Helkey 14 — Liberator of Souls

I’ve pushed too hard. An easy thing to do in Hell’s combined toxic air and crazy heat. I’m dizzy, seeing double, feeling sick in my stomach. My heartbeat hammers in my ears.

Mottle is next to me. I feel a prick on my wrist as he does the weird IV bite. I cool off a little as nutrient and fluid from him flows into my veins. The stuff is cooler than my body temperature.  My heartbeat slows down. My vision returns. I feel less queasy. Mottle withdraws. I lever myself up to standing position. Whew. Hell really sucks. Human beings can’t manage it for squat. I’m not even 24 hours in – I’ve got all the support of my magic, a nearly endless water bottle, Mottle is cooling blanket plus emergency food and fluid source – and I’m still falling apart.

Speaking of water bottle… I feel something wet on my side. I look down to find that Perrier is laced with web-like cracks. Shattered but not yet broken. That fireball bullet shot from the devil’s pistol must’ve cracked it. Thing’s leaking through my flannel shirt pocket and down my leg. Duplici exemplari is still refilling it. But it’s pretty fucked up. “Shit!” I exclaim.

I steady myself on the wall and look down at the Poachers. Both are red-skinned devils — decked out in what might be useful gear. I crouch down next to Norg. He’s got a knife, his fireball pistol, and various items hung from his belt. Fuck yeah! There are two metal flasks. I pick up one, open it. Smell of fermentation wafts out. I dump it. Might be fun or interesting to try back home. Out here experimenting with exotic Hell alcohol is a health hazard. I gently pull out the Perrier bottle and pour a bit of the sparkling water into the flask. It fizzes. I use this as rinse, swirling it around, then dumping it. I then upend all the fluid from the Perrier bottle into the metal container. Duplici is acting on the water after all. So I should be good. I take a swig. Yep. Same Perrier. This time with a little hint of taste like liquorish. Must be a remnant hint of Norg’s booze. I’ll take it.

I remove the Perrier bottle and put it on the ground. The action is almost gentle. It’s a memento of my world – Earth. One that saved my ass. Sure, I’m feeling nostalgic about a friggin glass bottle. “Rest well, Perrier, your heroism will never be forgotten,” I say to the bottle. Stooping, I gather the rest of the devils’ gear. The hell rifle goes over one shoulder, the equipment belts and bullet baldrics over the other. I’m careful to make sure knives and pistol are secure. Mori gave me firearms training in prep for my journey to Hell. Looks like it might come in handy. Though guns aren’t really my thing. I kinda have a fear relationship with them. Too easy to kill something by pulling a trigger. With curses, at least you have to go through the intentional and mentally strenuous exercise of casting a spell first.

I can hear Mori talking in my head now. “People on Earth have said that war is Hell. Well, Hell is war. You’re going into Hell Myra. Best be ready to fight.” Hey, something got past the Memory Draught! Cool deal. Yeah. I remember this cute little Mori aphorism along with his firearms instruction all-right. I lug the guns and gear up to Mottle who is doing his wall-hanging thing. “Where to now?”

As answer, Mottle flaps further into the cave, waiting for me to follow. The passage winds down some natural stairs, around through rock columns, finally coming to a larger chamber. It’s blessedly cooler down here. Water bubbles up from a nearby spring. Doesn’t smell too sulfurous. Might be an actual drinkable source. Will test it later. Right now, I’m looking at a horror of pelts, prepared bones, racks of various smoked flesh, and a table stacked with worbs. Beside this shit-show are cages made of bone. Inside are three devils with blue skin. I remember from my earlier training these blue devils are the devil slave class. Well, there are all kinds of slaves in Hell. But blue devils make up the more numerous subsets of actual devil society. They don’t have any rights and other devils can pretty much do with them as they please. The three blue devils hover about in their cage, looking at us with various curious and plaintiff expressions. Beside their cage is a bloody whipping post whose purpose requires no explanation.

Poacher’s Cave and surrounding environs

A separate cage contains a green-skinned humanoid creature with insect-like wings and yellow orb eyes. It’s about two and a half feet tall. Looks like a faerie of some sort. Mottle extends his tail. I accept the contact. Vila. Blue devils. His matter-of-fact thoughts identify the creatures. I’m drawing a blank on the Vila.

“What’s a Vila?” I ask.

Tree spirit. Almost extinct. Mottle replies. Rare. Exotic. Valuable to Poachers for trade or body parts. These thoughts make me sick. If I have any lingering doubts taking down the poachers was justified, they’re erased at Mottle’s thoughts flashing in my brain as a spectacle of exploitation cowers before me.

The blue devils are chattering among themselves. They notice I’m carrying the Poacher’s gear. I hear the word “human” uttered a few times in hushed tones. One of them steps forward, extends a hand toward me. “Therivelle,” she says as she pats her chest. She moves with a limp. I can see her back is mostly flayed raw from whipping. “We will serve. Help in exchange for food.” She makes slow hand motions as she talks. I’m pretty sure she thinks I can’t understand what she’s saying.

The whole scene has made me angry. Throwing away caution, I step forward. Opening my left hand, I draw my moon-shadow blade from the air. The devils let out cries of anguish. I bring the sword down on the chain holding the bone door to the cage shut. Sparks fly as the chain parts. I kick the door open. “You’re free. Get out.” I say to them in the tongue of Hell’s world – Minos.

In two more steps, I am beside the Veela’s cage. It has no obvious door. In two slashes, I destroy a wall of the bone cage. “You’re free too Vila.” I say this in Minosian and then again in English. Not sure if the Vila can understand either. Mottle has hung back through the whole exchange. He’s not doing anything to stop me. I suppose I’m being careless. I don’t give a shit. This stuff is all just wrong.

The blue devils rush out. One runs past us, pauses for a moment near a rock column, then sprints on toward the entrance. Mottle touches my cheek. Might go warn devils. High reward for human mage. Even for blue devil. For the moment, I don’t care. I know it’s stupid-reckless. Sure, the twisted little devil living in Hell since forever is probably going to do me a bad turn. I just can’t bring myself to harm this poor wretch over a mere almost-certitude. The other two devils watch their companion run. Instead of following, they walk over to the drying flesh stretched out on racks and begin devouring chunks of it. I don’t typically eat meat. I have no idea what poor creature the poachers killed for it. My empty stomach grumbles nonetheless. Pretty sure I’m going to end up lowering my standards to survive here. I look at Mottle. Maybe. I hold off for now.

The Vila has flown up to a high corner in the cave. She is looking down on us – eyes flitting from me to the devils gulping down mouthfuls. I feel a pang of sympathy at their hunger even as I wonder what threat they may pose. Keeping my eyes on them, I move over to the table and start slicing up the worbs. Sparks and wisps fly. Another seventeen — five light, twelve dark — are sheltered behind my protective spiritual enclosures. Forty five souls now. Sixteen light wisps, twenty-nine dark. The energy they’re giving me back is quickly refilling my name curse. I’m up to a third already after being next to empty fifteen minutes ago.

