Saturday, September 30, 2017

Case 12 - Ep. 3: The Reaper's Tuxedo

Reaping With Class by Beki Yopek
I rigged the Blood Magic before I’d even finished taunting the bitch that stole from me and The Reaper. Pumping both wings, I leapt at Avarice with the haloxite knife in my right hand, ready to dig up whatever she had in place of a heart. Orange blood still dripped from the knife tip where I’d pricked my finger to fuel the Demon-Angel aviators, which fell to the ground when I attacked. I daubed blood from my finger on the knife’s handle and the unguided Blood Magic launched the knife forward even faster than I was flying.

Avarice’s eyes shot open and she flipped her wing sideways to parry the strike. I could see she’d be too late to block the knife that was three feet ahead of me. Martial arts are noble until you need to trick your opponent in order to survive. I’d end her at last and then take out her paunchy partner in the white hat next. He hadn’t moved since handing her that beer--

Hat-head pitched a hip flask from behind Avarice and it smashed into the haloxite knife. Golden powder burst from the flask and I flew right into the haze. Powdered haloxite got into my eyes, mouth, and nose and I sputtered. Brimstone penetrated the defenses of an angel’s halo, and haloxite wrecked demons despite our horns’ protection. Avarice’s block snapped my arm to the side and I flopped right past the pair into a row of spectators watching the Friday Night boxing match.

It was a good thing Yankee Stadium was already getting rowdy with the Louis-Schmeling fight ramping up to a finish. The men and women I collided with tumbled to the cement at the edge of the boxing ring. Multiple shouts erupted and more New Yorkers jumped into the fray, some helping people up, some throwing punches. I kipped up to my feet and sneezed, then queued in on The Reaper’s rasping snarl.

He’d stayed back and clashed with Avarice while the humans caused more chaos, and now he had the Septuplet in a vicegrip between him and the haft of his scythe. Flying without wings, The Reaper soared straight skyward and out of the stadium with one of The Pneuma Coalition’s highest-ranked Septuplets ready to be delivered to the SPD. Or destroyed. Since no souls were in the area, we weren’t bound by Heaven Law to give a crap about these parasites of society.

My grudge against The Coalition boiled in my veins and I flapped up after them. Two more flasks arced past me and I scoffed, craning around to blow a raspberry at hat-head. He shed his fedora and blazer, revealing a mullet, a beer gut and a pit-stained button-up. The horns and the beer gut had already given Voracity away. He was here with Avarice to. . .what, watch a boxing match?

I looped over the rim of the stadium and chased after Reap and his writhing captive. They were already far below, duking it out in the parking lot. Seraphs dotted the skies above us, and a few swooped closer, but stayed away or eased back toward the streets where souls were more likely to be meandering. I descended on Reap as he hurled Avarice down the middle of an aisle of parked cars. She tumbled and skidded, then smacked into an overly polished bumper and lay among the bulky classic vehicles like a crumpled hotdog wrapper.

I touched down next to The Reaper and reached for my Blood Magic folio again. It was out of my blazer pocket when Voracity landed in front of Avarice with a greasy grin on his mug. His overconfident celebrity voice rang out among the cars. “Do you see me futzing around? Get over here and do your job.”

Apathy, the bald careless Septuplet, walked out from between two cars that had their AM radios blaring. The people inside were either rowdy because of the match they were listening to, or the horizontal mambo was in full swing. Apathy waved Voracity’s comment off with a thin hand and adjusted his battered smoking jacket. “I provided you and Avarice with thousands of humans. What more do you want?”

Voracity flicked a wing behind him. Avarice took it by the claw and sprang to her feet, tucking her cleave back into her dirty cream-colored dress. She conjured two fishing nets, one in each hand, and snapped at Apathy. “Soliduction is how I fight for The Coalition. I don’t see you acting when action is needed. Get out there and pull your weight.”

“Bahahaha,” I shrieked, pointing at Apathy with my folio. “She’s lecturing you on responsibility.”

