Saturday, October 28, 2017

Case 14 - Ep. 1: Engineered Starvation

How F'd Are We? by Beki Yopek
The Reaper whispered like a gossipy schoolgirl from his carved office chair in the Motery Center. "The Korean War was when we learned the worst about The Pneuma Coalition. They kept soul farms hidden below the Earth in caverns.”

“In that tone of voice," I murmured back, "I thought you'd be telling me who's having a workplace affair."

Neither of us was even thinking of the Sunday harvest we’d just finished. I managed to forget the sweaty blazer and blouse clinging to me only because I smelled like I'd spent eight hours fighting demon thieves. The Soul Fountains were flowing like usual thirteen stories below us. Reap’s office was silent except for his phalanges drumming on his glass desktop. Firelight LEDs danced and shimmered overhead, lighting the brick room lined with file cabinets. Contressa could come in early for her bodyguard shift and I wouldn’t notice even if she screamed like a banshee. 

Cackling, Reap went on. "We do not know if Avarice or Apathy is leading The Coalition. You live in New Purgatory, so you must fly past Apathy's keep on your way to work."

I nodded and fanned myself with my shirt. "It’s so like Apathy to set things up so he doesn’t have to do any work. Not that the SPD could act if we brought them these Case Notes for evidence. Ending a soul ring like The Coalition’s would take decades and thousands of angels ditching their duties to root them out.”

The Reaper steepled his phalanges. "How well equipped are Apathy and Avarice?"

I brushed back my scarlet hair. “Avarice owns Hell's version of Hollywood, and Apathy's slaves would do anything for him. The guy’s got a moat around his castle filled with motes. Full ones. And he’s got thousands of living humans stashed in caves in case of emergency. He's probably got even more souls than that.”

“The word The Coalition seems focused on is, ‘emergency,’ “ Reap rasped. “If humanity drives itself into the ground, Apathy will have what everyone needs. If The Coalition engineers an Earthly emergency, Apathy will have what everyone needs.”

Overwork and hunger clawed at my mind and stomach. The salt taste of Terrence’s warm skin under my tongue was not the distraction I needed right now. This morning with my angel with benefits had been the most explosive sex yet and--no, focus. Focus.

No one from The Coalition had bitten on our bait. We’d made ourselves look weak and open for a sneak attack, yet no one had struck. Not Avarice. Not Pride. Not Voracity. Apathy wouldn’t come himself, the lazy-horns. But someone had broken in a few days ago and stolen one of our Case Notes only to put it back again as though nothing was out of place. 

My body ached for more release. The mellow chill of a Moloch and Coke. That buzz combined with my angel with benefits’ tongue--

“No, Ava,” I snapped at myself. “Think. What can we do with what we’ve learned?”

The Reaper tilted his skull at me. “Are you asking me or yourself?”

“Look at Skully the Comedian over here,” I hissed. “What if The Coalition knows we're setting up this trap?

"Because we did not spring it when the initial break-in occurred. We are waiting to hook bigger fish, and that is the deception."

“Avarice and Apathy have got to be the biggest fish. Apathy seemed interested in your scythe too. The future of his plans mattered more to him than a one-object fix. From what we know of him over the decades, he'd be too smart to rely completely that.”

“That is bizarre. We’ve repelled hundreds of demons intent on obtaining Seversoul. It would benefit The Coalition to try and steal it, but they have never made the attempt.”

"And why is that?"

"Because I am too--what is the phrase? Badass?"

We had a good chuckle at that. I didn’t want to think of the power The Coalition would have if they stole that scythe either. Reap lived in the Sixth Circle where there was nothing but roiling charcoal clouds, graveyards, and The Vault Cabins. He was so secluded that only myself, Contressa, and Prudence even knew where he lived. Good thing too. A being like The Reaper who could fly without wings, carried a scythe that absorbed souls, and had bones blacker than a tuxedo would attract tons of needy demons wanting favors.

Raising a finger, I poked the air with each thought. “Apathy commented on your memory during the Korean War.”

“That matters not.”

“Terrence can’t do crap to get the SPD on our side without dozens of eyewitnesses.”

“That’s your man-toy’s name?”

“Prudence developed that GlassEye spell or whatever you called it to stop cameras from seeing us.”

“That was before her fall, and is not even relevant here. The Coalition will set off our trap today, and I have brimvisibility ready when they do.”

I stabbed that finger down on the glass and cracked it with a nail. “Maybe we should take Prudence’s fall more seriously. Why did Prudy fall recently? Why didn’t she fall when she designed a spell that blocks all cameras on Earth from seeing demons or angels? Anything that benefits The Coalition is enough to get most angels to fall, and then they join up.”

