Of course the demon had a homemade bomb. What better way to get a lot of free life force without using magic? Hit Haymarket Square, get the local humans to make you a bomb, and blow the crap out of police and protesters alike. It wasn’t my job to stop the killing--humans needed to die in order to produce souls full of life force--but it was on me to stop that demon from stealing the life force of the recently deceased.
I waved at The Reaper down on the ground and signaled him to fly right behind me. He ascended at the same moment the bat-winged demon did, and we watched the demon drop that bomb on the crowd. The moment it landed, flame and sound blasted outward from it, and bodies tumbled ten different directions. Blood peppered the dirt where the explosion had caught police officers and ended their lives. Among the whorls of dust and fleeing humans, a handful of souls flickered to life like candles in the dark.
Swooping downward, the bat-winged demon reached out a hand to consume the life force from the first soul he could touch. I snarled and dive-bombed him, spearing him in the chest with my horns a foot before he could reach the souls. All demons had horns made of brimstone, and they protected us from pain and harm unless the source of that damage was haloxite. Angels’ halos were made of haloxite, and I was no angel, so my horn-headed spear tackle only caught him by surprise.
I flapped hard and dragged the demon along the dirt, away from the souls. He spat a curse and pumped his wings, escaping the spear tackle and kicking up dust. Swerving upright, we stood and faced each other among the thrashing crowd of humans in Haymarket Square. I stopped his farmer punches with outward blocks and counted the number of holes he left open in his guard. After I swatted away the fifth punch, I swept his legs out from under him with my left foot, then spun with the momentum and brought a high axe kick down onto his nose.
The boot-to-head method would have snapped the bones of any human, but the demon’s horns protected him and I only needed to stun him for another second or two. Any time he could, The Reaper liked to finish off demon thieves, and I was happy to oblige him. It wasn’t showing off, it was a teamwork exercise. I looked to the sky and saw The Reaper descending with Seversoul in a two-handed grip, ready to strike. I pulled back from the thief and grinned.
So that was when he wrenched his head to the side and shouted, “Get back to Hell, Rage. The Reaper’s here with his--”
The two-toned scythe ripped through the demon’s torso and he burst into smoke that mixed with the dust in the air. Both of his horns dropped into the road, and The Reaper stood above the spot, seven feet of shadow and bone and curling ram’s horns. He pointed at two burly humans fleeing the scene and rasped, “They spotted us. Summoners.”
Two human summoners. In overalls and caps. They’d attacked the police earlier and delivered a bomb into the middle of a riot in Chicago. If they’d seen us, then they planned to deliver the bomb to the demon, and they all worked for the same being according to those dying words. They’d be running right back to their boss.
I yelled to The Reaper, “Follow me,” and launched skyward in pursuit of the two summoners. Their caps blended in with the hats and berets of the workmen rushing away from the scene. What stood out was the path of trampled humans they left behind them. I smirked and swooped closer to the pair of them as they carved out an escape route through the scrum.
In the air behind me, The Reaper cackled and shot past, swiping his scythe through the two humans and absorbing their souls on the spot. We soared over the dead summoners and landed well outside the Square. Enraged humans dashed by in twos and threes, hollering their victorious glee at the bomb-fueled vengeance they’d gotten against police who’d killed some of their fellow workers the day before. They ignored the corpses The Reaper had left behind, probably because they thought the bodies had been caught in the explosion. Humans tended not to notice details when they were panicked or blinded by anger.
One detail stuck out like a sore hitchhiker’s thumb, and I nudged The Reaper with an elbow, then pointed at the sky back in the direction of the Square. A gray-skinned being built like Ajax flapped away toward Lake Michigan on gunmetal-silver dragon’s wings. His brown leather jacket fell from him as he booked it, and I'd have called him a shirtless Icarus wannabe if he could hear me from that distance.
It was Rage, one of the Septuplets, the seven deadly sins made flesh. I’d been so sure those summoners were running toward their boss that I’d blitzed without reading the situation first.
“Rage must have stolen the life force from those souls,” The Reaper spat. “That’s why he was here, and you took us away from the scene.”
I shuddered at his bare-skulled glare. Mix guilt and fear, shake thoroughly, and you’ve got one demon bodyguard on the rocks. My leadership was a big reason The Reaper paid me, and I’d just let the source of a big soul-thief problem escape. Seven Septuplets ruled seven of the nine Circles Of Hell, and until that day, I’d believed that each of them supported The Soul Fountains. Mote production was the best system for keeping the masses of demons and angels alive since everything changed during the Industrial Revolution.
They didn’t have a name at the time, but the Pneuma Coalition’s first strike against our mote system had been a drinking party compared with what came next.