The Reaper leaned in close to me while he tugged at his tux. “Avarice is The Coalition’s leader. She must be.”

I nodded and grinned at how well that fit into what I knew of their organization. Avarice could Soliduct any solid object she wanted into existence as long as it wasn’t brimstone, haloxite, magic, or alive. That included gold to use on Earth to buy whatever The Coalition needed. Once they walked away with thousands of weapons, another Soliduction would vanish the gold and create plethoras of something else like ammunition or food. What could Voracity and Apathy do with their white collar powers? Trick people and bore them to death?

Apathy crossed to the middle of the aisle next to Avarice and sneered. “Don’t mistake the ability to rout an enemy once with true victory. Physical combat with The Reaper is stultifying. The AM radio got the broadcast of this fight out so the world could hear it. It did wonders for Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees, and could be made to help The Coalition. So could the cameras the spectators used to photograph the match.”

Yep, Apathy was one of only fourteen beings in the Three Domains with powers, and his had to be the ability to say pointless, obvious crap.

I flipped to the ‘strength’ section of the folio and whipped out a political cartoon of a fifty foot over-muscled ape. “Reap, let’s finish the niff-naff here and unload at the Fountains.”

He rolled his humerus. “I am in a tuxedo, Avaline. We had our chance to destroy Avarice and my choice of garment ruined it. You didn’t see my two clashes with her, but she conjured objects to shield herself from Seversoul’s blows.”

I was about to crank out Blood Magic and suggest Reap use that scythe again when a pair of souls ambled into the lot from the direction of the stadium. Five or six more souls dotted the surging crowd that poured out of every entrance. Most of the humans hurried to their cars, while the rest brawled and attracted event security and police. Three Seraphs swooped from above to watch the fracas now that souls were in the area.

Apathy’s lips twisted. “Consequences, Ms. Vasaga. Your actions within the stadium brought the SPD at a time when you could have finished The Coalition. Let’s go, Voracity.”

With that, the trio unfurled their wings and flapped skyward around the Seraphs and disappeared in the direction of one of the New York hell divides that connected Domains.

The Reaper jabbed the haft of his scythe down and leaned on it as humans filled the lot. “We must wait until these disperse before we can harvest the new souls. Apathy’s talk of radios and cameras fits the current trend we’ve seen with humanity recently.”

I heard more in what he didn’t say than what he did. We wouldn’t kill living humans to get at the souls and their life force. Avarice knew that, and antagonized me into making a mistake that let The Coalition get away with their stolen souls and their lives.

Heaven Law created a balance. 

Fountainians like me and The Reaper worked to build a system that could support all demons and angels, though not in the way they might want or in the way that most helps them.

Avarice and The Coalition used everything from their members’ choices to their very lives as stepping stones so a select few could thrive, while the rest got less than nothing.

They’d be sure to use these things humanity invented against us. All Hell’s magic and all Heaven’s spells would be tested in the coming decades. We could adapt, or The Coalition could exploit weaknesses they found to destroy The Soul Fountains. 

This night didn’t mesh with their usual schtick. 

Why didn’t it?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Case 12 - Ep. 2: The Reaper's Tuxedo

Reaping With Class by Beki Yopek
Friday night at Yankee Stadium usually meant there was enough alcohol going around to drown a small town.

On Friday, June 22nd, 1938, there was at least twice that.

The Reaper grinned at me from beneath the fedora on his black skull. “Prohibition is fresh in the minds of the humans within this stadium, Avaline. In their minds, they deserve an evening like this after being oppressed by the law for longer than they care to remember.”

I patted the Blood Magic folio and haloxite knife in my blazer pockets, then drew a pair of aviators out. “Reap, they won’t even remember this fight night. We just got done harvesting. Why are we hiding in the back rows?”

He pointed to the center of the blazing lights where two men duked it out with gloved fists in a boxing ring. “Even drunk summoners can see us in our usual garb.”

