Saturday, December 9, 2017

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 Missile Crisis. Earth hasn’t had a nuclear war yet, and it’s twenty-fifteen. I’d say we’re blessed that you and The Reaper are still kicking.”

I put the pencil down, not bothering with finishing this last Case Note. Dim light smudged the smoky interior of The Down South Lounge, but I could still see The Reaper sitting on the stool to my left. He’d taken his hood down and was rubbing his skull between the horns, dark bones scraping against each other and sending gooseflesh up my arms. Sharp mixes of liquor lingered on my tongue. Those shots of Styx Comfort should have burned warm in my stomach instead of congealing. 

“You’re anxious, Ava,” Nia said. “Come on. I’m an angel. You can tell me what’s on your mind.”

“The Coalition just destroyed Reap’s office and all the writings,” I said, exasperated. “We only have Avarice’s disembodied horns as proof of her attack on The Soul Fountains. Apathy and the rest of The Coalition could spit b.s. and continue engineering another global disaster here in the present.”

Ruffling her wing feathers, Nia said, “You’ll be there to stop that one too.”

“Pride survived,” I blurted. “We stopped all the bombs. We did our duty. The VGA dismantled them all and humankind still thinks that no warhead even got launched.”

The Reaper pounded an open palm on the bar and rasped, “No matter what we do, the cycle repeats itself. I harvest souls every hour of the day. We produce millions of motes despite distraction and organized hostility. We succeed in defending The Soul Fountains and the mote system, yet The Coalition’s resources grow. Every effort we make to break the cycle is snuffed or shoved to the back burner when another Earthly disaster springs up.”

Nia laid a hand on Reap’s radius and ulna. “You and Ava are doing the right thing. The best thing. Heaven and Hell survive because of you.”

“Are we?” I blurted. “The Coalition keeps gaining flocks of demon supporters. Every step ahead is actually a step backward. If we’re so right, where’s the support from the Seraphs? If we help so much, where are the demons jumping up to make The Three Domains better? We need to build a better system, but dammit, there isn’t time.”

Nia shook her head. “I’m confused. You got most of what you wanted. Those Case Notes, the rumors you spread. You ended a ginormous threat when you killed Avarice.”

“Yeah, and tomorrow we’ve got a double shift of harvesting on top of answering the Seraphs’ questions about the attack at Reap’s office.”

“Did you expect The Three Domains to change overnight?”

“No, but you’d think each success would bring us a little help at least.”

Shoving his stool back, The Reaper stood and hovered three feet in the air. He paced back and forth between the pool tables and the bar. “How do demons respond to threats?”

“What?” I said, kicking off of my barstool and flapping along beside him.

“How do they respond to the possibility of losing all they have?”

“All the demons I know kill the threat. They’re violent by nature and they don’t question that violence. Lashing out is their reflex and their defense.”

“That means every death gets back to the friends of those who died.”

“Then the murder cycle begins anew. I kill you, your friends kill me, my friends kill your friends, and so on.”

We flew round and round the Lounge, barely noticing the arcade, the flatscreens, and the standing room tables passing alongside and beneath us. The Reaper’s robes fluttered, and I could only half-see his ram-horned skull in the dimness. He rumbled, “That is a lot of knowledge for one demon to gather simply to exact revenge. What if someone wanted their plans to remain hidden?”

“What, you mean like Apathy? He’s still pulling The Pneuma Coalition’s strings. He’ll probably come for us next.”

“Would a mastermind like Apathy generate countless distractions that benefit him no matter the result?”

“Bahaha. Apathy’s the laziest among them.”

“I disagree. He has exerted the least effort publicly, but I suspect that he is cooking dozens of plots privately.”

Thoughts of Apathy’s interests sprang to mind. While we wrote those Case Notes, I remembered that he was the only Septuplet who had a wide range of interests. He liked things as simple as the radio, and he set his sights on things as huge as nuclear war. He’d even tried to make off with The Reaper’s scythe, Seversoul.