Blue devils pause from their food devouring to watch. Their pink eyes widen in surprise. The boy spouts an infernal curse. Theri — I mentally drop the velle part — drifts forward and looks at my arm dripping sparks. “You keep wisps?” She asks.

“It’s part of my magic. Makes them safe. They help me in turn.” I can tell she’s scared of me. Feeling is fucking mutual. The look she’s giving me is one of open disbelief.

“You don’t destroy them for power? Don’t devour them?” The way she says it sounds like an accusation. Like she’s saying I’m lying with a question.

In answer, I life my arm, turn so she can see my shadow. “Revelare,” I incant. My name curse and shadow briefly remove their protective shroud — showing the light and dark wisps within. They swarm in my shadow, flicker and dance with the sparks in my name curse. More vital and alive since their removal from Hell’s spiritually caustic environment. For a normal human, this might look like a parlor trick. But devil eyes are specially adapted to see wisps. The entire race has preyed upon and hunted them for thousands of years. Before that… Why can’t I remember what they did before? Oh yeah, damn Memory Draught took it out. But I assume they did something less obnoxious with wisps before Asmodeus took over all those thousands of years ago.

Theri hisses in surprise and disbelief. The other blue devil steps forward, clutching at Theri’s arm. “She’s not lying,” he says to her softly.

She puts her hand over his. “Zel, how can a thing like this be real?”

“It’s what you always said, Theri. Try to find another way. Maybe it found us?”

I close my hand, allowing the protective shroud to fall again. My wisps are growing agitated even at the brief Hell contact. The soft, dare I say compassionate, exchange between Zel and Theri gives me an odd sense of hope. I’m conflicted. You’re not supposed to feel hope in Hell. But if not, then why am I here? Seeing how I still don’t know shit about my mission, I decide to improvise. Worked with Mottle after all.

“Look. I can’t even begin to imagine your life here. What you’ve been through. And, yeah, I’m a human mage. So you’re probably looking at me like I’m some combo between fish out of water and big sack of gold. Maybe if you hand me over, you can win what passes for devil freedom here. I’ve an alternate proposition. Join up with me and I’ll show you what real freedom looks like.” I’m totally playing this by ear. Some of what I’m saying I’m sure is pretty much pure bullshit. But if I pull the thread of everything that’s happened, of Mottle and my name curse, I must not be too far off. If I can chip souls out of the typical hell cycle of exploitation. If I can get Mottle out of that harmful loop, then why not the dregs of devil society who’ve been shit on for millennia? Maybe I could help them out? Gods I must be frigging nuts.

Theri and Zel are staring at me. Zel gives a toothy grin as smile. “Well, I didn’t expect to live for more than a few days anyway. Here’s to giving the big stiff middle finger to the man,” Zel replies. I’m translating a bit liberally here. What he really said was more like “give the man the big pointy horn.” But you get the picture. Anyway, it seems my little speech and show of protection for wisps has won them over. At least for now.

There’s a flutter of wings as the Vila flits down closer. Her green face is covered in tears. She touches her chest. “Zaya,” she says. “I’m Zaya. You’ve taken my tree’s wisp. Given it real light and good earth.” She points to my name curse. A green-tinted wisp rises to just below the curse’s whorls as Zaya flutters closer, lifting a hand to touch me. I let her. The hand is tiny, smaller than a child’s but perfectly formed like an adult’s. She’s a frigging faerie. In Hell. “You… I feel… alive again. Can I come? Will you take my wisp if I die? I promise to help you.”

My name curse sparks at her pledge. It seems her good intention and sincere ask for aid has forged a bond with it. “There’s your answer,” I reply softly.

Zaya exhales in relief. She keeps her hand on my name curse. It seems to comfort, so I let her.

The devils’ soul-sensitive eyes see the bond form. Mystified, they watch the sparks fall. Zel tentatively extends a hand.

“It’s OK. Go ahead,” I say.

Zel puts his much larger hand on top of Zaya’s. Theri looks at him. He nods. She places her hand on top of Zel’s.

“Me as well. Give my wisp your protection and I will help you.” Theri says.

“Me too,” Zel says. His skin becomes kind of purple. It’s a blue devil blush. “I trust you with my spirit.”

Sparks spill out of my name curse beneath their touch. A fountain of lights casting shadows throughout the cave. I feel like a roman candle without the burn. Three lights separate from the rest. Lifting up, they hover before each of my new companions in turn, then slowly descend to alight upon their chests. The sparks melt into them. Zaya giggles. Zel gasps. Theri smiles and says “It’s warm and it kind of tickles.” I’m just as surprised. It’s the most unlikely of scenes I’d ever have imagined taking place in Hell. But here I am in a Poacher’s larder, forming a holy bond of friendship with liberated blue devils and what is probably one of the last remaining Vila in all of this blasted and burned of places.

Mottle puts his tail on my shoulder. A spark floats off for him as well. My, my, aren’t we the odd quintet?

(Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Helkey 13 — Devil Poachers

Hell’s sun rises as I do the Mottle walk-glide thing up and down a desert expanse of dunes.

It’s arduous and thrilling in one go. First, we slog up the side of a dune, clambering to its top. Climbing over sand isn’t easy anywhere. But this is Hell. So of course it’s much worse. I feel the sweltering ground through my boots. Scorching sand finds its way into cracks. The sulfur stink is never-ending. Mottle’s heat-bleeding form and strong musculature is a literal life-saver. He cuts my effort in half. The air swelters and I’m sweaty as all hell. But Mottle somehow cools my skin surface like a refreshing breeze. This keeps me from overheating. I’m still drinking craploads of Perrier. Without the Mottle living suit assist, I’m sure I’d be dead, dead, dead in maybe an hour tops from combined heat and exertion. Pretty sure even those slick Fremen desert survival suits from Frank Herbert’s Dune wouldn’t handle this environment. Yep. I’m a sci-fi geek. You should know this by now.

When we get to the dune-tops we pause. Mottle flaps his carpet body wide to catch the hot wind – tail trailing behind to balance. This arrangement requires me to support his full bulk as I run. But I don’t need to go far before the weight comes off. Mottle’s body attached to my back becomes a freaking powered hang glider. He flaps, cups the air. For maybe a minute, I’m air-born – skimming between ten and fifty feet over hot, sulfurous ground. We fly down the slope and then on for another couple hundred yards. I whoop in thrill despite myself — basking in nostalgic memory of hang gliding off Jockey’s Ridge in Kill Devil Hills. Those glider tours were a blast for me as a kid. Hell, the whole of the Outer Banks was – what with the surfing and camping and crazy-good pizza. Damn, I could really go for some of that Nino’s pizza about now. Mom and Dad would tell stupid stories of how one of their first camping dates got rained on and they ended up in the Sea Oatel. Get it? Sea Oatel? Funny haha. That was before the rising Atlantic spit out a barrage of seriously beefy hurricanes — slicing the Outer Banks to ribbons. One of the first and smaller ones, took out the Sea Oatel. Godzilla type hurricanes followed. They must have rebuilt the damn causeway three times before giving up. Now OBX is a string of shrinking islands. If you want to get there these days, you take a ferry. Another one of my kid happy places ate up by those Blood of Earth fuels the likes of Furze Bank keeps shoving down people’s throats back home.

