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.”

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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...