I let the subtext hang there like B.O. 

“Avaline,” The Reaper rasped. “We bought time with a double shift Friday. Jack Te-Konos and The Coalition interfered in Nepal and New York this week. The headway we have made is already gone. We released Hildariel from duties as my bodyguard, and that means another double shift after today. We have baited the trap as sweetly as we could. If The Coalition will meander into it, today will be the day. You can ponder the fallen virtue later.”

He was already calling Prudy, 'the fallen virtue.' 

Jack’s words from decades ago echoed in my head. We were about to be flying around in a hurricane whether this plan worked or not. I hissed, "The Coalition already engineered one disaster on Earth, and that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. They’re taking advantage of today’s disasters to engineer another one. I know Avarice. I know Pride. If they pull another Missile Crisis off and we can't stop it, Earth won’t be around in 2016 for us to harvest from anymore."

Reap ground his teeth. "Then you should speak with your man-toy soon and get us help from the SPD."

"Good idea, but not enough. We need to do more. If I was going to build a better system for harvesting souls than The Coalition’s, I’d need more time." I flexed both wings to try and vent off some of the frustration seething in me. "What if they don’t bite? What if they let us waste all this time?”

"Focus on tomorrow's disasters tomorrow. The Cuban Missile Crisis is The Coalition's biggest violation of Heaven Law. We were there in anticipation of a soul harvest so massive we called in the Volunteer Guardian Angels and the Make A Sin Foundation. Write this down, quickly and have faith in my plans. We may need to spring the trap and fight for our lives at any time.”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Case 13 - Ep. 3: Brimvisibility

Soul Fountains Schemes by Beki Yopek
It might be ridiculous to say I was flying away from a weaponized door, but when your attacker was a fallen angel who’d carved spells into the wood, that door became a demon trap. I pumped both wings and looped behind the door, then slapped one bleeding hand to the carved-out word on the back and flared some unguided Blood Magic. It splintered and tumbled to the ground where The Reaper was slashing away at tin roof slabs pelting him from the rapidly disappearing shed. Souls still swirled around the tools and equipment mounded up in the rice paddy’s lone shed where a well-sized hole in the ground emanated crimson light.

Every reason for Jack and The Coalition to hole up here in Korea on the 38th parallel hit me. They were building underground soul caches against both Heaven Law and The Soul Fountains.

Then Jack Te-Konos spear-tackled me in the chest halo-first.

Hot bruises welled up under the skin and I cried out, reeling at the dense pain radiating through my right breast. The agony sank deep under the ribs and wouldn’t let up. Flapping at random to escape made it worse and a scream tore out from my windpipe as soon as I could catch a breath. We plummeted to the dirt and rolled among American and Korean corpses, dust and rank fluids caking to our clothes and wings.

Gasping, I shoved myself up with both bloody palms only to have a blazer that was half-slashed to ribbons shove itself over both shoulders. The sleeves scissored my weight from under me and I face-planted in the muck, the pain re-doubling. He’d turned his freaking blazer into a trap with the same magic he’d used on the shack. Both slashed sleeves slid over my own blazer and the whole garment shoved downward, pinning me from neck to hips. 

I flapped and snarled, then craned around to find Jack standing over me with the haloxite knife I’d been carrying pointed straight at me in his left hand. I surged the Blood Magic and the unguided spell ripped the arm from Jack’s ruffed shirt. He’d cleaned my blood off the knife with his sleeve while I’d been cringing in pain. It was a sign of how much he’d blindsided me. I’d forgotten fallen angels couldn’t be hurt with haloxite. 

It took the brimstone of a demon’s horns to do that.

Wriggling both wrists underneath me, I spat, “You’re making underground soul stashes you fangel bastard.”

“Ava,” Jack scolded, walking around in front of me. “I thought you had more class than to use that word.” He took out a comb with his right hand and ran it through his ink black hair. “Fallen angels are rebellious leaders. We’re more worthy of the term ‘angel’ than the actual angels are.”

“You think you’re the one in control,” I grunted, still squirming. “You’ve just handed your leash to someone else besides The Big Man Upstairs.”

“I’ve heard He doesn’t like being equated with men. You know, I’m the only one of us who’s actually seen Heaven, so I ought to know. My proud support of The Coalition goes back decades, remember?”

“Brainless dogs like you will lick any master’s shoes.”

He dangled the haloxite knife over my head. “You’re just mad because if humanity keeps going the way it’s going, you’ll starve just like you almost did during The Industrial Revolution.”

