When a hundred British soldiers surround you and open fire with haloxite rounds, you get the hell out of the line of fire. What made things worse was that they were summoners under Avarice’s command, so they could see me and The Reaper unlike normal humans. It might have been 1902 in the East Rand gold mines, but those rifles would kill the life out of me and The Reaper if we didn’t unleash some serious butt-kickery. Whipping out the Blood Magic folio from my trench coat pocket, I flew straight up from the door to the high house.
When I spotted The Reaper soaring up next to me, I shouted, “I’ll distract them with Blood Magic."
The Reaper screeched, "Avaline, Split Trick formation.”
I caught his words just as dozens of gunshots echoed off the mining complex’s many buildings. I pumped both wings, rolling left at the same time as The Reaper rolled right. Radiant golden bullets snapped through the air around us and made swiss cheese out of my trench coat flapping in the wind behind me. I tucked both wings in, spun twice, then righted myself and flew behind the shot tower with its metal sheeting along the sides. There, at least Avarice’s summoners wouldn’t see me for a few seconds.
I jabbed my pinky with the haloxite knife I still held in my left hand, and drops of fiery orange blood welled up there. My chest pounded like cannon fire as I flipped through the labeled sections of the folio. I skipped the ‘breathing,’ ‘hearing,’ and ‘impairment’ sections and stopped at the ‘noise’ section, then I whipped out a magazine photo of a twenty-car train chugging along the tracks. I daubed my blood on the picture, crumpled it into a tight ball, and swerved back around the tower toward the ring of summoners.
They’d been watching for me to come back around the tower, and I grinned when I hurled the wadded picture down into the center of them. More gunfire erupted and I flapped back behind the tower, grateful for my horns’ protection as I let the Blood Magic flow. Piercing whistles filled the air around the entire complex in rhythmic pulses that I heard, but that wouldn’t cause pain or harm to anyone with brimstone horns or haloxite halos. Each burst of sound was an amplified train whistle, and I’d placed that picture in the folio to guide my Blood Magic in case I needed to rupture some eardrums or distract The Reaper’s enemies.
Mix demon’s blood, the right photograph, and a Blood Magic education, and you get spells that kick harder than all the liquor on the top shelf.
Every rifle-toting human collapsed to the ground clutching his ears, and The Reaper soared out from behind the nearest shed with his scythe swinging. We’d split, we’d tricked, and now I dove in and flew next to him to complete our formation so we could sweep the entire site in one lap. He and I wove between the sheds and around the high house, and Seversoul lanced through ten humans, twenty, thirty, forty. The Reaper’s cackles were lost in the continued shrieking from my guided Blood Magic spell, and the dust we kicked up settled quickly amid the smokeless complex.
I held tight to the folio and drew out another clipping from the ‘strength’ section. We were flying so fast that handfuls of magazine and newspaper cuttings fluttered out of the folio, but I had the last one I needed to bring the hurt I’d wanted to set loose on Avarice for years. I smeared blood on the political cartoon of a dragon, stuck it to my right shoulder under the blouse, and cranked out more Blood Magic. Then I tucked the empty folio away and swooped up alongside The Reaper.
We touched down in front of the high house, eyes scanning the bodies of the soldiers whose lives we’d been forced to end. Avarice stood with her back to the battlefield in the Basin below, revealed now that we’d dropped and harvested all her summoners. In the distance behind her, demons with iron-black wings dive bombed the Boer soldiers behind their mounds and trenches. Those were the demons she’d convinced the British to summon the old-fashioned way. She’d stoked the men’s greed by offering them guaranteed victory and more gold than they could spend, all for the bargain basement price of one summoning per person. I knew that we’d find circles, altars, and burned bibles in the sheds when we searched them after the skirmish.
Flipping her caramel-blonde hair, Avarice took off her tailcoat, tossed it aside, and strode toward us. She brushed dirt off her puritanical dress and snarled, “The Pneuma Coalition will eradicate you, and I stand witness to your violation of the laws set down during The Acheria Conference of 1880.”
The Reaper kept Seversoul pointed at Avarice while I spat, “It’s your word against ours, and this is self-defense. Representatives of the Soul Fountains are allowed to defend themselves for the sake of the mote system, and that includes taking human life if an assailant forces us to.”
“We are not to interfere with humanity,” The Reaper roared. His voice was the grinding of gears. “The Acheria Conference established this. It is you who steals souls and violates the laws set down during the Industrial Revolution.”
I launched myself at Avarice and beat both wings to build momentum for a flying side kick. She swatted my left foot away with a wing, and I spun in mid-air to turn it into a side-to-back-side kick. She knocked the right foot aside too and flicked her hand in an all too familiar way. I knew what was coming, so I whirled with the momentum I’d built up and swung a right uppercut at her ribcage.
It connected and flung her twenty feet skyward thanks to the Blood Magic I’d hidden down my right sleeve. I switched the haloxite knife to my right hand and tore after her, wings and heart pumping.
The Reaper bellowed from somewhere in the air behind me, “Avaline, clean up the demons and let Avarice go. She can’t defeat us.”
Blinking away flecks of red in my vision, I followed orders and--
Five heavy knocks shattered the atmosphere in The Reaper’s office and I leapt out of my chair, whirling to face the door. A demon’s silhouette stood outside. Her wind-tossed hair and her I’m-too-important-for-you posture sent an oh-crap twitch through me. Contressa, The Reaper’s third shift bodyguard.
She was here, and she could not find out about these case notes. Reaper's orders.