Reap wasn’t wrong. Demon thieves may have followed us from Manhattan. Chances were good that in a city the size of New York, The Coalition would have a few summoners or prayers among the 70,000 strong crowd. Cheers and jeers pierced the eardrums and might have damaged a cochlea if I hadn’t had brimstone horns same as The Reaper did.

I looked him down and up, taking in the solid black tuxedo and fedora he’d swapped out his robes for. “No, I’m saying we don’t have to hide. We already ditched Jack Te-Konos, and I’ll use a little Blood Magic to check for any creeps tailing us. I think we’ve got a little in common with the humans tonight.”

Drawing out my folio, I flipped to the ‘sight’ section and withdrew two magazine pictures. One was a painting of an angel from some bigwig church, and the other was a ridiculous sketch of a demon out of a political cartoon. I took the haloxite knife, slid the point into my finger, and daubed the orange blood that welled up onto both pictures. Then I rolled them up and made sure the blood, picture, and the aviators’ frames were all in contact with each other.

Noise erupted from the well-dressed crowd around the boxing ring and I cranked out the Blood Magic while I waited for it to die down. With the shades on, I glanced skyward and saw half a dozen Seraphs on flight patrol. The left lens highlighted them in sharp violet light. When I peered down, I raised my own right arm and saw it outlined in green through the right lens. A smile quirked the corners of my mouth. The new Demon-Angel aviators worked.

I was about to tell Reap we were safe to watch from the front row when a second shimmering green outline appeared in the D. & A. aviators. A woman in a low-cut, cream colored dress raised her wings and screamed along with the crowd. 

“Dammit,” I cursed, nudging The Reaper with an elbow. “See that woman with the carmel hair?”

He shook his skull.

“Avarice,” I spat. “Figures she’d be here. Humans spend a lot of money on fight nights.” I looked up at the Seraphs again, then back down at Avarice as she applauded one of the boxers falling down. “Are there any souls anywhere?”

The Reaper straightened his tux. “None whatsoever.”

I leapt from the back row bleachers and flapped hard for the front row where Avarice was accepting a beer cup from a portly man in a crisp white suit and hat. Two announcers behind a table nearby shouted into mics about Schmeling landing a punch on Louis. Sweat stink and cigar smoke clogged the air and I squinted at Avarice and Beer Cup Man, who was clearly Voracity with that mullet hanging down the back of his suit. Their light clothes and green outlines fit snugly among the men who must have been summoners in the crowd around them.

Humans might not be able to see or hear us unless they’d summoned or prayed recently, but I wasn’t risking this chance. Not with the plan I had fully formed in my mind. If thousands of humans saw a whole lot of invisible nothings thrashing around between them and the boxers, it would have to be because they were too drunk to see the fight right. 

Voracity shimmered in green as I descended on the ring and landed on the edge beside the turnbuckle. I pointed the haloxite knife with my blood on it straight at Avarice’s forehead. “You stole two thousand souls during our harvest earlier tonight.”

Avarice’s expression flashed with annoyance and she jerked her horns skyward. “You still think you can end The Coalition with violence? In front of the SPD? Heaven Law states there can be no blows delivered between Soul Fountain workers and Coalition members during a harvest.”

I bared my teeth and readied enough Blood Magic for Voracity and Avarice. “Do you see any souls in the crowd?”

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Case 12 - Ep. 1: The Reaper's Tuxedo

Reaping With Class by Beki Yopek
“So The Reaper drinks tequila?” Nia asked from behind the bar at The Down South Lounge. She was in her favorite spaghetti strap pink top and yoga pants, a far cry from the blue blazer and slacks she’d worn when I saw her yesterday. Three other bartender demons rushed around the long counter, mixing drinks and pouring drafts for the hundred or so bar-hopping angels and trashed demons Friday nights always brought in. Raucous chatter filled the long room, the air was heavy, and the bouncer Hildariel was letting in rowdier demons than Nia typically allowed.