Jack had been there when Avarice taunted me about nearly starving from life force deprivation. That was during World War II. I’d underestimated Jack before and paid for it. He’d read the subtext of my back-and-forth with Avarice back then. He was shrewd enough to combine that with my actions these past decades to make a snap judgment about me. Keyword: snap.

It wasn’t hard to writhe like I was in pain. Disguising where I put my hands was harder since Jack’s blazer was fueled by the same spell the door and tin slabs had been. A thought hit me and I strained to laugh. “So Avarice told you to get functional clothing and this is how you took it?”

He pointed the comb at me and kept twiddling the knife over my head. “That blazer that’s kicking your ass has more tears in it than last time. Those are my--”

“Yeah yeah, they’re from all the times someone tried to kill you and failed.”

Jack’s face curled in a smug grin. “You remembered. I’m honored. And look, your bonehead manager’s on his way.”

The Reaper floated in front of me at the top of my vision, sandwiched between several tin roofing slabs. Only his robes and the shadows undulating off his bones stuck out of the cracks. His scythe appeared in my vision next, followed by Apathy, the other being who’d been flying behind Jack on the soul-covered rice paddy. Apathy’s bald, rail-thin form walked a lap around me, his battered slacks and smoking jacket soaking up mud and blood from the human bodies that festered around us.

“This reminds me of Hell,” Apathy commented. He dragged Reap’s scythe so the blade carved a circle into the dirt around me. “Fifth Circle. The war Circle. Rage used to decorate his property with cadavers imported from Earthen war zones.”

“Yessss,” Reap said, cackling. “And I am now thankful I destroyed him at The Battle Of Amiens.”

Apathy rested his forehead against the tin holding The Reaper prisoner. “Hmm. Good memory. Yes, most unexpected. I shall speak for Rage when we have you in front of the Seraph Police Department.”

At the time, I hadn’t heard any significance to those words because that cheap shot to the boobs hurt like home. I lifted my head from the dirt and hissed, “So Fickle Jack gets a new master and thinks he can march us right to the Seraphs?”

Jack barked a laugh. “New master? I go where I want and build what I choose.”

Apathy dragged the scythe past my head, then started circling around behind me a second time. “That he does. How dare you see through my plans, Ava.”

“Cliches are lazier than original words, dick.”

“Now that’s just vulgar,” Apathy said, completing his second circle. “Jack, are our enemies always so un--”

I flared unguided Blood Magic and aimed both palms to point behind me underneath my body. Blood had leaked all over them and I used the magic to surge forth and sweep Apathy’s feet from under him. I knew he’d be too careless to expect a trap from the trapped, and he fell on his bohunkus a second before I plowed into Jack Te-Konos’s shins horns-first. I felt them pierce one foot and one calf before the magic within his entangling blazer weakened. Oh, he screamed like a pansy too.

Ripping off Jack’s grubby blazer along with the one I wore, I wrenched my horns left and right, tearing through the fallen angel’s bone and muscle tissue. Silver blood dripped from his legs onto my horns and into my hair. He dropped the haloxite knife and it sank point first into Apathy’s left shoulder, scraping bone and drawing out a screech. Tempted as I was to finish them both off, The Reaper’s freedom and securing his scythe came first.

I flapped toward the tin cage Jack had rigged up with his heavenly magic and searched for the French words carved into the metal. I found them and smeared orange blood onto each one, then let loose a third Blood Magic wave. The unguided spell tore holes in the slabs where the words were and ripped them straight into the mud like gravity had thrown a temper tantrum. The rest of the holey metal flopped to the ground, useless. With Reap free, I seized his scythe off the ground where Apathy had let it fall after he’d been tackled and knifed.

The scythe was a foot taller than me and harder to lug around than the staves and sticks I’d trained with as a martial artist. Reap’s wingless flight carried him a whole mile ahead of me. I didn’t catch up to him until I reached the outskirts of Seoul. Seraphs patrolled the skies above the South Korean city in search of demon thieves or any other Three Domains trouble. Tastes of mud and grit still clung to my mouth and I spat into the open air.

Handing The Reaper his two-toned scythe, I rubbed at my chest and groaned. “You can have this. I won't be swinging that awkward thing around any time soon. We should tell the SPD about those underground soul stashes The Coalition is setting up.”

Reap gripped the weapon and his voice became an ice floe. “It is best we did not end them back there. Better that we continue our work than sacrifice it in vain and only damage The Coalition. Let us return to the Seoul hell divide and unload what souls we have. Then we shall reveal this subterfuge to the Chief Seraph.”

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Case 13 - Ep. 2: Brimvisibility

Soul Fountains Schemes by Beki Yopek
“When we harvested souls in Mexico City,” The Reaper rasped, “they called this Montezuma’s Revenge.”