The Reaper went on. “Have you ever heard the expression, ‘three can keep a secret if two are dead?’“

“Heh, that’s demon nature right there.”

“Remove the ‘dead’ part and what do you have?”

“Um, three can keep a secret if two forgot it?”

Reap cackled. “Yes, but no. I ask for personal reasons only. At least right now. You and I will make sure The Soul Fountains keep flowing whether we unearth the truth or not. We will initiate plans to ah, streamline the harvesting process.”

“I didn’t think learning to kick more ass could be called, ‘streamlining.’”

He tilted his skull down at me like he was eyeing me over glasses. “The Soul Fountains will need more assistance as well. Perhaps your angelic man-toy can help with that. I must return to Fountainia and work with the Seraphs. They may require several days of convincing before they believe we are not the problem.”

“How are you going to do that and harvest?”

“Another being is in charge, remember? I am number two in this organization.” The Reaper put his hood back up and hovered for the door. “I am glad I forgave you, Avaline. Forgiveness is either a strength or a weakness. Forgive the right person, and you will share undying loyalty. Forgive the wrong one, and they will use it as an excuse to walk all over you. Don’t be the latter.”

With his scythe gripped tight, Reap shoved the front doors open and flew out into the reddening New Purgatory night. 

When the doors clanged shut, I inhaled the sulfur and spilled beer scents that had wafted in from outside. Puffs of Nia’s perfume and the suede that covered The Lounge’s stools joined in. Looking over one shoulder, I watched as my best friend the bartender angel sauntered toward me. Her wings and halo were brighter than the flickering flatscreens and neon lights lining the bar’s walls. 


Nia sipped juice from a wineglass and dried her hand on her pink Lounge top. “Did you two find what you were looking for? I helped as much as I could.”

Shrugging, I straightened my blazer and wriggled away from the wire poking me under the button-down. “Everyone forgets history. Either history didn’t impact them on a personal level, or they don’t have time to read up on it so they can learn from it.”

“History’s the best education there is.”

“It feels like a bunch of things have screwed the population out of that education.”

She threw back the rest of the juice. “Everyone in The Three Domains, or just angels and demons?”

I grimaced. “Everyone. Work makes us too busy to think about it. TV shows and hours of chores act like blinders, and yet we choose them over making a big change. I bet that’s one reason that so many demons choose The Coalition over us.”

“Passions for things that only result in benefit for one person eat up everyone’s time.”

“And most of the time, they let their hunger consume them.”

“No one teams up anymore.”

I quirked an eyebrow. “That’s because backstabby angels fall quick, and the demons get smoked even faster.”

Nia glanced behind her at something in the shadowed upper corners of the Lounge. “Yet I keep getting regulars that aren’t dead.”

“If they just ignored all the bullshit, they could team up and fight back to build a better system.”

“They make some pretty tasty b.s. these days. Hard to stop eating it.”

“I did,” I blurted. “Because the mote system is the best thing we’ve got for Hell and Heaven. The Soul Fountains are the mote system. They could go down through brute force, in-fighting, or making the important ones forget.”

My feet carried me from the doors all the way to the bar and back without me noticing. “Did The Reaper mean there’s someone out there who knows important beings and has the magic to delete memories? All it would take is one spy with a brain to wreck The Soul Fountains and all three Domains. Mass distraction would do most of the work for them. If anyone existed who remembered a better way, they’d be a threat to that spy.”

Nia followed, her footsteps lighter than mine. “You’re saying The Coalition designed demonkind’s obedience to their cause?”

I nodded. “Anything could become ‘how society works’ with enough brainwashing.”

“Or memory surgery.”

“Could be that Apathy and The Coalition are good at more than wrecking Earth’s shit.”

Nia's smile stretched and lingered. “Has The Reaper made you a tin foil hat to go with this paranoia?”