Reap had to shout over the slurred singing from the digital jukebox at the end of the bar, where a demon in a cheap blue suit and black fedora was arguing with the pair of angels making blatherskites of themselves. “This night does not merit a simple ale.”

I finished my Sin and Tonic and met Nia’s smoky eyes. “He’s still learning modern vernacular. It’s not a beer kind of night.”

Nia tossed a bottle of Lethe Gin to a bartender in a jersey and he swung a bottle of Hallelujah Tequila behind his back at her. She caught it with one hand, pointed a wing at her co-worker, and did a little shimmy. Then she faced The Reaper and poured tequila into the highball glass full of ice in front of him. “I hope you’re not neglecting work. You two helped create every mote I make selling drinks tonight.”

I blew a lock of my crimson hair out of my face. “We worked a double tonight and Jack Te-Konos showed up in Nepal and New York.”

Nia garnished Reap’s drink with lime and haloxite powder. “What happened there?”

“Huge earthquake in Nepal killed thousands of humans, and New York is New York.”

She slid The Reaper’s drink to him and he downed half, then crunched on the ice. Nia refreshed my Sin and Tonic. “The Pneuma Coalition needs to stop messing with my girl. Jack didn’t follow you here, did he?”

I shook my head and pulled a pair of aviators out of my inner blazer pocket. Blood still clung to the frames on each side, along with a folded picture of military-quality infrared goggles. “Been using these to watch for tails on the flight over. Infrared aviators. Jack won’t be a problem tonight.”

The blue-clad demon sat on a barstool closer to The Reaper than anyone had dared since we came in after our shift. Nia asked the bartender in the jersey to serve him, and came back to examine the shades. “You’re always pushing your Blood Magic.”

Reap checked that his scythe was safe on the barstool next to him, then rasped, “Doesn’t using that much blood in your magic make you a lightweight?”

I quirked an eyebrow. “How do you even drink? Alcohol and haloxite powder travel through the bloodstream, and you don’t have veins or arteries.”

He tilted his ram’s horns to the side. “I have a mouth, therefore, I can drink.”

I laughed and said, “Well, at least this means we’ll have the time to recruit another bodyguard. Double shifts are shit, but it frees up more time than we usually have.”

Once I ran out of positives, my mind dwelled on the negatives. Someone broke into The Reaper’s office in Fountainia and stole the last Case Note we’d written. Everything I’d hoped no one would ever learn about me was in that Note. Pride. My ideas. My pain. Had Jack or someone else from The Coalition listened in on us yesterday? I couldn’t exactly investigate either since we’d harvested twice in one day.

Demons and angels didn’t need to sleep thanks to their horns and halos, but that only meant there could always be someone hunting you.

I buried the negatives and the pain with a huge swig of Sin and Tonic. Most of it went down the hatch. When Nia pulled a hanger with a solid black tuxedo from around the door of her back room, I sprayed the rest onto the rainbow of bottles behind the bar. “You’re bringing that out tonight?”

Nia beamed mischievously. “You told me he needed a new wardrobe last Saturday.”

A grin snuck across both lips. “Yes. I did.” Spinning on the barstool, I caught Reap dumping the last of his drink into is ah, mandibles. “You want to attract more bodyguard candidates? Put that on.”

The Reaper set his glass down. If he had eyes, I could tell he’d be rolling them. “We have discussed this before, Avaline. Plain brown robes are practical, expendable, and give me a fearsome appearance.”

Nia sashayed around from behind the bar, drawing demons’ and angels’ leers. She flourished the suit at The Reaper. “You. Tux. Now.”

Voices quieted around us and drinkers stopped talking to listen to The Reaper’s response. “The raiment I wear is sufficient, and I choose it--”

“Try it on, or the next one will be hot pink.”