Feet touch down. My landing is cushioned by Mottle’s ample musculature. I tuck the precious, ever-refilling Perrier bottle under arm like a football to protect it. Jogging slows to a walk and we begin the next climb. The sunrise is a purple-blue bruise of a thing. Another reminder, as if I need more, I’m not on an admittedly ailing Earth but in a worst place gone well off the rails long, long ago. Those sunrise colors quickly shift, turning green as the white sun-orb advances through cloudless firmament. There’s a weird web of black crud — not clouds, the crud is too high up — spreading over large sections. The not-cloud-black-crud offers some shade, but little true protection. If I weren’t covered by Mottle, I’m certain the burn would be both fierce and nearly instant. My various bits are already red and itchy after yesterday’s brief exposure. Mottle’s full body covering and fuzzy head as hat provides lots of natural sun block. That low-hanging orb is not yet at full furious burn. Still, I’m getting hot and doing my best to avoid it. Looking up at the black crud webbing in the sky, I wonder if Hell has much of an ozone layer. Probably not given all the sulfur stuff blowing up into its atmosphere from the death-soup ocean.

Tip of Knife Lake and Surrounding Lands

We continue our walk and glide journey through these dune-lands. Dead things lay in various stricken poses along eroding cliff faces or near stinking water holes. Razor plants of the kind Mottle devoured and other more dangerous-looking varieties cluster around these putrescent sources. We avoid them. Mirror-me said they’re poisonous. Mottle agrees. Even his resilient metabolism doesn’t manage the toxic gas coming off them in sulfurous wafts. Mottle and I stick to the high ground well away from these pockets of poison air.

We crest a tall dune rising above the rest. In the morning light I get a good view of the lands spreading before me. Dunes ripple out like still waves for miles. Beyond them is the front edge of a long, purple lake. It fades into the distance. Above it looms a smoking tower. Blue flames and wicked lights spiral up its length. Must be at least 40 miles away. But it is large enough to dominate the surrounding lands. Looks to me like someone took the tower from The Dark Crystal and lit it on fire – turning it into a kind of macabre candelabra. On the south side of the lake, the lands spark with occasional ethereal glows. From this distance, they look like fireflies.

Knife Lake. Wisp fields. Mottle thinks to me in his terse, matter of fact, way.

“OK. Thanks for the info, Mr. Hell tour guide. So that’s where the spirits of the damned pop up. Why do they?”

Not just there. All over Infernia. From Mottle, I get the impression this part of Hell is called Infernia. Pretty geographically smart for a bat-thing. But he’s been here for a decent spell and he was once human. Still keeps his human-level intelligence and awareness. Most beasties here do. Come to think of it, Bob the lizard acted like a bully I once knew as a kid. The notion that many creatures in Hell were once human but are now forced to live in various monstrous forms makes the place somehow more horrific. For some reason this is even scarier than possessed dolls or evil clowns. And both of those are damn freaking scary.

“All of Infernia, hmm? I guess Infernia is a big place.”

Big. It’s Mottle’s one-word answer. For follow-on, I get an image from him of endless hot and storm-wracked lands. Of vales where wisps emerge. Of various devils hunting the wisps. To the north is a great smoking land of calderas, naked-to-air coal fields, and volcanos. The Burning Lands. Mottle assigns a name as he thinks this image to me. He didn’t go there. Another Mottle gave him the image. Handy trick — this thought-sharing among Mottles.

“What’s that?” I point to the burning tower.

Overseer is Mottle’s new one-word answer.

“Overseer what? Overseer tower? Overseer HQ? What?”

Overseer. Stronghold for Drivers, Poachers, worse. Make worbs. Take wisps. Enslave. Wisp slave trade outpost. Mottle is notably terse with thought on the subject of Overseer. All I get from him is the sharp edge of fear. I look back over my shoulder at the near-ocean lands we just departed. Sand dunes filled with skeletons. Huge poisonous purple ocean prone to spitting up storms violent enough to flay flesh from bone in an instant. A deadly land far enough away from the wisp fields to offer some deterrent to the slave masters of Overseer Tower. Yeah. I’m taking a little name liberty here. So what? I’m kinda a Hell pioneer. Deal with it. I look back over the purple lake to that burning twisted metal finger. They’d be more occupied in the richer wisp fields near the lake. Clever Mottle.

“Outpost? It’s bigger than fucking Minas Ithil!”

Mottle draws a blank.

“What, you didn’t read Tolkien? For shame!” I chide. But I’m not too serious. True Tolkien geeks are hard to come by. “What I mean to say is that’s a pretty damn big tower. I’m surprised, seeing how we are in the fucking bad, bad lands.”

All Hell bad. Wisp trade Hell’s greatest industry, Mottle sends back.

“Well, that makes sense, I guess.” I know the devils cynically ruined Hell for viable living by other means a long time ago. Preying on wisps was their way of surviving and advancing – if you could call the ever-greater development of violent and dominating powers ‘advancing.’

Best go. Time.

Mottle’s right. Sun’s getting higher. I’m getting even hotter. I gulp my Perrier down to almost empty – careful not to drink it all lest I remove the reproducing agent. It’s hot as the sweltering air. No matter. I need fluid. “How much further?” I ask.

Halfway down. Old burrow. Should be unoccupied. Mottle guides my senses down to about twenty dunes away. So a few more miles. He spreads his wings. I give it a good run. He flaps with effort and we fly fast and far – shooting over the top of a smaller dune below, catching an updraft from the heating land, and making it almost halfway up the next rise. I’m thankful for it. If I took the Mottle head as hat off, I’m sure I’d see a column of heat rising off my head. The longer glide gives me about a minute to think. I don’t like the sound of ‘should be unoccupied.’ Too uncertain. Mottle responds to my worry with his own prickles of anxiety.

Knife Lake grows in size along with my discomfort. Its purple waters pointing at me in a very rude manner. First rule of knife and gun etiquette – don’t point it at someone unless you intend to use it against them. Well, maybe Knife Lake had just such an intent. It sure did look mean in a violent kind of way. We pass one last land rise and begin a long descent toward the lake’s lowlands. Air around me is literally starting to sizzle — rippling with heat mirages. Little putrid pools turn into stinking patches from super-fast evaporation. Gotta be about 120 degrees outside and still fracking morning. It’s tough to conceptualize, but being near the ocean was actually cooler. I’m gonna need to come up with like a hundred new words for ‘hot’ if I’m gonna be here for an entire fucking year.

