The Reaper wouldn’t mention two specific humans in a World War One battle unless they were important. Since I’d damn near screwed up writing these case notes for two days running, I turned on the mental jets and promised myself I wouldn’t miss a thing.
Seven days’ worth of bombings on the river Somme in northern France hadn’t driven the Germans back. We knew because we’d visited each day, dodging explosions and harvesting tens of thousands of souls at a time. Big cities on Earth in 1916 yielded plenty of life force from the humans that died there each day, but battlefields like this one were bumper crops that grew back daily. We couldn’t be wasteful and let all those souls become ghosts. You wouldn’t let your favorite food sit on the counter until it got moldy, would you?
When the bombings finally ceased, The Reaper dove from the skies and wove unseen among the charging British troops, twirling Seversoul between his hands. Each spin of the scythe caught multiple souls, drawing them and their life force into the two-toned blade. The souls of the dead blanketed the river banks and the land for kilometers around, and I grit my teeth trying to keep up with The Reaper in his element. His cackles blended with the gunshots and the shouts of men, sending chills up, down, and all through me.
Demons dotted the landscape, and I spotted each one as he or she stole the life force from the massive tide of souls among the living. I knew they’d been summoned by British and German soldiers who worked for the Pneuma Coalition. Maybe a few of the summoners could see us, maybe they were dead already. Either way, the Pneumas had everything to gain.
What better way to eliminate competitors than arm humans with haloxite ammuntion, then push them to summon demons with the excuse that the other side would be doing the same? It’d keep the summoners busy shooting demons, and it would give the demons false hope that they’d escape the Battle Of The Somme with bellies full of life force instead of bullets. The question was: which Septuplet was pulling the strings this time?
Two demon thieves noticed The Reaper and ditched the clusters of souls they’d been feeding on. Demon number one waved for his buddy to take off with him, pointing at The Reaper and pantomiming swinging a scythe. He flew right toward me without noticing that demon number two had fled like a cowardly chicken with yellow feathers. I drew my haloxite knife and flapped both wings, then waited for the lone demon to make a move.
He swerved upward seconds before The Reaper would cross his flight path, then bellowed, “Take that scythe.”
On account of flying away, his buddy didn’t respond, and that wasn’t what demon number one expected. I pumped my wings and swooped in a J arc, slashing my knife deep into his back. I’d hit the vital organs I’d aimed for, because he burst into smoke before the knife left his flesh. His horns dropped to the mud and muck that used to be the shore of the river Somme. Next second I was up in the air again, searching for more demons fool enough to try and ambush The Reaper on my watch.
We wove among crashed Royal Flying Corps aircraft and harvested hundreds and hundreds of souls, some fresh, some leftover from the previous week’s bombings. The demons on the battlefield behaved exactly the way I’d expected. One moment they’re stealing the life force from souls, and the next moment they’re either dead at The Reaper’s hand, or dead at mine. Keeping up with Reap was like trying to outfly a hurricane, but the name of the game wasn’t, “Out-Reap The Reaper.” It was, “Keep That Hurricane Spinning.”
I pumped both wings and darted out for another kill when this demon’s companion fled as quickly as the first chicken shit had. One dip underneath the attacker, one swipe, and the lone demon was nothing but smoke. Both of the demon’s horns tumbled to the ground only to be snatched up by the demon who’d run away. It was demon number two from earlier, and he was collecting the horns from fallen demons. He was a horn-hunter, collecting the brimstone from dead demons for use in anti-angel weaponry.
“Avaline,” The Reaper roared, and I whirled in mid-air to find him falling into formation beside me. “That horn-hunter is Apathy. He is one of the Septuplets. We must drive him off and stop his posse from stealing life force.”
“Did you just say, ‘posse?’ “
“It is fitting, is it not?”
I waggled my head in an "ehhh” sort of way and followed the Septuplet as he dipped. Already, Apathy was soaring away toward another handful of demons devouring stolen life force near a burned-out barn. I barely got a look at Apathy’s brimstone horns, bald pate, and greasy gray wings before he swerved behind the farmhouse next to the barn and didn’t come out. Great. this meant that Rage, Avarice, and Apathy were working for the Pneuma Coalition. That bald slacker wanted easy life force and easier brimstone, so he scavenged it instead of using his motes to get brimstone on the Vice Market.
I shouted to The Reaper as we flew. “Apathy can’t steal as many souls as we can harvest. Let’s work from the outside in and harvest all the souls we find. That way the demon thieves are more likely to stay where the souls are and we can clean them and Apathy up once we’re done.”
“Good plan, but look there.” The Reaper pointed toward that farm with Seversoul, where a swarm of demons hidden inside the barn and farmhouse gushed out like pest control’s worst nightmare. They swirled through the smoke-choked air toward us. “I hope you brought your Blood Magic folio.”