I stifled a burst of laughter and The Reaper stood to his full seven foot height. “Be careful what you desire, Nia. I’ll play along this time, but remember that you pushed for this.”

With that, The Reaper stripped off his robe to stand naked among a hundred gaping drunks. He seized the tuxedo, whipped the pants off the hanger, and slid into them like he’d done it for centuries. Shirt on, vest buttoned, belt and bow tie secured in a New Purgatory minute. Reap slipped the jacket on and hefted his scythe, then faced Nia with his shadow-black skull tilted down. “It isn’t my color. Too light.”

Shock and absurdity blended like a bad drink recipe in my chest. Nia’s mouth hung wide and her eyes darted among the patrons and bartenders. A good dozen demons had fled the bar while The Reaper dressed, no doubt expecting an angry outburst that would end with them dead and their life force as food for other demons. When nobody spoke, Reap cackled and gestured to himself. “Perhaps there is no one in Hell capable of guarding all this.”

Laughter burst from me and the angels at the pool tables behind The Reaper. Nia’s mouth opened and closed, failing to find any words. I drank some Sin and Tonic to give myself a second, then said, “All he needs now is one glove and a fedora.”

Nia’s flabbergasted face turned into a guilty smile and she pointed behind The Reaper. “Hey Shawn, can we borrow that?”

The demon in the cheap blue suit doffed his chapeau and tossed it like a frisbee to The Reaper. He ringed it on a finger, then placed it between his horns. “What do you think?”

Shawn stammered. “The light color pairs so well with your dark erm, complexion. You’d kill at the clubs downtown.”

Reap’s growl was a dragon’s. “Thank you. Now I have work to do. Speak with Nia later to get your hat back.”

“Y-yessir,” he said, backing away from his barstool and fleeing toward the classic arcade games at the back of the Lounge.

When The Reaper sat back down and twiddled his glass, the crowd dissolved and went about their drinking. The angels kept shooting pool, the bartenders poured more drinks, and Nia ambled back to her spot behind the bar. She shook her head and nodded her halo at Reap. “Ava, warn me next time I’m about to push The Reaper too far.”

“Hey,” I said from behind my glass. “You hugged him yesterday. I thought you two were close enough to know that.”

“You’re a s--you’re so bad.”

“That’s why you love me. And did you almost--”

“Avaline,” The Reaper hissed. “Tuxedos are dangerous. I cannot fight well in one even if it is tailored to my bones. Get out your pen. Do you recall our visit to Yankee Stadium in the late thirties?”

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Case 11 - Ep. 3: Bandwagon Pride

A World For A Secret by Beki Yopek
The shattered wall re-formed around me like a stockade, pinning both hands in front of me and leaving my wings and legs hanging back outside of the synagogue. Pride, in her fully decorated black-and-gold Convictionist uniform, kept touching the wall and cranked her white collar power all the way up. Overhead, the burning synagogue’s walls Re-Glorified and its stained glass windows assembled themselves from the shards on the sidewalk. Outside those windows, The Night Of Broken Glass raged on, and The Reaper harvested dozens of souls on the surrounding Munich street.

I could have screeched and brought my boss down my ex-instructor, but maybe too much of her nature had rubbed off on me.

While ceiling beams and capstones slid into place, Pride drew a haloxite flensing knife from within her uniform. She said, “You left me and latched onto the first organization that would support you.”

Pride drew closer and I pumped my wings hard, but I couldn’t move or reach the stained glass window six feet above where I was trapped. I sucked in a lungful of brick dust and smoldering wood. “I’d say you’re obsessed with the old Convictionists. Hell has moved on since then. Get with the times.”

Pride pressed the tip of the flensing knife on my scalp between the horns, but didn’t break the skin. “Humans used to summon us. Earth was a whole Domain where people devoted ceremonies and resources to attracting our attention. To feeding us the life force of their enemies. They were just like demons that way. Ever seeking the upper hand.”