Shaking my head to clear it, I said, “No. Reap’s onto something else now. Brainwashing is effective, but not half-of-Hell effective.”

Nia nudged me with a wing. “Engineered ignorance is huge. It’ll take forgiveness and honesty to pull a veil this big off everyone’s eyes.”

I smirked and whipped out my Blood Magic folio. “And unwavering teamwork. We should hurry and start this before the next harvest.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Case 15 - Ep. 3: Souls By Fire

The Reaper's Mercy by Beki Yopek
Haloxite, starvation, and oxygen deprivation. 

Each will kill a demon just as dead as the others.

Over the decades of fighting against my ex-boss Avarice, she had stabbed me, and I’d recovered.

She and her fallen angel Jack had trapped me until I nearly starved for life force, and I’d escaped.

With Avarice’s bola around my neck, I’d choke until nothing was left of me but smoke.

I pounded air with both wings and soared over the Florida Straits while I still had the strength. Half the Volunteer Guardian Angels with me and The Reaper were miles back, dismantling the nuclear warhead they’d just caught with their heavenly spells. The other half was plummeting to the water’s surface below, courtesy of Avarice’s conjured bolas. The four Septuplets flying in formation behind us each escorted another atom bomb toward unknown destinations. This Cuban Missile Crisis on Earth would get so hot it could wipe out humanity-and Hell’s and Heaven’s crop of souls-if even one bomb struck a city.

Good thing I was bleeding.

I slapped my left hand to the bola choking me and got blood on the rope. With a yank, the unguided Blood Magic tore it apart and the whole thing dropped away. Thin air rushed into my nose and I breathed it deep, then I swooped in a sideways U and reached The Reaper’s side. I knew Avarice was riding my ass the whole way, so I shouted at Reap, “Nukes first.”

He was already a step ahead of me. Ripping his hood off, The Reaper spun his scythe between bony hands and pelted toward the bomb rocketing along on our right. My current boss knew that if these bombs went off, he’d be out of a job harvesting souls once they ran out. He arced around Voracity and the bomb the Septuplet was escorting. Three demons unfurled their wings from their hiding spots on the back end of the warhead, but I didn’t have time to help Reap wax them. His nightmare of a visage and his Hellblessed scythe would have to be enough.

I dove for his discarded hood and snatched it in my left hand. Once I had the cloth gripped tight, Avarice smashed into me right between the shoulder blades. She blanketed me with both her wings and both arms. We fell like meteors toward the waters beneath the battle. 

Anything Avarice managed to scream at me got lost in the wind rushing through my ears, hair, and jacket. My panicked reaction stirred her blood and she barked with laughter. Bitch probably thought I was terrified of another trap like this because she’d gotten me before. I reached back at a crooked angle, scratched my left hand against her wing scales on the inside, then fired up a surge of Blood Magic. The unguided spell cost me more blood than usual since I smeared her whole wing, but it was worth the dizziness.

She pirouetted away from me like a whirlygig in a tornado, completely unable to flap her left wing with the Blood Magic shoving against it. I seized the energy I had left before I got too lightheaded to fly. Looping downward, I shoved the blood-soaked hood I still carried onto her head and squeaked out a tiny unguided spell. The Blood Magic wrenched her head left and right, piling on the vertigo better than a spinning teacup roller coaster with a three drink minimum. A dozen weapons and implements appeared in her hands while she tumbled. Soliduction was a crazy-good power in a war zone as long as one had the capacity to use it. She didn’t now.

With Avarice out of the fight, I whirled in the air and flapped drunkenly for half a minute. The four bombs were below me, then above, then below again. Sunspots skidded across my vision until I caught my breath and the sky stopped spinning. The Reaper was cackling madly fifty feet above, where severed demon wings and bursts of smoke littered the cloudscape. Moments ago, the sky had been clear. They’d flown into a cloud bank while I was dizzy.

