Mix one Reaper, one Ava, and a hundred swarming demon thieves and you get The Battle Of The Somme with too many chasers.
Demons with crimson, black, and gray wings erupted from a gutted farmhouse and barn in northern France, 1916. They surged through the skies after us in a tangled mass, drawing haloxite blades and rifles no doubt loaded with haloxite rounds that would pierce the protection our brimstone horns gave us. I whipped out my Blood Magic folio from the inside of my half-shredded trenchcoat and gripped my favorite haloxite knife in the other hand. Then I shouted to The Reaper, “Stick with the plan and harvest from the outside in. I’ll deal with these clowns.”
“What about the summoners on the battlefield?” The Reaper hissed, swooping for the outside edges of the war zone.
“We don’t know if they’re shooting haloxite yet,” I yelled over the winds and my beating wings. “If they are, this’ll be even easier. Now let’s go.”
He nodded his skull once and dove for the eastern edge of the combat zone where clusters of souls wandered amid the the dying dregs of war. Twirling Seversoul in figure eights, The Reaper absorbed dozens of soldiers’ souls. With every group he harvested, the demons behind us roared and raged, flapping faster and getting within meters of us. I cupped the top of the folio with my knife hand and flipped to the ‘impairment’ section, then drew out a full page picture of a liquor bottle. I held knife and picture in one hand, pocketed the folio with the other, then sliced an opening in my left pointer finger a couple centimeters long.
“Jeez that always hurts,” I groaned as I smeared my orange blood along every inch of the picture. Then I tore it into dozens of tiny pieces against my chest so none of them blew away. Flapping ahead of The Reaper a little, I spun in mid-air, let go of the shreds, and let the Blood Magic flow.
Two thrown spears tipped with haloxite whistled through the air toward The Reaper as I magicked, and I gauged their flight paths, then flung a flying front kick out and knocked the dangerous one off course. The other spear caught Reap’s robe and tore a hole, then plunged and stuck in the mud where a bald, gray-winged being snatched it up and kept flying beneath the swarm. Apathy’d followed us, but I’d have to deal with him after we finished off these drunk demons.
Well, they weren’t actually drunk. The shreds of the picture had guided my Blood Magic to impair the senses of anyone the pieces touched, and I’d caught dozens of them in the spell. Each one that I’d hit wobbled in the air and dropped their haloxite weapons to the ground where Apathy caught them and added them to a huge duffel bag he held under one arm. I seized the chance and zipped between drunkified demons, gripping my knife tight and striking each of them in the neck. Their forms dissolved into smoke with each blow I landed, and I lost count in the roar of the winds and the thudding of my heart behind my ribs.
There were seven demons left by the time the blood on the shreds dried and the magic wore off. They swerved at the sudden onset of sobriety and I checked to make sure The Reaper and I were still in formation together circling the battlefield. He was much farther ahead than me, but he’d circled multiple times and harvested thousands of souls while I was busy protecting him. I looked below to find Apathy cramming the horns of his fallen minions into the same duffel bag, which was now bulging with how full it was.
The Reaper’s voice was an ice floe right next to me. “You were right. The summoners have turned on the demons. They must think their enemies called them up.”
Demonists. Who was I to complain though?
A handful of summoners with a British soldier at their head was firing haloxite rounds up into the seven remaining demons, who puffed into smoke. Apathy had vanished sometime during the fighting, probably after he’d gathered enough brimstone and haloxite to make tons of motes on the Vice Market. Did Apathy work for the Pneuma Coalition, or was he siphoning off any benefit he could get by appearing all chummy with them?
The Reaper and I circled to the center of the chaos, metal bullets pinging off of our horns’ protection from the few remaining soldiers still fighting. We harvested the last thousand souls without any trouble and watched as the German soldiers--
A cream-colored angel wing slapped down on the bar next to us and I looked up to see Niariel’s bubbly self smiling at me and The Reaper. Her half-Japanese, half-Italian features made her look elegant even in the yoga pants and screen printed top that matched the sign outside. Nia was the only angel I trusted, and she owned The Down South Lounge, the bar in Hell that I’d taken The Reaper to for some privacy as we wrote this, our latest case. Nia’s hair fell in a crescent moon drape down to her chin on either side, and she fluffed it up and grinned at The Reaper.
Her lips moved, but nothing came out.
“One sec,” I said uselessly. Drawing out the half-picture of noise-canceling headphones, I tore my half in two and passed the other half to Nia.
She picked it up, glanced at the picture, then bounced on the balls of her feet. “That’s Blood Magic, and this spell guarantees that only the three of us can hear each other. H-E-double-hockey-sticks, Ava. I miss my best demon friend.”
“It’s been since yesterday,” I said before I could stop myself. Then I looked sidelong at The Reaper on his barstool. He wasn’t supposed to know I’d had a couple Sin and Tonics the other day before we wrote a case. Guess the imp’s out of the bag now.
Nia reached up and tapped her halo with a finger. “You were squeezing your horns a minute ago. What’s up?”
The Reaper set Seversoul down on the bar-I saw several drunk demons back away at this-and snorted. “Avaline is still dying to find out who the two important humans were at The Battle Of The Somme.”
Whoa. Reap just gave away a lot of information about our cases like it was nothing. It was Nia though, so I raised an eyebrow at him. “Who were the two uber-important humans who fought in the same battle together?”
Sucking in a rattling breath, The Reaper hissed, “Tolkien and Hitler.”