“So you joined The Coalition,” I spat, trying to ignore the death that hovered two inches above my brain. “A build-it-yourself parasite system. Throw everything the Fountainians built straight to the Ninth Circle and sacrifice their cause for yours.”

Pride leaned forward at the waist like a sparring champion taking a bow. “I fight for something that will last longer than you and your Reaper’s Soul Fountains. Your way is a fad. A little for everyone. Who can be proud of a molehill? Demons want more.”

“There was nothing to stop us going extinct when the Industrial Revolution came,” I said, flapping my wings as much as I could with them half-encased in brick. “Factory production saved humanity and wrecked us. All the opportunities to get summoned and make a living vanished.”

Pride leapt up, pumped her wings once, and shattered the stained glass window overhead with both wings. She back-flapped out of the way so none of the sharp pieces would slice her immaculate uniform. Glass shards showered down on me, gouging holes into my blazer and blouse. The right sleeve tore loose and hung off me like a beggar’s rag. I kept pumping both wings even though I knew I couldn’t gain any momentum to power through the wall I was stuck in.

“The Coalition will have more,” Pride shrieked. “Your pitiful Soul Fountains will end because they don’t do enough for the beings that support them. Demons will not live on scraps. Angels will always demand more than they’ve earned. Why do you think they fall so often?”

The Hades watch on my left wrist flickered with the firelight outside. If I didn’t get free soon, my former instructor would kill me. Or The Reaper would find out about my history with his enemies. I tasted rage as I snarled, “Everything you ‘build’ is just going to get wrecked again. It doesn’t matter what you fight for, because you’re too conceited to maintain it.”

Pride bared her teeth and brandished the haloxite knife. “What’s more fragile? Pride, or prudence? I could slice your horns off inch by inch. That would guarantee a long lasting lesson.”

I cackled like The Reaper did when he was amused. “You just tack onto others’ accomplishments and call them your own. You’re such a bandwagon bitch you don’t even build anything yourself.”

She did exactly what I wanted and sank the blade into the back of my hairline until it touched bone. Pain bit through my head and I wailed, biting my tongue because I knew I couldn’t bite through it. My horns protected me from a lot of things, but haloxite was the only thing that could hurt or harm me. I clung to the idea that it was also the only thing that could save me and kept screaming.

Pride lapped it up. “Avaline, you were a great student who made a ridiculous choice. This is where it got you. Your adherence to prudence makes you more logical, and more predictable. I never could train that out of you. It is why your previous master fired you, and it is why I found you starving for life force. You should never have shared your life force network idea with us. If you had the proper amount of pride, you would have nurtured it yourself and flourished because of it.”

If The Reaper had come around the synagogue and heard any of that, he’d fire me on the spot too. It was time to cover up this history before he found out how much fuel I’d given The Coalition when I was younger. 

When I wrenched my right arm up to my scalp, Pride laughed, clearly assuming I was flapping my wings harder.

Blood dripped onto the paving stones and I smeared my right palm and forearm with it. Then I screeched and unguided Blood Magic surged out of me.

The paving stone whipped upward and knocked Pride’s knife hand up and behind her. I knew she’d keep her grip-she was a trained martial artist-so I wrenched my body around and smeared blood from my forearm in an almost complete circle on the wall. Another blast of unguided Blood Magic shattered the wall in a ring around me and I pumped both wings at the same moment. Pride brought the haloxite knife around and sank it into the meat of my right shoulder. Agony seared me deep, but my momentum was too much for Pride and the full weight of Ava plus brick wall equalled one wrecked Pride.

Bleeding from the head and upper arm, I reeled and clove to the one thread of focus I had among the pain and chaos. My ex-instructor tried Re-Glorifying the wall again to pull me and it off of her. I panted and lashed out with a third pulse of Blood Magic. The ring of brick barreled forward and pancaked her like an anvil from an old cartoon. I flew straight out of the hole I’d just made in the synagogue wall. Seraphs were nearby in the skies above, and they’d stop any more violence between us and The Coalition. 