I pumped my wings and flopped sideways when the world lurched again. The cloud was the only skymark close enough to orient on. I focused on it and clung to the knowledge that forward was forward no matter where the ocean and sky were. After an hour-long minute, we left the cloud behind and the quadri-bombs were a hundred feet ahead of me. They’d gained sky while I reeled.

By the time the ground went down where it belonged, The Reaper was chasing Voracity away from the bomb on my right. A few dozen VGA angels caught up to us from the first warhead once Voracity had dipped. They circled the back end and worked their heavenly hoodoo. Bomb number two was safe, and no one among The Coalition bothered deserting their own can-o’-death to save that one. That told me Jack, Apathy, and Pride’s goal was to make sure at least one bomb annihilated its target.

Three left.

Apathy watched the clash around the next bomb on the right from behind a wall of Coalition demons that appeared to hear his every word despite flying hard. Our naked demon friends from the Make-A-Sin Foundation didn’t have a scratch among them. They whittled Apathy’s guards down one by one with haloxite blades. Guess they weren’t great fighters. Apathy himself vamoosed sometime during the fighting, go figure.

Blue-head and Jackhole were duking it out in the airspace above bomb number three. Every time Blue-head flung his fistful of motes at Jack, the fallen angel would dodge and open fire with a rifle he’d summoned to his hand from the bomb’s underside. I made sure to stay in the sun as I flew closer. Jack had strapped maybe thirty rifles to the bomb’s belly, and though I couldn’t hear him shouting over the wind, I knew those were French words he bellowed. It looked to me like they were both using some kind of magicks from Heaven, but all I knew of Heaven I’d learned from Nia, and she wasn’t combative. With each rifle shot, Blue-head lost sky until Jack forced him to fly in a loop to avoid a haloxite round. 

Jack summoned two rifles to him and gripped one in each hand. Blue-head cut his loop short to avoid the first shot, but the second went off at the same time and caught Blue-head in his right wing. That hole in his wing joint was enough to send him packing. He wobbled while he retreated and even dropped some of his motes as he fled. 

I had maybe one more spell in me before I lost so much blood I passed out. Pride was as good a martial artist as I was, and Jack had some number of rifles left. He summoned another one, took aim, and opened fire at the VGA angels who were trying to catch the two bombs that The Reaper and the naked demons had freed up. The round he fired was brimstone.

It ripped through three or four angels. So did the next one, and the next. I seized the opening and pelted toward the fallen angel. Jack’s maniacal rage against his former brethren turned on me too late. I knocked away the next rifle he summoned with a forearm block and lowered my head. Both brimstone horns penetrated the protection from his haloxite noggin ring. One gouged a hole in Jack’s left cheek. The other scraped his halo and chipped a sliver out of the front.

He didn’t seem to notice anything at first; Jack countered the flying headbutt with an uppercut. That gave him enough sky to catch another rifle he summoned. Before he got the shot off, Reap blindsided him with a knee to the face. Jack screamed louder than the wind in our ears and flopped out of the fight with one hand clutching each cheekbone. I’d wounded the left side, and Reap had apparently crushed the bones beneath the right side with his ebon knee. 

That wasn’t supposed to be possible; halos protected angels and their fallen opposites from pain and harm the same way a demon’s horns protected us.

I let Jack fall and focused on the bombs. The Reaper swerved and circled his scythe blade around the nearest warhead’s outer shell. Every remaining rifle of Jack’s fell apart in two pieces. With that, the only threats left were Pride and the bombs themselves. A hundred angels finished halting the third of five bombs and flocked toward Jack’s and Pride’s deadly escorts. 

“Land coming up fast,” an angel belted out.

I squinted through the bright Atlantic sunlight and saw the gray-blue arc of islands dotting the ocean in the distance. 

The Florida Keys. 

If we were going to keep these last two bombs from detonating, we had less than two minutes to catch them.

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...