If it’s insane to repeat the same thing and expect different results, then why does history repeat itself? The Reaper and I had seen denial in action plenty of times during our shifts harvesting souls. It was better than magic at blinding the masses, and I had a pretty solid idea of what The Reaper was searching for in his memories now. Hints. Suggestions. Information we might have missed that would help us bring the Pneuma Coalition down if we could act on it in the next couple of months.
The Pneuma Coalition. A shady network of beings too old-fashioned to support the mote system that The Reaper and I fought for. It was full of Septuplets and demons that’d rather steal souls they’d slain because that was as close to the old way as they could get. Rage had been part of the Pneuma Coalition back in the 1880s, and we’d crossed paths over and over right up until today. They denied the reality we faced. Their agenda involved encouraging others to pursue false goals so they’d remain blind and unknowingly feed them souls.
And in 1896, denial fueled a whole historic event that nearly wrecked us.
When The Reaper touched down on the Alaskan river bank, he hit the ground swinging his scythe like a baseball bat. Strings of souls shining with life force threaded their way through the thick woods toward the Klondike River, and The Reaper harvested row after row. Men dressed in furs carrying prospecting gear bent over the river’s edges, soaking themselves in pungent mud for a chance at seeing a nugget of gold in their pans. Souls of families who’d died in the area shepherded themselves toward these dirty dreamers who’d uprooted themselves and spent fortunes pursuing bigger fortunes.
I swooped this way and that over The Reaper’s head while he harvested, my eyes darting along the banks for demon thieves hidden among the men panning for gold. The sunny sky lit the thousands of evergreens that jutted up from the hills, giving shelter to animals and thickets of low-lying plants that’d be perfect cover for The Reaper’s enemies. One prospector broke away from the rest and headed toward a canoe, loaded it up, and floated downriver. He didn’t see the pursuer pushing through the foliage along the river behind him. I didn’t either, to be honest, but plants don’t bend over on their own.
“Forget those souls,” I shouted to The Reaper down below, “We’ve got demons on the shore. Follow me.”
The Reaper cackled and soared into the air without the need for wings, falling into formation on my left. Our prospector kept paddling with the flow, oversteering a few times and sloshing water into his canoe. He rounded a bend and continued toward a trio of men fishing for salmon. I squinted into the foliage around his boat, but couldn’t see if the stalker was still eyeing up the prospector. If he or she was, then the best time to strike was coming. Killing four humans in the wilderness’s backside would give a demon thief a nice local stash of life force to come back to.
All three men turned their heads at the sound of the prospector shouting over the rushing waters. “Ay there, what’re ya fishing over here for?”
I flapped over the mens’ heads, shooting looks between them and the river bank where I’d seen the sneak thief’s trail. Two of the fishers were Native Americans, and both were busy cleaning and gutting salmon. The third man had light skin and he frowned at the prospector’s approach. Each of the fishers wore furs over leathers and boots, and none of them spared a second thought for any potential ruffians that might be stalking the prospector.
The white fisher drew his empty net out of the water and waved his companions close. Then he eyed the prospector where he’d beached his canoe a few yards away. “Came up this way for some solitude,” the fisher said. “In Fortymile they say there’s good salmon ‘round this river here. Man can make a livin’ off the land.”
“What is it brings a fellow and his boat this far downsteam?” one of the Native Americans asked the prospector.
Jerking his thumb behind him, the prospector blurted, “Found me some shiny color up Gold Bottom Creek back there. ‘Nuf to fill my pockets and set up shop. They call me Henderson. Robert Henderson.”
The fisher’s eyes shot open at the mention of gold and he extended a hand. “George Carmack. Listen, thank y’ for the news, but--”
“I don’t want no damn Siwashes digging it out, y’ hear?” Henderson said, pointing at George’s companions. “We came here to get a fortune, not to lose one.”
George’s companions bristled, but George dropped the handshake and held the pair back. “Jim, Charley, we’re here for fish, and nothin’ else.” Then he faced the prospector again. “What do you mean, ‘we?’ ”
I lost the rest of their exchange when a being erupted from the foliage at the water’s edge. She had toned arms, scaled wings as black as onyx, and wore a dress that definitely wasn’t for trailblazing in the Yukon. Her brimstone horns curved up out of caramel-blonde hair, which fell in a luscious curtain down to her shoulders. Avarice, one of The Septuplets, was here in Alaska instead of in the Fourth Circle of Hell where she belonged.
That meant she was here on ‘business’ for the Pneuma Coalition.
I kicked myself for not seeing her. At the time, I was still used to scorning her look-at-me-look-at-me appearance. Denia-
Well, we found the Pneuma Coalition, and it wasn’t until two weeks later-