The Reaper waggled his carpals in a yes-and-no gesture. “It is also a trap we may need to spring at a moment’s notice. Have the vials mixed and completed as soon as you are able. Now let us discuss November 9th and 10th, 1938.”

I raised the pen. “So we’re going over the Convictionists again, huh?”

“They gave rise to The Coalition according to you. This next historical event requires the eyes of someone who’s experienced in how they worked before The Industrial Revolution shook The Three Domains.”

Fear and embarrassment sparked a fire in me and I flinched. The Reaper had just proven he was an excellent planner. Had he read into my lies and reviewed the Case Notes when our shifts were over? 

G-O-double-D I hoped not. No way was I going back to what I was before The Industrial Revolution. I’d die before that happened.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Case 10 - Ep. 3: The Reaper's Regression

Sincerity And Sass by Beki Yopek
I slapped my bleeding hand to my chest and The Reaper’s back, then shoved outward with unguided Blood Magic. Hundreds of Spanish Nationalists led by Avarice and Jack Te-Konos fired a storm of haloxite rounds up at us. Using the unguided Blood Magic, I shoved the both of us in opposite directions and plastered us against the two buildings on either side of the Madrid back alley. The glowing wave of death whipped right past us into the open sky. Since 1939 Madrid was a big city in the middle of a civil war, I’d assumed the SPD had cleared the place of Coalition thieves and left so we could do our job harvesting fresh human souls. That was how Avarice and Jack had found us.

My eyes darted to the lone Nationalist general among the Spaniards and I knew instantly how they’d done it. Just a few summoners, who’d summoned only a few demons, were taking orders from Avarice to band some men together and hunt us if they saw us. That’s why Avarice could order him and the few other summoners in the city around. No one else nearby had summoned any demons, and I’d bet those the others had summoned were flying our way right now.

Since I still had the bomber plane pictures in my good hand, I risked it and flew back over the alley-o-death again to get to The Reaper’s side. “Jack’s gun can only fire one shot, and those soldiers can’t fly. Let’s lose ‘em.”

The Reaper cackled and tore skyward with Seversoul tight in his grip. Then he right-angled over the rooftops and I flapped hard behind him. Nighttime air whisked through my hair and Reap’s robes fluttered ahead of me. He flew maybe ten blocks and caught sight of another cluster of souls at street level where a skirmish had left a whole lot of corpses. Salty odors of copper and blood wafted up while we landed and started harvesting in a hurry. 

“You must be disappointed you didn’t get to use your secret-toed boots again,” The Reaper rattled while he swiped his scythe through dozens of souls.

“We’re too good,” I answered. “Don’t need them apparently.”

I was only watching the sky for a moment or two when Jack Te-Konos and Avarice arced above the same rooftop we’d flown over half a minute ago. The fallen angel belted out two French words and held his right hand over his head, his palm red with a glow like a mote’s. A rifle zipped down the building’s facade and into his hand. Its stock shone with a French word carved into it like the one I’d seen moments ago.

My eyes shot wide as gates. Brimstone and haloxite ammunition went volatile near demons and angels. All gunpowder near any of us went off at once if we fired one shot. Jack Te-Konos had found a way around the one-and-done nature of gunpowder. 

Sighting on me, he fired and I leapt high into the air with a hard wingbeat. The haloxite round tore through my big toe and pain bit upward from the spot. Powdered haloxite poured out of the hidden space in my right boot while I screamed and flapped skyward in earnest. Reap spun in midair at the sound of my caterwauling, corkscrewing headfirst toward the fallen angel. Jack summoned another rifle to him, fired, and missed. Then he squealed and pumped his wings in a mad dash to get out of the way of The Reaper’s brimstone ram’s horns. 

Another cackle and Reap swung Seversoul in a diagonal arc downward at Jack’s head. He back-bent like a limbo champ and dodged the two-toned scythe blade, but it sliced the ruff off that ridiculous shirt of his.

Glancing from my throbbing lack of a toe to the other shoe, a laugh snuck in among the groans. I still had one boot left intact, and now my palm and my foot were bloody with orange fluid.

While Jack righted himself, I slapped a picture of a bomber to the bleeding palm. Then I hauled air to get between him and The Reaper. Duty called, and I wanted that duty handled ASAP. Pumping both wings, I flung a side-to-back-side kick at the off-balance Jack.