I bent over one of the hundreds of corpses at the edge of a rice paddy on the 38th Parallel in Korea. This young American soldier had died of intestinal disease, like a good third of the bodies around him. Flies buzzed in noxious clouds that shifted through the abandoned paddy like wind eddies made visible. The sun baked the Korean landscape and everything around us to the point where the trees were brittle husks, and anything in the half-dried-up paddy was a petri dish.

Oh, and half the soldiers had literally crapped themselves to death.

I plugged my nose with one hand and reached up to touch my left horn with the other. “Some days I’m real thankful that brimstone horns are part of the whole demon package. If I had to worry about infections from drinking the wrong thing, I’d be dead already.”

The Reaper paced around the edge of the paddy, swinging Seversoul and absorbing handfuls of fresh souls into the two-toned scythe blade. “You didn’t drink the water, did you Avaline?”

I kept both nostrils pinched closed while I talked. “Yes, I go around doing all the shit that would kill a human just to prove I’m superior. You sure you don’t want a day off from harvesting? This war’s not going to stop for a year at least.”

The Reaper tilted his skull under his brown hood like he was considering saying one thing, but went with, “I’d prefer to stay away from cities where humans carry cameras.”

I swatted both wings at a swarm of flies. Most of them tumbled helter-skelter, some of them died and peppered the mud. “Because cameras can see us when the human eye can’t?”

Reap nodded and jerked a phalange at a second paddy brimming with souls. “Humanity must have gotten enough powdered haloxite from The Coalition to design those cameras. The only way they could penetrate our horns’ protection to see us is if they combined that with some sort of spell equivalent to a summoning or a proper prayer.”

I unfurled both wings, then eyed Reap. “What makes you think that?”

He launched skyward and I followed, flapping up out of the miasma and over stands of trees and rickety farmhouses to the next paddy over. When we touched down, there were fewer corpses and more souls than last time. I wondered if even the dead could smell that stank blanketing the place. I drew out my Blood Magic folio in case there was trouble, but the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Americans, and the South Koreans had already withdrawn with as much of their dead as they could stand to haul away. 

I asked again, “Reap, do you really think Avarice would give humans any magic at all? Human souls produce the life force that feeds all demons and angels. Last thing any of us wants is for our only source of food to kick our asses.”

He lifted his scythe in front of a soul cluster and hesitated. “Those smoke clouds that burst from their cameras have to contain haloxite. You must have seen--”

I slapped my knee and burst out laughing. “Those cameras are decades old. They have new ones now, Reap. This is the fifties. Cameras capture light and reality a lot better than human eyes and minds can.”

He harvested the cluster and moved to a larger one ambling toward the farmhouse shed. “So you believe that science trumps magic?”

I searched the area for more souls and intruders who might be gorging themselves since the former battlefield was deserted and Seraph-free. “Science can do things that magic hasn’t found a way to counteract yet. Humans get pictures of ghosts and demons all the time these days.  All those hauntings and random demon attacks are really just the small-time souls in the backwoods we don’t have time to harvest.”

The Reaper hovered a couple feet off the ground and raised his scythe in both bone hands. “The Coalition must have demon supporters living as hermits among those small human settlements.” He pointed the blade at the line of souls lingering around the shed. “This is why we venture away from civilization on occasion. Coalition demons could sip life force from souls that are too far out from the major cities for us or the SPD to be interested in.”

When he stopped talking, voices permeated through the shed’s thin walls. I threw up a hand in warning and hissed, “Wait, there’s no reason for humans to hide in a shed this long after a battle.”

As though the beings within had heard me, the flimsy wood doors crashed outward and pelted at me and The Reaper. He swiped his scythe through one of the door missiles with a well-timed swing, and I flapped skyward away from the thing. Whenever magic fueled something mundane and wide that came for me, it was because someone wanted to entrap me. Aside from killing, a solid trap was the best way to get a pain-in-the-rump demon out of the way.

“Jack Te-Konos,” I shouted as the fallen angel emerged from the shanty. “What, did Avarice get sick of you painting her toenails?”

I back-flapped and dodged the door, watching for Jack’s next move. He stood at the door, adjusted his torn blazer and ruffed shirt, then combed his hair while a sheet of tin hurled itself at The Reaper next. By the time I’d drawn my haloxite knife and drawn blood from a palm, Jack had unfurled his oil-black wings, flown skyward, and arced toward me with another being flapping behind him.

