• Jabe Stafford

Case 3 - Ep. 1: Soul Mine Skirmish

“Any particular reason why you were late today, Avaline?”

I glanced at my Hades watch, a silver and gold piece of work with tiny etchings around the face, and met The Reaper’s shady eye sockets underneath his brown hood. “We got done harvesting souls early today. It’s only 9:00pm. Contressa doesn’t get here until ten anyway, and we’ve been writing pretty well--”

The Reaper stood up behind his expensive, glass-topped desk and loomed to his full seven foot height. “No one can know what we are writing. I will not let the Pneuma Coalition get even a single hint of my intentions.” With one bone hand, he brought Seversoul, his scythe, out from behind his back and pointed it at me. “You omitted pieces of our Circle City raid.”

That wasn’t fear shocking through me. It wasn’t.

If I kept writing these case notes for The Reaper, he’d kill me. Leaving out what I’d done was like shouting, “Here’s what I did,” and I made a personal vow to handle these cases with more care from here on. That scythe wasn’t a harmless nail file.

I swallowed back the taste of the Sin and Tonic in my mouth and said, “Reap, it’s Wednesday, and we’ve been doing this for three days now. None of the other bodyguards will think anything of it. Hell, they’ll think we’re going over tips for tomorrow’s shift or something.”

The Reaper’s grin looks just like his rage-face what with his lack of lips, but I know what it means when he tilts his head like that. He set the scythe on the desk where it clacked and clanked between his bones and the glass. His voice was a millstone, grating and grinding. “Are we going to call these, ‘performance evaluations’ while in public?”

Some of the jangling in my nerves faded away and I smiled. “Sure. Cut out a chunk of time from each shift to discuss the obvious.”

He raised a hand to his face and thocked a knuckle against his skull. “It may sound empty, but it’s not. There is something in this mind of mine that needs finding, and keeping this writing secret is just as important as doing your job.” Sitting down behind his desk again, The Reaper leaned back in his carved chair and gazed around his office. “Do you see these file cabinets?”

Taking my queue, I dug in the cabinet to his left and came out with the next paper-filled folder I’d prepared yesterday. I wriggled in my crimson blouse and grey pants, unstuck most of the sweaty parts, and sat in the usual middle chair across from The Reaper. I slapped the folder down and scooted it away from the point of the scythe. Pen in hand, I eyed him and waited for more.

“Those cabinets,” The Reaper hissed, “contain ledgers and records of every soul that goes through the Soul Fountains.” He waved behind him at the flickering, neon-mixed lights of the cityscape beyond the bay windows. “Fountainia hires business demons and banker angels to move to the city and keep extensive track of our mote production.”

I sat up and looked past his robed frame to the urban sprawl that had developed over the decades.

Fountainia’s south side was visible on the left, and its skyscrapers and neon signage stretched for at least a mile, advertising bars, liquor companies, weapon stores, and banking conglomerates just like those in my home city. That was the demon side of town, so of course the few professional demons that Hell gave rise to would need their Imp Schnapps and their Dr. Moloch’s Rum within easy drinking distance.

Fountainia’s north side glared with the kind of white light you’d get if you shone a ginormous spotlight on the moon twenty-four seven. That pure white radiance emanated from pristine pyramids, ever-moving terraces, and airborne cafes that Heaven’s architect angels loved to cram all over the landscape and skyscape of every city they constructed.

Mix one part demon consumerism, one part Hell’s violence, and two parts angelic hubris, and you get Fountainia, with a Soul Fountains garnish.

I jerked a horn at the file cabinets and told The Reaper, “I see why we need to record all this, so let me tell you in advance. Thank you for not asking me to keep such boring ledgers.”

The Reaper threw back his skull and cackled, his hood snagging on his ram’s horns. “And thank you for your continued effort and truthfulness. Millions of others have faith that the Soul Fountains work, and their day-to-day lives can proceed because of the work we do.”

“You mean the ass we kick.”

“Yes, so get writing so we can finish and get back to it. Contressa will arrive soon. Now, South Africa was a battlefield in 1902. . .”

My eyes fell on the scythe and I missed The Reaper’s next few words. Am I keeping this job out of blind faith that this routine will hold? If it breaks and the Pneuma Coalition gets what it wants, will my violent demon’s nature invade my thoughts again the way it did during The Industrial Revolution? The way it did with Av--

Just shut up and write, Ava.