My left foot cracked into his neck and the powdered brimstone in the toe burst forth. It coated his face and got in his eyes. He might have screamed. A little.

When my right foot connected, I knew my blood had soaked his shirt and I plastered the bomber picture to the same spot. I’d bled too much to use the spells I wanted, but one last surge of guided Blood Magic sent the fangel spinning away from me over the rooftops and out of sight. Literally spinning. Like the propellors on the plane in the picture.

Hey, magic is not a toy, and I didn’t use it like one.

The Reaper cackled behind me and I landed on the cobbles, then turned to find Avarice using her white collar power on him. Soliduction. Any one object that wasn’t magical or alive was hers to conjure over and over, including rinds, riches, and raiment. She slung bolas at The Reaper and tangled his legs, arms, and hood with them. A volcano’s eruption contained more mirth than my boss’s cackling and I flew at Avarice, not hiding the fury for her that I’d nursed so long.

The Reaper hit her first. He didn’t need wings to fly, and I’d bet that slipped her mind in the heat of how awesome she thought she was. My boss speared her with his spinning tackle and soared away with her so fast it looked like terminal velocity worked upward as well as down. Show off.

By the time I caught up to The Reaper in the skies above Madrid, Avarice had vanished. No smoke lingered in the atmosphere, and I knew he wouldn’t have ended her without some Seraphs to witness Avarice’s violation of Heaven Law first. Demons swarmed the streets below us, snatching up hundreds of souls and absorbing their life force. The Pneuma Coalition had won the overall battle even though The Reaper and I had defeated our own opponents.

“Avaline,” The Reaper said. “Could you please untie me now?”

I sliced off the bolas that bound him with my horns, having lost the haloxite knife somewhere during the fighting. Embarrassment shriveled me where I flapped. I’d done my job, but I hadn’t done it. The Reaper was safe, but stopping The Coalition’s soul thievery now would be certain death with that many demon thieves down there. Jack and Avarice had the planning on their side, that was for sure. Judging by all the soldiers back there, I’d bet good motes Jack had hundreds and hundreds of Incanted rifles he could summon at a moment’s notice. 

A memory nipped at me through the pulsing pain in my foot and hand. Reap said earlier that the cities we visited were planned for us. That thought hadn’t meant anything in 1939 and I’d dismissed it so we could fly back to the Motery Center and recover. 

But here in 2015 as I write this? 

If someone’s job at The Soul Fountains was to schedule mine and Reap’s harvests, then someone had to be doing the same for The Pneuma Coalition all along. Whoever it was, they had to be manipulating human leadership as well. 

Great Depression Seattle, World War II Paris, and Spanish Civil War Madrid each had crazy-powerful figureheads leading humanity that behaved in ways they shouldn’t, and the results were perennial soul stashes or wars that erupted like weeds.

That’s what The Reaper wanted to learn by writing these Case Notes.

He wanted to find the planning mastermind behind The Coalition.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Case 10 - Ep. 2: The Reaper's Regression

Sincerity And Sass by Beki Yopek
Souls gushed forth from Madrid in early 1939, and the Seraph Police Department was so overloaded that the Chief Seraph herself had called Reap’s office. The Pneuma Coalition’s flocks of demon thieves had swelled to include more fallen angels. Everyone on their side smelled the war on Earth coming like a delicious meal someone else was cooking. The Reaper and I finished up with the Chief Seraph and took the Motery Center’s hell divide, flying out the other side into Madrid’s University City area.

Fresh souls and bullets peppered the Spanish street below, permeating the air with the odors of hot gunpowder and blood and salt. We soared over the raging shootout between the human Nationalists and Republicans, with me in my usual blazer and blouse, and The Reaper spinning Seversoul to catch the deceased souls as soon as their bodies expired. The skies were empty of demons or fallen angels. No Seraphs were around to keep an eye on the place either. 

Back then, it made me nervous as all get out, but now I know a few things to look for while writing this.

I flapped in a circle around three city blocks, drawing a haloxite knife and expecting demons to blitz out of a building or a residential area. Wind whipped at my hair and blazer, the noise lost among gunfire and The Reaper’s cackles while he harvested souls by the dozen. Metal rounds bounced off both of our bodies and clothes while we worked. Thank you, brimstone horns. Once the main streets were harvested, we drew up and hovered in a back alley. 