I opened the other palm with the knife tip and groaned, then readied two unguided Blood Magics. One for the trap, and one for the fallen angel who’d almost entangled us again.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Case 13 - Ep. 1: Brimvisibility

Soul Fountains Schemes by Beki Yopek
I soared out of the hell divide that connected my home city of New Purgatory with the city of Fountainia. The eight foot circular portal was carved into the side of the Motery Center building at the fortieth story so the incoming banker demons and usher angels could see the entire city and view how mote production was going at a single glance. Fountainia’s north side brimmed with ziggurats and structures that combined ancient design with heavenly modernity. Its south side looked like a graffiti’d future sci-fi city more likely to spit out flying beater cars than thousands of demons working for The Soul Fountains. 

There was no sign of The Reaper anywhere I could see.

Ten stories of intricate carvings covered the haloxite bowls that made up The Soul Fountains in the square below me. Yesterday’s souls from Nepal and New York still crowded the space set up for separating the soul from its swirling life force. While the usher angels led souls into the waters, banker demons counted the red and white motes that rolled down from the fountain tops into bins at their desks. Once a soul had been filtered through the Fountains, the usher angels at the back read off of clipboards and directed the stripped souls to their fates through hell divides and heaven lanes leading to the Circles and Rivers. 

I swooped in a “J” shape, touched down next to a demon sitting behind a desk, and still couldn’t see Reap with my bare eyes. A glance at my Hades watch told me it was almost two o’clock pm on a Saturday. The banker dropped a wingful of motes-crimson and ivory coins the size of a half-dollar-into a bin, then stood and looked me down and up. “Payday was yesterday, Ms. Vasaga. Did you drink all the life force out of your motes already?”

I cocked a hip and showed her the mote bracelet Nia had made me earlier, with a three-quarters-full red mote bound to my dark skin. “It’s not motes that I need. Could you do something for me?”

She nodded and perked up for a second, then swapped the intrigued expression for a pro smile. “He’s behind me, isn’t he?”

The Reaper cackled from a foot behind her. “It works, Avaline. Nobody saw the scythe either. Brimvisibility is spectacular. What gave me away?”

She turned and squinted at the space where The Reaper wasn’t. “Rumors and The Reaper’s robes flopping around like fish. Everyone saw Niariel arrive at your office the other day, and we’ve seen you and Ava unload souls before. The set-up was obvious, I just didn’t know what your endgame was until the robes announced your presence.”

I quirked an eyebrow at her and kept silent. It looked like The Reaper’s plan of doing the right things to spread rumors was working. If Soul Fountain staff was talking about all the goings-on at Reap’s office, The Coalition would get word soon. My reputation as bodyguard numero uno still held strong too. The only thing wrong was I hadn’t thought ahead enough. 

Looks like I’ll have to find a way to silence Reap’s robes before I fly back to Terrence’s place for more angel with benefits time. After six days of work, I needed to lose myself. With him sliding his arms around me, pretending he was helping me stretch with his too familiar hands. His hips pressing against me always told another story, and that was the story I craved more than anything else.

I breathed the hearty scent of fresh souls and fake frowned. “Good job. Now I have to report The Reaper for hexual harassment.”

The banker snorted and Reap rasped, “Next time, you owe me motes when you crack terrible jokes like that. This isn’t a spell. You told me it was a--”

“Let’s get to work, shall we?” I interjected. “Harvest time’s in thirty minutes and we’ve got Hildariel to train.”

“Right on, Ms. Vasaga. Motes are piling up. Thanks for the scary-not-scary time.”

With that, she sat back down and The Reaper and I took off for his office. We flew straight up and arced to the side when we hit the thirteenth story, then landed on Reap’s office balcony where the new glass windowpane read, “The Reaper. Collector Of Souls.” I heard my boss’s huge seven foot self land next to me, mainly because his robes fluttered and his tarsals clacked against the marble. 

The door opened and I strode in, flicking on the lights and crossing to the file cabinets on the right. Firelight LEDs flickered to life overhead and I rooted around for the next labeled folder and papers in line. Reap closed the door behind me and I heard him sitting down in his high-backed chair covered in carvings. I spun with my hands full and found nothing in the chair for a moment. Then Seversoul appeared when The Reaper set it on the desk longways and took his grip off the haft. “Do you remember who was with Avarice during the ’38 boxing match at Yankee Stadium?”

I sat across from the boss and nodded. “Avarice led Voracity and Apathy’s lazy ass there for some downtime. They didn’t know we’d cleaned the place of souls before they arrived, so the Seraph Police Department couldn’t do anything to stop us fighting.”

The empty air ahead of me spoke in an earthquake’s whisper. “I suspect Avarice is not heading The Coalition anymore. Leadership may have changed as early as the Korean War. Write this down.”

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...