One last rise and Mottle begins a slow glide down the backside of a rocky dune. Sand is steadily giving way to scree and hard-packed clay. Up ahead, is a crevice. Mottle dives in. In an instant we are out of the sun’s scorching rays. Cooler air blows up from below. Cooler is like 95 degrees. I’ll take it. Mottle drifts down for a while, then aims for a ledge. I brace my legs for impact. Mottle helps with his own legs and tail, hooking the crevice wall at the last instant with a couple of the gripping claws on my left shoulder. It takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the shadowy crevice. About a hundred feet ahead is a cave mouth. Beside it is a spikey metal contraption. It looks like a metal hedgehog with a metal arm studded with glass bulbs. At the end of the arm is a blue light. It takes me a moment to realize this is a worb.

“What the hell is that?” I whisper. Seems like the right thing to do. That spikey oddity looks dangerous.

Scorpion. Poacher gear.

Well, it doesn’t look like a scorpion insect thing. But who am I to judge? Mottle sends on an image of the scorpion hurling its spines at anything that gets too close. Great. “What do you mean, Poacher? There’s a devil in there?”

Two. Hunt in pairs. Taken cave for hunt base.

“OK. Makes sense. Poachers hunt. What do they poach?”

Wisps. Rarer is better. Mage wisp is best. Hunt creatures too. Sell for slaves, food, skins. Or just kill and take wisps.

“Fuck. Sound like some seriously nasty customers.”

As I say this the hedgehog scorpion thing gives a little ‘bleep-bleep!’ then shoots what looks like a green hornet made of metal into the air. The hornet begins to do a clover-leaf type flight pattern. Two of the glass bulbs on it have lit up with a red light which flashes over our location. The green metal hornet gives an angry buzz and shoots toward us with frightening velocity. The hedgehog makes a chunk-chunk sound and two of the spines fly toward us. They fall short, impacting into the crevice wall about ten feet below us. The hedgehog whirs as it adjusts its aim.

Sees us. That needs no explanation. Looks like it’s time for me to do something. I glance at my name curse. Nearly full now. Good. I extend my arm, level my hand in a knife-like gesture, pointing all my fingers in the direction of both scorpion and green hornet — shouting “Vexare! Verberare!” Five white-glowing missiles streak out. Two explode upon the hornet, knocking it to the ground. The other three riddle the hedgehog. One shatters its little glass eyes. Two pierce its spikey body, then explode. The combined force causes it to launch all missiles wildly. They riddle the crevice. But none hit.

The hornet is down but not out. It lurches as it rises, long stinger dripping some kind of yellow fluid. Movements are slow — still recovering from the shock of my explosive bolts. “Lunen Svert Umbra!” I summon my moon-shadow blade into hand and, without a moment’s hesitation, leap down. Mottle launches me with his strong tail and feet. We descent upon the slowing-rising hornet. It tries to bob to one side. I slice it neatly in two. It gushes yellow fluid. I dodge the expulsion and land beside its oozing fragments, damn glad both mom and dad made for excellent mage-type sparring partners. The whole encounter is over in about twelve violent seconds. My heart is pounding in my chest with combined fear and elation.

The trouble isn’t over. I hear talking emerge from the cave. It’s in devil-speak. I know it. My parents started drilling the infernal tongue into my head starting at age 7.

“Stupid scorpion goin’ off again. You set it too sensitive, Croak.”

“Didna. Scorp saved our hide o’re hundred times, Norg.”

“Done kilt our sleep jus as much.”

We rush up to a large bolder for cover as Norg blows a raspberry. I look out, point my moon-shadow blade at the cave opening, and ready another Vexare Verberare barrage.  

A devil’s head emerges. Red-skin, pointy ears, yellow eyes. Its body clothed in some kind of black scale leather. Tall boots of the same. Big brass belt buckle. A pair of short horns rise out of stringy black hair. Bulging worb on his left shoulder. In one hand is a long-barreled, magazine-fed hunting rifle. It’s a wicked, angular thing. Stock etched with the pentagonal upside-down A standing for Asmodeus. On Earth, it might be over-looked as an exotic piece of military hardware. His devil’s eyes bulge with surprise as he notices the destroyed scorpion.

“Shit!” He shouts as he starts to lunge back into the cave, fumbling with his weapon.

I curse and point at him. “Fuck,” I say as the devil scrambles back, trying to adjust his weapon. He hasn’t seen me yet, thank the freaking gods. I wanted to catch both of the evil bastards further out from the opening. I take the shot anyway. “Vexare Verberare!” Five more missiles form from sparks in my name curse, grow into white bulges of energy, and shoot down the length of my light and shadow blade toward the devil. He scrambles around the corner. The missiles make the turn after him as he dives. Two explode upon his worb. The first cracks it, the second scatters the pieces. The rest leave scorch marks across his torso.

“Croak! Croak!” Norg is shouting from inside the cave mouth. I am pretty sure Croak has croaked.

Mottle vibrates, emitting an ultra-sound pulse. It pings down into the cave, then bounces back. Only two. One is dead. Many captives. More victims.  He thinks to me, letting me know there aren’t any more of the damn Poachers. I file the other info for later. There’s still a fuckin devil down there. I scramble away from the boulder, checking my name curse. Not enough energy for another Vexare barrage. The stuff is taxing but crazy lethal. So I’m down below half right now.

The cave opening flashes with light. Wisps whirl and rise out from it — caught in the tide of my name curse. They rush toward me in ethereal flows. Mottle lifts away from my back. My foot-falls scramble over loose scree. I see his cloak-like body fly above me. He flits into the cave entrance, edge-on, and quickly blends with shadow. I can see Norg now. He is shouting as he lifts a revolver. He presses some kind of button on the weapon’s side. I can see a bullet head start to glow red down the frigging barrel. It is pointed right at me. I jump and doge. The hammer falls. A mini-fireball streaks toward me. The fireball hits the ground beside me and explodes.

“Clypeus!” I shout as I jump. My name curse sparks. A brief field of force envelops me, redirecting most of the explosion. It still lifts me off my feet, hurling me to one side. I land and roll. Scuffing my elbows, but not much worse for wear. Damn, that was fucking close!

Mottle is on him, wrapping him up with his muscular body. I roll to my feet. The poacher is drawing a knife. My wisp energy is low now. I have maybe a curse or two left. I scramble to my feet. “Salire!” I shout. The jumping curse propels me through the air in a long leap. Beatrice can do this without even thinking. But I am no damn angel. Well, maybe half angel. She is my mom after all. Point is, I can’t leap 20 feet like her without a bit of magical assistance. I bound through the air, shoot into the entrance, do an unintentional flip as the force of my magic carries me in. I land, bringing my shadow blade down on the Poacher’s neck. It slices clean through. The knife he drew falls with a clatter. Mottle is safe.