I drew the Blood Magic folio out of my inner blazer pocket and flipped to the space between the ‘strength’ and ‘weight’ sections. “They’re shooting the hell out of each other and no Coalition thieves are around? This sounds exactly like Avarice or Jack set it up.”

The Reaper’s hood had fallen off during the flight, and he raised the brown cloth over his ram’s horns and ebony skull. “Those two take advantage of mass amounts of death in unexpected places.”

“Unexpected?” I asked, gouging my left hand with the haloxite knife and wincing while the orange blood welled up. “They come for us every few years. It’s always on battlefields or outside the major Earth cities. They go there because the Seraphs aren’t there.”

“No Seraphs are here either. When we harvest big cities, the presence of the SPD is strong enough to make our work a simple matter of plotting fast routes through the urban sprawl.”

“Love those four hour work days.”

The Reaper glanced at the carvings on both sides of his two-toned scythe. “The cities we scour are scheduled for us. We adhere to our own plans when it comes to harvesting the individual city.”

“Wait, I thought you knew where the most souls were on Earth. Like it was an instinct or a white collar power like the Septuplets work with.”

He shook his hood. “You think I have time to visit each human city and analyze the soul count myself? Never.”

I took a handful of bomber plane pictures from the Folio and pocketed it. “So someone high up in the Motery Center scouts the cities for us, and then we go there and harvest.”

If The Reaper had eyebrows, he’d have raised one. “Someone with the abilities of a Septuplet must do the same type of duty for The Pneuma Coalition.”

“Wait, you took almost sixty years to tell me that someone else scouts the cities. Is that why the Chief Seraph was so eager to work with us? For first knowledge of where fresh souls are located?”

“Listen, Avaline. Knowing what you just learned does not change your job description. You are my bodyguard, and you work for me alone. Not the Motery Center, not the Volunteer Guardian Angels, and not the SPD. Think about what I just--”

Spaniards charged through the street next to us and flooded into the alley. Unless they prayed or summoned recently, they’d never be able to see us. The Pneuma Coalition had stopped using summoners for decades now, so I waited patiently while they ran. Soon another group would pursue them, followed by a shootout and then the harvesting business as usual.

All of the men were Nationalist rebels. They were the ones charging into Madrid and gaining ground with every hour that passed. I’d seen that much while The Reaper and I harvested back on the main streets. More and more Nationalists poured into the space and before too long, I couldn’t see the brickwork of the road.

One more man in the uniform of a general rounded the corner, waving two fliers into the cramped alley. 

Avarice and Jack Te-Konos. Avarice had ditched her flouncy lolita dress for an off-white night gown unbuttoned so far you could see her cleave from England. Jack shed his torn blazer and flew next to her in just his ruffed shirt and slashed dress pants. A red aura around his left fist died out almost before I noticed it. He dove for the nearest soldier’s rifle and snatched it at the same moment I readied the Blood Magic.

Jack twisted the rifle to hide the crimson words etched on the stock and Avarice bellowed at the general. “Fire skyward, now.”

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Case 10 - Ep. 1: The Reaper's Regression

Sincerity And Sass by Beki Yopek
Every window of The Reaper’s office was shattered.

I flapped closer to the Motery Center in downtown Fountainia and darted looks at every inch of the urban sprawl. No fleeing demons or fallen angels were flying over the neon signage on the hell side of town. A lone angel pumped her wings and arced toward me from the fancy architecture that made up the heaven side of the city. Chills pricked my skin under the blazer and blouse like mosquito icicles.

Hildariel had let her guard down for one minute and someone had murdered The Reaper.

I alighted on The Reaper’s half-wrecked office balcony and sucked in a lungful of brick dust by accident. Spluttering, I readied the Blood Magic folio and the haloxite lancet pen I carried everywhere I went. No magic of mine could fix the jagged holes in the brick facade or the windows and the office door that had been sliced to pieces. I would definitely end whatever Coalition member had found out we were writing these Case Notes. 

A haloxite crescent whipped through the air inside the decimated office, its sharp glow flashing from golden to red-black and back. “Reap?” I shouted. “Who’s in there?”

Granite-grinding snarls burst amid the crashing of wreckage. “It should be working by now. I have wielded Seversoul for as long as I can remember. Was it the Convictionists? The Coalition? The Graziers before them?”