It was about time Heaven Law worked in my favor.

Pride didn’t give chase, but The Reaper found me a couple hundred feet above the city of Munich. He hadn’t learned to speak bullshit-ese back in 1938, so I chucked him some deuces and he believed it. Blood on my head? I’d head-butted a demon thief and used Blood Magic to knock him into the next Domain. Blazer ripped to shreds? That’s what happens when you barrel roll through a stained glass window for fun. I still had a long shift ahead, and those souls wouldn’t harvest themselves.

Now all I had to do was keep pretending I hadn’t fucked things up so bad.

Don’t tell anyone else.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Case 11 - Ep. 2: Bandwagon Pride

A World For A Secret by Beki Yopek
Taboos were as common in Hell as snowballs. Demons did things according to the sins that fueled them. My home city of New Purgatory was full of skyscraper night clubs and ultra-modern condo towers because the only thing the demons there cared about was partying. I’d lived there since the Industrial Revolution because the landlords maintained the condos while the demon tenants did whatever they wanted, no holds barred. Demon society overlooked me, and that’s how I liked it.

I wanted to be too busy kicking ass and harvesting souls to think about the Industrial Revolution.

They could pretend The Industrial Revolution wasn’t taboo if they were preoccupied with finding, feeling, fucking, and forgetting each other. When their appetites mattered more than the pain they buried, they could continue with life and feel rewarded for achieving goal after goal, all the while pretending that their buried pain wasn’t festering. 

Addressing the pain was the taboo. Covering it up was the norm.

Damn. I’m doing the same thing right now. Ranting instead of writing.

Reap, we’ve worked together for a hundred and thirty five years. This Case Note is one of those things I’ve only told Nia. 

The Industrial Revolution started with one idea, that sparked one factory, that led to all of humanity relying on mass production. They didn’t need to summon demons or pray to angels if they could shoot someone themselves or heal a loved one with quick doses of medicine. That left 98% of demon kind starving for life force. We used to get life force by devouring it off of humans’ souls like corn from a cob. After their souls left the bodies we’d been summoned to murder, it was dinner time. We were all used to being Convictionists, spending our free time promoting demon summoning on Earth so we could get our daily life force. 

November 9th and 10th, 1938. The Night of Broken Glass. That night started with a single event too. One Polish-Jewish student shot one German diplomat and chaos erupted like a grease fire. Humans had gotten used to blindly following their leaders, just like we’d gotten used to thinking the Convictionists in power knew how to bring our old lifestyle back by repeating the same thing over and over.

The Reaper and I descended upon Munich that night armed to the horns. It had been several years since The Coalition struck at us, so I expected a fight and had brought the Blood Magic folio and haloxite knife to defend The Reaper. That and I’d had the chemical-toed boots prepared as a surprise for Jack Te-Konos or whatever Septuplet awaited us.  

A “demonstration” was in full swing when I touched down in front of a wrecked store front with The Reaper close behind me. The souls that shone among the rioting Nazis were mostly stale; their life force was about to vanish since we hadn’t harvested here in a while. Looking skyward, I spotted dozens of Seraphs flapping in a circuitous pattern above the city. No demon thieves swooped down upon the exposed souls. I puffed out a breath and said, “Slow days are the best.”

The Reaper tilted his horns, glancing around us. “There is anarchy in the streets.”

I shrugged. “Slow for us.”

The Reaper picked his way through the hundreds of Nazis and Jewish business owners lashing out at each other. He held his scythe high over their heads so as not to remove the soul from a living person. I watched as men and women destroyed windows, stole merchandise, and made a general mess of the business district. Sweat and burning wood and paint wafted through the area, and I could taste the despair on the breeze the same way I did during my Convictionist days when I’d been summoned by a murderous human.