Mottle unfurls from him, flapping onto the cave wall. Wisps are rising up from sundered worb and devil bodies. The dark of my shadow grows as seven more slither in to join Bob. Four lighter wisps spark and crackle as they enter my name curse. Croak’s worb is empty. All are now within the strange haven my curse makes for them. Nine light wisps, eight dark ones. For a moment, I wonder how Asmodeus became so good at ensnaring the non-malign in a Hell that originally only drew in darker souls. I file this thought for later.

Lowering my moon-shadow blade, I slice through the worb on Norg’s shoulder. Eleven more wisps streak out. Nine of these are dark. My shadow again grows. My name curse again sparks. Twenty-eight wisps in total. Eleven light wisps, seventeen dark. I’m a walking community of the damned. Friggin great.

I turn to Mottle. He lifts his tail, touching my hand. “What now?” I ask.

Now free captives. Then rest.

“Rest, good idea.” I mean to pat the tail with my other hand in a kind of chummy survival celebration. Instead, I hear a noise like waves in my ears. I grow dizzy, then collapse from a standing position down onto my ass. I’m guessing that rest is not optional.

(Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Helkey 12 — Strange Dreams and Stranger Food

As safe as I imagine a body can be in freaking Hell, I rest beneath Mottle’s protective form — sleeping for gods-damn real this time.

When dreams do come, they are of floating in ocean depths. Over my face – a protective bubble of air allows easy breathing. That death beach I just escaped from must have shaken out some of my more pleasant impressions of Earth’s ocean. This water is cool and, though dark, it’s clear. No pollution. No goop. Lots of actual life. I’m reminded of a time at the beach one day surfing. Of wiping out on a giant wave and getting held under in the dark, swirling waters until my lungs screamed for release. This is like that. But peaceful and with more air.

Soft, silver light envelops me. Flickering. Far away a green blinker slowly moves in and out of the darkness. Could it be the lure of an angler fish? A great tubular body drifts nearby, mostly stationary. Some giant sperm whale. Its black eye watches but does not threaten. A school of krill rises up like bubbles all around. My name-curse sparks softly, adding to the various gentle glows in the dark deep.

I try to move, but a kind of seaweed is wrapped around my body. Great, so I’m stuck in fracking seaweed at the bottom of the ocean. If I kick lazily, I can move about a little, even if the seaweed holds me mostly in place. The whale’s black eye watches, offering little encouragement. Thanks for nothing, big guy. On the floor nearby is a round stone shape. Looks a bit like an altar. Lettering surrounds its top edge. The surface is flat, like a table top. Upon it rests a long, black box. For some reason, I’m thinking of Atlantis. Yeah, right. This is frigging Atlantis.

I trace my hand along the box. It’s smooth with barely perceptible seams. Like a frigging puzzle box. Curious about this sea-floor artifact I’ve discovered, I start to look more closely. Electricity arcs out from the box — jabbing into my name curse. Fuck! I pull my hand back. Through the water, there is a chiming of bells. 10 Bells. Funny haha. It must be ten o’clock Berlin time. Mottle rustles, the ocean scene fades, and I wake up to a growling stomach.

Mottle folds back as I sit up, tail still lightly touching my right hand. He sends a query about the dream through our physical and mental link. A kind of – what the? I mentally shrug back at him. Just a crazy fracking dream, I guess?

I look around. The still night of Hell filters through various cracks in the ceiling of Mottle’s little grotto. Water level in the cave has dropped. Distant flickers of lightning illuminate the cracks but the storm is long past. Must be about five o’clock A.M. Hell time. I feel around in my pockets, pulling out my phone. It’s busted and waterlogged. Now nothing more than an expensive paper weight. I think about chucking it, but pocket the thing instead. Resources here are damn sparse. Who knows when something in it might prove useful?

Thinking of resources reminds me of the water bottle. I crack open Perry-Fuckin-A and take a long series of swigs. Mottle somehow kept me cooler. But I’ve still sweat out a lot water. The guy probably saved me from fracking heat-stroke, though. Air here is just stifling. My phone’s bulk is an idle chunk in my pocket. Damn. I need a freaking clock. Meaning — time for more magic. Glancing at my name curse, I notice from the amount of silvery luminescence that my energetic vessel is already more than three-quarters full. It’s kinda like my battery for curse energy storage. It holds the stuff I naturally draw in from the multiversal spirit. Pretty cool, right? Most mages can easily get the gist of how much energy they have. It’s similar to the physical feeling of hungry or full. I get the hunger pangs and fullness part too. My name curse just gives me a more exact indicator. Almost as good as a freaking fuel gage. Well not quite. But you get the picture. This time, I have more than I should and I’m getting it faster than I typically would. A quicker recharge thanks to the five Mottle wisps peacefully humming away in the whirls and swoops of my curse. Oh, and Bob, don’t forget about frigging Bob, lurking in my shadow, who almost ate me back there at the cave entrance. Well, since I’m working with more magical energy coming in than usual, I can spare just a little for a minor permanent curse.

Map of Myra’s journey from Hell’s Beach, through Mottle’s Grotto and toward Knife Lake

Horologium!” I chant, and a semi-transparent chronometer face appears on my left wrist just below the name curse. Its characters blink in the darkness. Reminds me of those old digital watches from the 70s and 80s with the back-light you activate with a button. “Nice!” I’m probably more excited than I should be. But this is Hell, after all. Any comforts of home are damn mighty precious. “Now set,” I command my new time piece. “Time is 5 o’clock A.M.”

The magical watch flickers. An indicator flashes. “Time zone?” is the query.

“Well fuck, Hell’s Beach, I guess.” The chronometer dutifully records Hell’s Beach as time zone.

Mottle has folded himself up into a kind of tee-pee pose beside me. His big, black eyes are watching me fiddle with Horologium. He lifts his tail and gently touches the back of my hand. Should get moving. Not safe. An image of Bob’s chameleon feet appears in my mind’s eye. Damn, Mottle, this is gonna take some getting used to. I see Bob’s feet leaving a residue as he walks. Another lizard-devil like Bob sniffs the film of goop with its flicking tongue and follows. Then another follows that one. There are many more in a burrow under the sand a mile or two off. Stelo-mal is the word that forms in my head. Bad frigging lizard.

I groan loudly. “Ugghh! They are like giant devil ants! So, Bob led the rest of them to us?”

Mottle sends an affirmative pulse up my arm. Now. Later too hot. I get an image of me passing out in the heat, laying on the sand ‘til I die, then becoming hell-vulture food. Talk about some big freaking vultures! OK, point taken.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Frail hooman girl can’t handle Hell-hot. I get it.” I use the Bob word for human. I don’t know why, but it strikes me as funny. Bob, back there in my shadow, is silent. “Well, best get moving while mornin’s burnin.” I stand up and look around the chamber. A few crevices further up are about big enough for me to pass through. The lower water reveals more of the crack I squeezed through earlier. Not gonna risk that way again unless I must. Drinking one more swig of the Perrier, I slide it into my flannel pocket and motion for Mottle to lead the way.