Relief soaked into all my muscled and I relaxed. The Reaper wasn’t dead. Just pissed off. 

He proceeded to swing his scythe around and around in the tiny office space. A file cabinet tumbled out onto the balcony, shorn in two. No papers fluttered out of it and I thanked the little luck I had that he hadn’t destroyed our ten days’ work in one freak-out. So far.

The angel I’d seen earlier touched down next to me and I jumped a foot in the air. Nia wasn’t in her usual bar tending getup. Her icy-blue blouse was unbuttoned at the top, showing a leather mote necklace with a white mote glowing full-force against her collarbone. Stone dust started to cake onto her blue suit coat and tailored pants, and her halo’s golden glow made it look like dandruff. I doubted her two-inch Aurora heels concealed weapons the way my shoes did, but Nia wasn’t in the business of asskickery.

Holding out a handful of vials to me, she kept her wide eyes on The Reaper. “Is he going to be okay?”

The Reaper practiced his golf swing on a desk chair.

“Dunno,” I replied, cradling my Blood Magic stuff in one wing. “He’s been losing his temper a lot since we started writing.”

An arm and a leg soared past us and plunged thirteen stories to the busy street.

“The Reaper needs a hug,” Nia said.

I snorted. “Go right ahead.”

My best friend shook her head. “I mean, I’d offer to hug him, but--”

A second file cabinet whipped past like a semi truck burning nitrous. 

“--I didn’t plan facial reconstructive surgery today. Did you bring the ingredients?”

I drew out a sealed bag of powdered brimstone and several more containing sulfur and an invisible ingredient, among others.

Nia puffed out a breath. “Thank G-O-double-D.”

A laugh burst from me and I pocketed the bags and vials. “If you weren’t around, Nia, I wouldn’t laugh as much.”

“I’m all kinds of fun. Now, go help him out before he levels the whole thirteenth floor.”

I switched the Blood Magic folio from wing to hand, readied the lancet pen again, and stepped into the space where the door frame used to be. “Hey Reap, it’s me. Could you please chill out? I brought the ingredients we talked about.”

Dust and debris peppered the floor and half the file cabinets were upended against the right wall. He hadn’t slashed out the lights overhead, and I kind of wished he had. It’d feel less like a creepy mausoleum that way. The Reaper panted amid the rubble, his hood half off, hanging from one ebony horn. 

He stepped toward me and Nia, breathing desert wind and gripping his scythe. “We are not finding what we need, Avaline. Sifting through my memories was supposed to make the answers clear.”

I reached into my blazer and produced the bag of powdered brimstone and a vial. “We need to keep you protected. Hildariel’s training will go more smoothly once you’re invisible to all eyes and not just human eyes.”

The Reaper’s breathing slowed and he dropped his scythe. “You and Niariel are the genuine item. Helpful and straightforward.”

“That’s because we give a shit.”

“Give a crap,” Nia corrected from the balcony. 

I threw an over-the-shoulder eyebrow raise at her. “How are you not a fallen angel yet?”

“That’s not a swear word,” she said, her grin oozing with lascivious. 

“Did G-O-double-D confirm that?”

The Reaper cackled and brushed half a desk chair aside with his black bony foot. “I suppose I should be more patient. The memories will come back on their own. We just need to persist.”

“That does seem to be the way it goes. Keep plugging away.”

Nia walked in and waved her wing at The Reaper. “Get in here you old fart.”

Reap tilted his skull as he stepped up to her. “Avaline is fortunate to know you.”

I almost laughed again when Nia hugged him, wings, arms, and all. She was at least a foot shorter than he was. Nia turned around a second later and said, “That’s another story for the bar. Now I can say I glomped The Reaper.”

I’d known for centuries that my best friend could manage a bar in Hell and not fall. That right there was another shining example of why she could be who she was. 

I raised a wing and saluted Nia. “See you at the Lounge sometime.”

“Bring your angel with benefits sometime.” With that, she crossed to the balcony and took off toward the Heaven side of town. 

The Reaper took up his scythe, picked up his hood, and said, “Discussing World War II isn’t working. We must go back a ways.” He looked around at the rubble and added, “And is there anyone on our staff who can fix this?”

I nodded and dug pen and paper from the pile. “Same angel as before. I’ll let her know.”

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...