|How F'd Are We by Beki Yopek|
“Do you want to tell them we’re fucked, or should I?”
I brushed sand off my cerulean admiral’s jacket and waited for Prudence’s response. The Reaper’s other bodyguard tied her long brown hair up and pushed past me with her honey-gold wings. She strode across the Cuban beach toward the Volunteer Guardian Angels I’d been training with moments ago. Prudy’s deep blue dress and sandals lent her a stiff movie-starlet image that she hadn’t exuded until recently. She might be one of the Lucky Seven, but her white collar powers and full-moon halo weren’t free passes to trample on others.
Her ugly mood and my blood loss would help us stop a nuclear missile strike. Yep, they sure would. Time to fake it like we weren’t underprepared and exhausted.
Breathing the salty ocean air wasn’t enough to calm my nerves. A last check of the weapons and the Blood Magic folios under my jacket helped more. I waved The Reaper over and crossed to the front of a company of a hundred demons from the Make A Sin Foundation awaiting us on the beachfront. Sand slid and squished beneath my haloxite-toed boots. The sun slathered us with so much heat I was surprised Reap wasn’t melting under that heavy brown robe.
Towering over me by a foot and a quarter, he pointed his brimstone-and-haloxite scythe skyward in one bony fist. His voice was a bone-on-bone bullhorn. “A bomb that would destroy the humans whose souls we harvest could launch into the sky above us. If that occurs, more could follow. It is our responsibility to prevent this. If you stand here with us Fountainians, then you believe in The Soul Fountains and what we do for all three Domains. For Hell to have a future, we must infiltrate Cuban bunkers and watch the skies for nuclear missiles. Are you prepared?”
One blue-haired demon called out to The Reaper. “We have brimstone horns, big guy. An atom bomb wouldn’t even tickle us.”
The Reaper’s voice was a cat-o-nine-tails. “Do you want humanity to nuke itself to death?”
On any other day, I’d be proud of Reap’s sarcasm. Speeches like that might set some of these demons off today, so I stepped up and announced, “We are all demons here. We’re the superior ones. You want to prove it? Then stop the men in this missile crisis from doing something that your inferiors chose to ignore. The SPD is ignoring this and so are all the demons that didn’t show up today.”
Blue-head blurted, “Maybe I like the idea of not having to work for my life force. That’s what The Coalition’s all about. They want abundance, and you want everyone to starve so that a select few can hoard the life force. Why not let the war happen? Free life force for all of us.”
Spots flared red in my vision and I almost pounced at the blue haired demon. What, was this guy the ringleader? Maybe he was Coalition, and maybe he didn’t know any better than to toss insults. I’d already assumed The Coalition had something to do with this global tension, especially after Reap and I discovered their underground human towns during The Korean War. It looked like none of these demons knew that. Arguing the opposite point would just turn the demons against each other and against us.
Calm washed through me and I put a hand on my hip. “An all-you-can-eat buffet this year means no life force next year. Think of humans as crops if you have to. We still need to keep growing them.”
Naked, armed, and crazy, the demons murmured and actually nodded their agreements. Blue-head tilted his horns sideways. “Guess that makes sense. We can’t exactly eat happy thoughts.”
The Reaper cackled and all the Foundation demons flinched. Hundreds of angel wings fluttered in sync behind me, peppering us with sand. Fear needled every inch of my skin and I searched the skies overhead. A single dot rocketed upward from Cuba’s mainland, and Prudence led the Volunteer Guardian Angels in a webwork formation straight up into the bomb’s path.
I tasted dust when I shouted, “Live nuke overhead. Demons, hit all the Cuban bases you can find and kill the humans in charge of launching bombs. It's your job to prevent more launches. Reap, stay with the VGA or with me or Prudence. Blue-head and the naked ones, with me.”
At that, I launched skyward and re-opened the scab on my left hand with a haloxite knife off my belt. I checked behind me and found everyone was flying along in a loose cloud. Dozens of demons slugged vials, spun inland, and vanished from sight. A handful of full-frontal demons flapped closer, and the blue-haired demon opened his hand. Scarlet and white motes darted away from his palm and formed a bi-colored halo over his head, the coins spinning in a ring around his horns. He yelled, “Gonna cuddle me a bomb today.”
I didn’t have time to snicker. We were three-quarters of the way to the bomb when I noticed four more streaking along in a line behind the first. The VGA was already swooping around the first missile and slowing it to a stop. I recognized the Septuplet that was clashing with Prudence in mid-air alongside the first warhead’s flight path.
It was Avarice. Her expensive hairstyle and pin-up girl’s uniform wasn’t made for fighting. The former tangled in her face and the latter tore a little every time she flapped her wings to dodge Prudy’s telekinetic blows. I hadn’t seen her cut loose with her white collar super power since The Battle Of Amiens. Dozens of broken, jagged, and half-sheared haloxite bayonets swirled around Prudence’s body in a spherical cloud. Pair after pair lanced out, missed Avarice, and returned to the sphere as she flew.
Only the seven virtues embodied and the seven sins re-branded had abilities, and only Avarice and her Soliduction power could gain airspace on one of The Lucky Seven.
Avarice conjured an oversize bola in one hand and slung it at Prudence. She cut the flailing weapon out of the sky with one of her bayonets. More bolas appeared in Avarice’s hands. With each manic sling, she got closer to entangling Prudence.
She and I knew that traps were more dangerous to demons and angels than brimstone or haloxite. Prudence pumped her wings hard, staying close enough to the streaking bomb so Avarice couldn’t stop the VGA from catching it. An explosion now wouldn’t serve The Coalition, and Avarice knew it. A pair of Prudy's bayonets circled behind Avarice for a psychic backstabbing. Avarice shot toward Prudy and heaved two bolas into the open space in her sphere. Ropes wrapped around my colleague’s wings and legs. They cinched tight.
Avarice conjured bola after bola and unleashed them at Prudence. Every time she sliced a rope free with her bayonets, she shredded her dress more and took two or three more bolas to the body. In moments, she was a mummified pincushion plummeting to the ocean’s surface thousands of feet below.
My pissed-off shouts did less than Prudy’s falling bayonets. She tried harrying Avarice with them, but the farther Prudy fell, the more the haloxite weapons became a danger to me and the Foundation demons following behind me. She wasn’t as experienced at escaping immediate traps like I was. It probably never occurred to her to try anything but slaying her original target.
Reap switched his grip on his scythe and tried to shoot forward, but I seized his robe and bellowed, “Stop. Avarice will trap you too.”
Before I could nab a picture from my folio, Avarice surged straight at the VGA flock. Soliduction wreaked chaos among them; every second it took us to catch up was another bunch of thrown bolas binding more angels’ wings to their sides. They flopped out of the air and plunged after Prudy’s form.
I caught up to Avarice first, snagged the bola she flung at me in my bleeding left hand, and hurled it back at her with an unguided surge of Blood Magic.
The Reaper shrieked behind me and I wrenched my eyes away from Avarice before the bola connected. I focused on Reap long enough to catch the words, “--Konos and more Septuplets. One with each bomb.”
My eyes found a being escorting each of the four warheads following the first.
So I didn't see as the bola cinched off my windpipe and wrenched itself too tight to yank off.