Mottle unfolds his bat-carpet form, then flaps off toward one of the larger crevices. He lands beside it and waves me forward with his tail. I shrug, then clamber over boulders, find a narrow ledge, and wedge up into the hole. Mottle flaps ahead again – flying down a tunnel for about fifteen feet. With his claws, he latches himself onto the right side of an opening. Spread out like that, he looks like a hanging wall-rug. This is also funny. Oh jeez, I must be getting light-headed from lack of food.

I clamber up beside Mottle, already hot and super-sweaty from climbing in the crazy Hell-heat. I try to remind myself that the cave was cooler. My body’s not taking in the message my brain is sending it. The sulfur stink is also not helping with breathing. Chest is tight. I cough. Mottle gives me a concerned look. “Shut up,” I say to him. Not sure he understands. Maybe he does. That’s a smart bat… thing.

I look out onto a beach that is blasted flat by storm. All the dunes within at least a half mile of the freaking ocean are leveled. And this is on the steep rise to rocky area I sheltered in. Further down the beach to my right is a lower area that’s still flooded with a stinking and goop laden flow. Mottle flies ahead, lands on the ground, then waves at me with his tail. I clamber down, get my feet on the sand, and slog up to where he’s landed. Man am I seriously jealous about his ability to fly. He looks back at me with what I think is sympathy before launching off again. I let out an exasperated breath and trot after him. At least the sand is pounded firm by wind and water.

His glide down the slope is a long one. He lands about a quarter mile away, then gets busy digging at the sand. I don’t want to be alone in this place. It’s freaking surprising how I’ve already glommed onto Mottle as a kind of safety-net. But after meeting Bob, I’m more than a little paranoid about all the various monstrosities lurking about.

I’m really starting to feel seriously homesick. So I conjure up a familiar memory of paddling out into Earth’s much kinder ocean to surf alone — wondering if some predatory shark is swimming below me. Just a memory of me by my lonesome in the big ass ocean. Easy access to any predator who may find me even a tiny bit interesting. The feeling here in Hell is similar. But a crap-ton more intense. Part of it has to do with stuff I know. Various bits that slipped by the Memory Draught are the opposite of freaking comforting. Unlike Earth’s ocean where a human interloper is oft-ignored, a human in Hell is the most sought-after prey of all. And as you’re probably catching on, fact is we’re sitting ducks in Hell’s crippling environment. So, Mottle leaving me a few hundred yards behind makes me freak out just a little.

Despite feeling weak with hunger, I put on the jets and sprint up to where Mottle is expertly ripping through sand. As I approach, I see what he’s after. It’s one of those mean-ass plants with the razor leaves, buried in the storm. Now he’s uncovered it. Careful to avoid the sharp protrusions, Mottle uses his rear legs and his tail to dig around and below. He shuffles deeper into the sand. Letting out a satisfied grunt, he stops for a moment. Then, he begins to thrash about. There is a ripping sound. He scrabbles forward, pulling and straining against the sand with his claws. I grab hold of him, helping him move whatever it is that he’s got hold of with his tail. There is one last rip. I fall as Mottle lunges up.

I stand, brush the sand off, turn around. Mottle has pulled a gigantic bulb out of the ground. It’s about two and a half feet across. The size of a large-ass pumpkin and covered in green and yellow splotches. Mottle starts tearing into it. I inch up to see about sharing in the feast. Doesn’t look appetizing at all. But I am really damn hungry and I’m gonna need some kind of sustenance. Especially here. I burned a lot of fuel yesterday in just a handful of hours. Mottle is gorging. Goop and pulpy stuff flies everywhere. It smells pretty foul. I reach out to grab some of the pulp. Mottle’s tail lashes out, pushing my hand away.

No. Poisonous to human. Let Mottle handle.

I flop back on my butt with a sign of frustration. Figures it would be poisonous. “Of course, it is.” I rub at a bit of sand with the palm of my hand. To Hell’s east, the horizon is lighting up with pink and purple. The sun is coming. Though it’s at least 100 with like 70 percent humidity now, it’s about to start getting a whole lot hotter. I dig out the Perrier and take another set of gulping drinks. Gonna need it all.

Mottle has finally stopped gobbling up the plant’s bulb. It’s mostly gone. I wonder where he put it all. That thing was huge. He ripples over toward me. His blanket body coming into contact with my skin. Trust Mottle? The query flooding through me is tinged with urgency and fear. I’m not sure what to make of it. Weird.

“Yeah, I guess,” I reply. What do I really know about Mottle anyway? He helped me survive the night. He didn’t do anything to hurt me when he could have. He gave me some thoughts that I assume are his memories. It could all be a ruse. But if he wanted to eat me or otherwise take me out, he could have done it when I was sleeping. And clearly, he also just ate a crapload of food. Sure, I’m almost 100 percent certain I pretty much trust him.

Mottle pauses for a moment, then lunges forward and latches himself onto my neck. He’s lightning-quick. Catches me completely off-guard. I am halfway through summoning my moon-shadow blade, when more thoughts flood into me. No hurt. Help. The sensation I feel from him is motherly. Like a parent to precious offspring. This is not threatening… but why?? Before I can think any more, Mottle freaking bites me. More precisely, two teeth-like things extend from his mouth area and enter my neck.

“The fuck!?” I shout as these teeth pierce me – thrusting into arteries beneath my jaw. God, I am so fucking dead! I can’t even freaking move!

How we feed young. Mottle thinks. Then there is a cool kind of euphoria spreading out from my neck and over my body. Energy slowly fills me. There is a gland behind each tooth. It is pumping some kind of food and liquid together – directly into my veins. Mottle’s body made and processed it. Apparently, my body accepts it. After about a minute of this, Mottle’s teeth withdraw. He flaps away. I can move again. I touch my neck. The holes ooze a tiny amount of blood. But they’ve mostly already sealed. There’s a kind of substance on them that must be a coagulant.

I kick myself away from him. “Gods that was fucking weird!” He bends his head in a kind of gesture that says he’s sorry. I feel so much better. I am not at all hungry even though my stomach is still completely empty. It oddly feels full. “No way! No fuckin way!” I shout this to him. Mottle offers his tail. I don’t want to take it. I can’t help myself because I’m too damn curious. When my hand touches him, his thoughts again flow into me. Myra hunger. Getting weak. No food. Mottle could give. Explain would just make scared.

“Make scared. Yeah. Did that.”

Myra feel better? Not hunger?

I have to admit, I do feel pretty frackin good. “Yeah,” I say grudgingly.

