It only took two weeks to get The Reaper as pissed as I’d ever seen him. We’d worked our horns off hunting The Pneuma Coalition, and they’d made appearances in Chicago and the Yukon. After our run-in with Avarice and those prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush, I’d chased Avarice off. The Reaper was convinced she worked for the Pneuma Coalition just like Rage, so he suspected she’d be making a return visit. Thousands of would-be prospectors had traveled to Circle City, Alaska to discover their fortune in gold. Only a few actually did, and The Reaper absolutely would not leave any souls behind. Two jobs handled in one visit.
We hit Circle City early in September of 1896. Dusk had fallen on the log buildings and shanties, casting as many shadows as the evergreens around the city’s outskirts did. Hundreds upon hundreds of souls swarmed the streets from the outside in, flocking toward the saloons and the two theaters in the center. Both the buildings and the souls had been abandoned by the human prospectors, who’d booked it in search of bigger piles of gold. Go figure. Avarice shows up, George Carmack finds gold, and the failed gold-diggers up and ditch the whole city.
The Reaper dove headfirst for the nearest theater he spotted and I followed, watching him spin Seversoul between his hands. He whipped his legs underneath him and landed in a whirl of shadow-black bones, his robe rippling with each sweep of the scythe. It absorbed cluster after cluster of souls, and he darted through the air in wingless flight each time the nearby souls ran out. I drew a haloxite knife from inside my leather trench coat and landed ten yards from The Reaper on the dirt street corner across from the theater.
Adjusting my blouse and trousers, I followed behind The Reaper and searched every darkened corner for demon thieves. If Avarice was here, she’d have followers ready to pounce on us as soon as The Reaper was distracted. Prickles crept across both arms while I guarded The Reaper, and they chilled me deeper and deeper every time we crossed another street. Souls, but no demons. Souls that flowed into a saloon marked ‘Fool’s Gold.'
“In there,” I shouted at The Reaper’s back.
He halted and pivoted to face me, his ram’s horns making him seem to loom taller. “Yes, Avaline, she is in that saloon. Watch my back while I clean up her souls.”
“Her souls?” I said. “You know, you’ve got to get better at communication. Souls don’t belong to anyone. They’re just there.”
“Because I placed them there,” a familiar voice crooned. Both doors to the Fool’s Gold slammed open and Avarice strode out with her horns in the air and a snarl on her face. Her curves, her deep blonde hair, and her toned body screamed ‘sex me up’ so loud I wanted to end her right there. She smoothed her dark lace dress and spat, “It’s so easy stealing souls from under your noses. The Industrial Revolution was the best thing for the Pneum--”
I rushed her before she could run her mouth any more. The Reaper’s warning rasp faded into the background and I flapped both wings hard, throwing a flying side kick at Avarice’s chest. She sunk the claws at the ends of her wings into the saloon’s wooden door, ripped it off the hinges, and whipped it around. The door smashed into my leg--it didn’t hurt or break anything thanks to my horns’ protection--but it slung me sideways and into the dirt street.
Spreading both wings, I tried to make a u-turn and slash Avarice with the haloxite knife. She seized my trenchcoat before I’d even started the turn and slung me up into the air like a volleyball. Then she swung the heavy wood door upward and pummeled me right over the theater. The coat and knife got tangled and tearing sounds came from the general area of my right hip. Seconds later, a scream tore from me and razor-hot pain gashed the hip where the haloxite blade had pierced through my horns’ protection.
I tumbled in a heap along the roof of another saloon and crashed to the dirt among glowing souls and deep shadows, expecting Avarice’s followers to strike any second.
None came. No movement, no sound, nothing. I winced and inspected the wound as I stood on my good left leg. The haloxite knife meant for Avarice’s throat had bit down to the bone on the outside of my right hip, and hot orange demon’s blood leaked out onto my pants and trenchcoat. It was only skin and tissue that’d been severed, but she’d wanted me to get it from my own knife.
A screech erupted from the street where the Fool’s Gold saloon was situated. “This is my cache! How dare you harvest it!”
I growled at the pain and took off again, searching the sky above the Fool’s Gold for Avarice’s enraged ass. Instead, The Reaper soared toward me with Seversoul in his grip. He hissed and ranted as he crossed in front of the setting sun. “We have swept this place clean, now let us go and unload at The Soul Fountains. Forget Avarice. She is powerless for now.”
Bewildered, I flapped alongside him in formation and yelled, “You mean you didn’t kill her?”