|The Reaper's Mercy by Beki Yopek|
Closing time at The Down South Lounge didn’t exist unless Nia said it did. When Apathy’s skyscraper night clubs shut down at 2am for clean up duty, the after-partiers left downtown New Purgatory and flocked here. Every demon living in the First Circle had spent motes and waged war on their livers at the bar where The Reaper and I now sat. None of the demons in any Circle could know how bad The Coalition had wrecked us.
That’s why Reap and I used the last of his brimvisibility to sneak into The Lounge and ask Nia to clear the place out.
I watched Nia shoo a blue-haired grifter demon out with a pushy, “Get the heck out, please,” then downed half of my Sin and Tonic. I couldn’t even taste the alcohol, and the flatscreens behind the bar blaring their music videos sounded as flat as their sources. A paranoid glance around The Lounge showed me the warmly lit standing room tables, the dart booths behind them, the pool tables to my left, and the arcade way at the back. The glass reappeared when I set it on the bar’s polished wood and let go. Adrenaline still prickled in my veins from the fight at the Motery Center. Tonight, I needed shots.
The Reaper audibly slugged the rest of his Hallelujah Tequila, the full highball glass vanishing when he grabbed it and materializing empty. “We will appear to be even weaker after today. Prudence’s fall and our failed trap set us further behind. It sends the wrong message.”
When I heard the double doors snap closed, I shucked my torn blazer and let it fall to the floor and reappear. “Now we’ve both killed a Septuplet. I don’t think The Coalition will screw with us anytime soon.”
Nia flapped behind the bar on vanilla wings and brushed her dark, crescent moon hair back with one hand. Then she squinted at the six barstools nearest her. “I could help a lot more if I could see you. Can’t you switch that brimvisibility off?”
I shook my head.
Nia’s lips quirked up. “You’re shaking your head aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” I grumbled, kicking myself. “And no I can’t. Brimstone Chemistry isn’t like Blood Magic. Wait. You know that. You studied Haloxite Chemistry in college.”
She bobbed her head and grinned wider. “I know. Good thing you’re invisible, or The Reaper might see how embarrassed you are.”
“I’m strung out, Nia. We both almost died and you’re being all devious and walking me into verbal traps.”
Nia clapped a palm on her chest over her Down South Lounge top. “I am not devious. Looks like you need a refill.”
“Two shots this time. Phlegethon’s Kiss.”
“Ooh, the heavy stuff,” she breathed. “You better tell me what happened at work.” Nia whirled around and lifted a pink decanter off the top shelf, then giggled and put it back. “Whoops, that one’s too dangerous.” She snagged a bottle of Styx Comfort and two shot glasses with her hands, and a bottle of amaretto and an acetylene torch from beneath the bar with her wings.
An exhausted laugh escaped me at the sight. Some weight whisked off of my mind as Nia juggled the bottles and the torch between pours. Either it was a miracle she didn’t spill any, or she had bar tending down to an exact magic. Flames flickered from both shots when she slid them toward me. My hand reappeared along with the rest of me when I reached for one, and The Reaper’s black bones shone once more from the stool next to me.
“You look like krapfen,” Nia said.
“That’s a swear word,” I replied, downing a shot flames and all. Dual fires burned down my throat and I groaned, then smacked my lips. “It burns so sweet.”
“Krapfen is a German dessert, Avaline.” The Reaper rumbled. “No more tequila for me, thank you. With our Case Notes destroyed, we might as well update Niariel now while it’s fresh in our memories. I am sure she will listen to our account of the Cuban Missile Crisis before we have to return to Fountainia. Once we contact the SPD from there, Seraphs will arrive to document our stories, and that will take time.”
Nia put the bottles back and tilted her halo at us. “All your writing’s gone?”
“It is,” Reap said while I threw back shot number two. He steepled his finger bones. “Almost everything went to plan, save for the shot to The Soul Fountains’ reputation and the loss of the Case Notes.”
Nia pouted a little, then hurried into the office behind the bar and emerged with a handful of loose leaf paper and a pencil. “Finish what you started, and I’ll help with the lost stuff. Now screw the taboos and tell me everything.”
Amaretto lingered on my breath as I let it all out. I shared Reap’s two-week plan to suss out The Coalition’s leader. The way we lured Avarice to his office. How I’d ended her existence with Seversoul.
Just when I’d finished venting, Nia pushed the paper and pencil at me. She found my eyes and held them, her voice solemn. “It means so much that you worked up to telling us about your history with Avarice. I don’t think either of us will forget the day you told us. I know how long you suffered under her. That pain will stay there even though she’s dead. However you justified what you did as her bodyguard, don’t use that pain to justify another downward spiral. If you feel yourself slipping, you can fall back on us.”
It was probably a little more than the alcohol spreading its warmth from my chest outward. I smiled and twirled the pencil. “You’re such a cheeseball angel.”
“And you wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Damn right. So, the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Nia’s wings ruffled in excitement. “That’s one I haven’t heard yet. I thought I was your best friend.”
The Reaper cackled while I continued. “Avarice had just dropped Prudy a couple thousand feet out of the sky. . .”