Good. Now Mottle keep Myra cool. And with that Mottle is again on my freaking back. His blanket-like body again somehow sluffing the heat away. Gods, he’s quick. If he actually did want to kill me, it probably wouldn’t be hard at all in my present state. I remind myself he’s trying his best to help me. And yeah, I don’t know squat about getting food here. That weird IV tooth injection thing really did the trick.

I stand up. He helps me with his tail and two hind claws even as his foreclaws grasp my shoulders like the big pads of some kind of football player protective gear. His midsection spine runs down my vertebrae, lending even more support. His freaking head is on top of my own head like a helmet. Two bone teeth loop coolly over my scalp without stabbing. With the mental coordination we share, it’s like having three more legs, a kind of rubbery protection all over me reinforced with bone, and a big furry helmet with two extra eyes looking out sideways. There’s weight to him, but it’s like his squarish, mostly wing body is all muscle. For a moment, it’s awkward. I take a step. His body springs and contracts lending force to my steps while somehow also cushioning. This is just crazy. Like Mottle is somehow adapted to a weird kind of human symbiosis. I check my memory for anything about this kind of creature. Draw a blank. So, not a full devil. A creature living in Hell who refuses to devour wisps and can somehow create this kind of natural bond with a human. Also not far from the Hell-Gate. This kind of stuff has Beatrice and Mori planning written all over it. I suppose I could just be crazy lucky. But in my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.

I notice my curse energy is a tad bit lower. “You took some of my magic, didn’t you?”

Mottle helps Myra; Myra helps Mottle.

“Hmph. Yeah. I figured.” So Mottle wasn’t entirely wisp independent. But he could somehow siphon wisp energy without killing. Again, not typical devil stuff. My own wisp energy for magic comes from the multiverse at large and now also from the wisps I keep safe from Hell. Looks like Mottle has stumbled on a pretty good deal here. But I can’t complain. He is literally saving my fracking ass. “So where do you think we should go now?” I’m honestly curious. Maybe Mottle has some kind of plan for what to do with me. Until 7 o’clock Berlin time, which is probably about eight and half hours off, I don’t have a freaking clue.

Mottle doesn’t hesitate. Head toward wisp fields. Maybe walk-fly. I get a vision of walking up and gliding down hills with Mottle attached and using wings like a mix between hang glider and flying squirrel. Three hours. Then find shade. Rest ‘til night. Journey another eight hours in cooler dark. Then find wisps to help. Deal with Drivers, Form Makers. Mottle is a font of information. I see red devils with scaley skin, yellow eyes, and long front-sprouting horns when Mottle thinks of Drivers. I get the impression that these mean customers run around capturing wisps. For Form Makers, I get a picture of a kind of black un-wisp that shoots abyssal flux as black lightning bolts at the wisps to give them hellish forms. A lot of information and it’s all about as clear as mud. I look at my name curse and see the wisps glowing contentedly inside, safe from Hell, shining with their self-rejuvenating glow.

“Sure, Mottle. Why not. Let’s go save a few more wisps. You seem to have a stake in that. And somehow, it seems, so do I.”

(Want to read the first Chapter of Helkey? You can find it here.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Helkey 11 — A Curse Rider Goes Forth

Eastward, The Lake of Fire realm of Hell’s Ocean burns. Bubbles of gas rise up from sea floor to surface – igniting swaths of flames across purple and green waters. Waves and currents roil with combustive spume. It is one of Hell’s terrible wonders – this expanse of burning water. Devils call it fire-paw in mockery of Earthly cat’s paw gusts rippling a far more wholesome fluid. A testament to how far into ruin the world they were entrusted to care for fell. Its once life-giving Ocean now poisonous and wracked by fire.

South and west, the Burning Lands tell their own tale of exploitation, abuse and catastrophe in their endless eruptions of black smoke. Great fields of coal up-thrust from deep below lay bare to air and fire. Fingers of lava run through it all – forming a fossil fuel caldera stretching for hundreds of miles. The lava spills out, burns the coal, reduces it to gas, liquids – much of it aflame. The busy devils of Mechanum crawl across it. Taking a hundred monstrous forms, they drive endless ranks of slaves before them to mine it, capture it, transport it from these ever-burning lands. A network of ghastly trains accepts the fruits of this dangerous toil – passing it on through crawling, flying or rolling infernal combustion engine vehicles to various globular outposts. Each engine of this vast industry possessing a mortal’s wisp. Literal mad ghosts driving terrible machines.

A river of lava and flaming chunks of coal floating atop the scorching flood winds out and away from those magma fields burning through fossil fuels. It flickers its ill-spawned glow up to the underbellies of clouds vomiting lightning, never rain. It flows through a land of escarpments, coiling at last around a mighty fortress perched upon one of the high places before quenching its rage in The Lake of Fire.

Hell’s Fortress Invicti, Burning Lands, and Lake of Fire

If Myra were here, she’d be reminded of Ivan Volkov’s wall photo depiction of a tar sands mining operation. Though that would seem but an essay to the complete diabolical work of destruction-as-industry spreading for hundreds of miles in every direction. But Myra is not here. The person, if he could be described as such, whose eyes behold this terrible scene is none other than the Curse Rider — Gibbens Crane. He sees it all from his perch at the fortress’s open gate with eyes long-since made insensitive. The fortress’s mountainous battlements rise behind him. Razor towers crawling with Hell’s monsters and machines stretch up and up. Electric eyes and the light of wisp energy crisscross its great bulk like backlit spider veins. Vapors lifting off it give the impression of a made volcano facing off against the ruin-of-nature volcanic land before it. Fortress Invicti. To him, this terror scenery is usual fair. Two great catastrophes — one rising up from the world, the other cynically crafted — both terrors that long ago became normal to him.

He sits atop his Nightmare – a horse-like machine crafted of coiled and riveted metal, wicked flaming claws in the place of hooves, an enslaved wisp for its twisted soul, a roaring engine for its heart, pipes sprouting from it to blast forth a continuous shroud of pollution. He has heard the call of Ivan Volkov, Asmodeus’ Chosen. He now knows the names of enemies who would steal this mighty and long sought-after prize from his lord. Beatrice Lushael. Robert Mori. In his descent to collect his Nightmare, Asomdeus’s courtiers gathered ’round, entreating him to take every action needed to secure Ivan for the designs of Hell on Earth. In gestures of command, they lifted their vulture-like bodies to form the pose of wisp-rending capture, saying — take the offending mage wisps at all costs.

Gibbens Crane adjusts his black hat, tightens a bolo tie, straightens the baldric of bullets crossing his torso. He rests a hand on the polished obsidian and hell-silver handles of a long-barreled revolver. Upon his left shoulder, a triad of bulging worbs gleam with fickle blue light. A thousand wisps powers each. The third one is a recent gift from Asmodeus – given to aid his new hunt in a show of favor. Gibbens looks out into the distance, lashes his wisps with an electric whip-flick of his left wrist, and issues an order as they scream in agony.