Harvesting was slow work with all the live bodies thrashing and sprinting around. I kept The Reaper between me and each cluster of souls while we traversed road after road. He drew handfuls of the dead into his scythe with downward jabs, sweeping Seversoul down, around, and up again. Two images flashed in my mind and I blurted, “This reminds me of Chicago in the late 1800s. Remember the Haymarket Square riot?”

Reap cackled. “I thought you’d be comparing me to a rice farmer wading about in his paddy.”

“I was thinking more a wheat farmer, but that works too. Since when did the Collector Of Souls get such a random imagination?”

He turned his skull at me the way a stern teacher or librarian would. “Let us focus on the harvest. We cannot fly and harvest by the hundreds this time. There are too many living humans in the area for that.”

“Okay, I’ll fly above you and call out the next cluster of souls.”

With that I leapt skyward and flapped fifteen feet above The Reaper so he didn’t nick me with that brimstone-and-haloxite scythe. Bunches of souls glimmered in the darkness here and there like ripe grapes on the vine. One bunch on a street corner with Nazis waving torches. Two clusters on a rooftop, however they’d gotten there. Four groups in a line going into a boutique that was half-burning and spilling light everywhere.

I led him to each soul bunch and we harvested them, making our way to the boutique. I pointed out a demolished synagogue with almost a hundred souls about two blocks away from the fracas. Nazi men and women both in uniform and in street clothes poured out of the synagogue with molotov cocktails, clubs, and guns in their hands. Stained glass peppered the pavement beneath each window, where souls wandered in circles around the outside and inside.

“We’d better hurry and harvest that group there,” I called to The Reaper. “Fire can’t hurt us, but I am not buying a new wardrobe.”

Reap looked where I was pointing, then took to the air without the need for wings. “I thought you would relish another trip to Inner Pleonia.”

“I actively avoid the Fourth Circle. Don’t care how fancy the shops are.”

“Avarice employs the best tailors and clothiers."

"Sure," I snarked. "It would look great if we lined the enemy's pockets."

"All her legitimate businesses are there.”

“So maybe you should go there and get some new duds.”

“These robes have served me well as long as I can remember. They will do.”

We flew over the rioters and entered the synagogue’s front door, which was splintered in pieces and piled against the wall on the left where a fire was already crackling. I flapped away from it and landed among the pews in the center. If the fire those rioters had started engulfed me, I’d lose my Folio and the chemical-toed boots I hadn’t gotten to use yet.

While The Reaper swept his scythe through soul after soul, I gazed at the ceiling that hid us from the Seraphs, the overturned pews where hungry fires burned, and the bodies in the far corner. Then I froze when I saw the uniform on the woman standing over the still-living humans.

Pride sank a triangular trench knife into a victim who screamed and collapsed, twitching as the blood ran freely out of the wound. Moments later, the Jewish woman expired and her soul stood up from her corpse, life force radiating from her toes to her tormented face. Pride straightened her spine and raised her chin high. My former martial arts instructor examined every inch of her black-and-gold Convictionist uniform to make sure no blood had spattered onto it. Then she reached out a hand and drank the life force from the fresh soul.

This had been the first time I’d seen Pride in decades, and at the time, I sure as hell didn’t want The Reaper to know anything about her or us. Let him be distracted by the hundred or so souls he was harvesting in the area. While my boss circled the synagogue outside, I blitzed at Pride and drew the haloxite knife from inside my blazer. Fury and pain fueled every wingflap. Red slivers swirled behind both eyes.

I wanted to cover up that pain by killing its source.

Pride pivoted on her back foot at the same moment I swung the knife blade at her neck. She seized my arm with one of hers, whipped me over her head, and hammered me down onto the shattered brick of a destroyed windowsill.

Pride touched the remaining brickwork with her other hand and cut loose with her white collar power. Re-Glorify. The recently wrecked brick re-formed around my hand and head, trapping the rest of me in plain view of the Seraphs overhead on the outside of the synagogue.

That left me trapped with the Septuplet I’d hoped never to see again. 

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...