“Serve the hunt and you will know relief. Show us the swiftest path through Hell and Earth to our quarry – Lushael, Mori. On Earth, they were last seen in Berlin. What is the closest concordant Hell Gate?”

Thus tasked, the wisps sacrifice spiritual energy to reach out, to create a map of active permanent and temporary Hell Gates, to note their relative locations on both Earth and Hell. In a pained shout that echoes through Gibbens’ uncaring ears, they affirm his command. Their energy dances, showing the way. A nearby Gate opens on an escarpment not a mile from here. It leads to a supposedly solemn chamber in Austin, Texas. There a number of state leaders are pontificating over a decision. The larger number’s thrust is to make it harder for youth, black, and brown people to vote. The same majority is also pushing an attempt to stifle clean power sources that don’t come from the combustion of Earth’s blood fossil fuels. Pride Eaters and other demons have assembled to rend open this gateway. To stare with malign interest upon those entrusted to protect the people who elected them, but who are instead slicing away their rights while ensuring ever-more hellish living arrangements. Though Pride-Eater interest is fierce, the gate will last mere minutes.

Gibbens flicks his wrist again, releasing slave wisps from pain — for now — and kicks spurs against the Nightmare’s metal hide. Electric current arcs into the beast, it lifts its head to issue a ghostly cry of anguish, then explodes forward. A carpet of blue flame spreads beneath each clawed foot-fall as it takes flight toward the Hell-Gate. Bearing Gibbens over the molten river in a swift gallop, Its engine heart roars with effort. Black clouds of smoke spread wide behind. They blast through hot air in swift ascent, then turn toward the gathering of demons. In less than a minute, they descend toward a black vertical rift. The Nightmare lifts its head to give out another anguished wail. Demons scatter. Gibbens and Nightmare blast through.

They penetrate the outer darkness, drift toward the Arch of Time, snap through, then rise into a chamber filled with arguing legislators.

“The future needs of Texas require good energy and the kinds of jobs that matter most to Texans,” one says as he lifts a sheaf of papers. “If we wish to attract renewable factories like Tesla’s at 10,000 employed, we must stop clingin to harmful fossils which keep hurlin storms and fires at our ‘lectric grids.” He is a young man named Jeremy Seto, as indicated by the name plate on his desk.

“There is zero scientific proof, zero evidence for the representative’s taudry claims of disaster,” an older man drawls while adjusting a pair of coke-can glasses. Peter Murdock – according to his name-plate. “Besides, our oil workers will be put out by your draconian support for expensive wind, solar, and EVs.”

“Proof? Look out the window! Look at each new report from the actual scientists of most respected agency. I don’t know what kind of science the representative refers to in his contrarian claims. But our oil workers can do good building clean geo-thermal, lithium, solar, and wind!”

Gibbens emerges in ethereal form on the debate floor. Just another evil ghost among legislators. A Pride Eater sits on Murdock’s desk, teasing away strands of red thought with claws running through his brains. The Demon could possess him given time and enough hubris. Not yet. Gibbens is far less limited. His hundreds of enslaved wisps allow him to take form on Earth should he choose it. Just one of many dangerous traits. For the moment, he decides to remain unseen. He walks his Nightmare through the chamber, up stairs, past the security station and metal detectors, and out through the front door. A faint smell of gasoline – the only tell-tale of his passing.

Gibbens leads his Nightmare onto the sidewalk and away from the Capitol. Turning into a side-street, he flicks his left wrist in a whip-crack gesture once more. The wisps give another ghostly wail of pain as they draw forth energy to give him form. A red-orange glow passes over him – rising from the tips of boot spurs, and passing up over black cowboy hat. When the light departs, he is fully formed. He fishes a pair of sunglasses out of a breast pocket, unfolds the glasses, puts them on. The Austin air is a cool 105 degrees. Pleasant, compared to Hell. The orange glow leaps over to his Nightmare – shaping it into the form of a massive black Hummer with smoke-stack exhaust pipes sprouting from the roof and huge coke-cans busting out the rear. Sides painted with streaming flames. A Confederate Flag flies from a pole near the back.

He winds up like a rattlesnake and slithers in through the already opened door. He throws it shut, revs the engine, and then roars out onto Austin’s streets. Shoving through traffic, he coal-rolls vehicles trailing behind – giving them a taste of sulfur-laden black smoke. Angry curses add to the cacophony of snarling engines. He pushes the shades up and chuckles. Griefing locals is but one of many privileges. Taking a late turn, he cuts off a whole lane of traffic, belching smoke, then guns it onto I 35 South. Honks blare behind. He flicks them a lazy bird while passing beneath a sign reading — Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – 5 miles.

(Want to read the first Chapter of Helkey? You can find it here.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Helkey 10 — Appeals to a Wolf’s Heart and Baiting the Devil

Mori gives Beatrice a last look. She’s at ease on her cot – platinum hair spilling out behind her, dancing lights all around. Blood on her clothes tells a tale of past violence with no trace of wound remaining. Sadie puts a hand on his arm. “Let her rest,” she says, as she arranges some of Beatrice’s hair. The gesture strikes Mori as motherly. “She’s safe.”

Mori trusts Sadie. There’s no better people. But it’s tough to let go. He tenses at the thought of leaving Beatrice alone after the battle at Furze Bank. At the memory of their only daughter stepping into the great inferno. It makes him want to take Beatrice in his arms and gently rock her. Mori wonders what Myra must be going through down in that poisonous heat-well of a literal climate hell-hole teaming will all the worst monsters in all the worlds. Everything will be touch-and-go for her. We knew it when we signed up for this mad-ass caper. Mori tries to steel himself for what he knows is coming and for a thousand likely surprises. Most of their work will now aim at spoiling any response by Asmodeus – giving Myra enough time to liberate the wisps she’ll need. Meaning Mori and Beatrice will be doing their honest best to get in the frigging face of the actual Devil. To distract him with as much light and noise as possible. An insane enough project by itself. Mori looks to Sadie. The specific details of this dangerous Devil-baiting are mostly her domain. He just knows he and Beatrice will be on board to help her the whole way through. With the added wrinkle of the endeavor hinging on Ivan’s ‘cooperation.’

Sadie is heading for the door. Mori and Ivan follow. They exit. Sadie shuts the door behind them. It closes with a quite ‘whup.’ Mori can see the ignarus curse activate the moment the latch fastens. There is a nearly imperceptible splash of light. Door and wall suggest to him politely that they blend seamlessly, thank you very much. But Mori’s mind is trained to recognize such tricks, so he’s not fooled. Ivan is staring with bewilderment at what he must imagine is a wall that just ate the door. “Where did it go?” He asks to no-one in particular.

Rendering of the chapel where Sadie healed Beatrice

“Never mind that,” Sadie says coyly. “Let’s get you some decent clothes.”

Ivan looks self-consciously at his bare legs and feet — the rest of his body covered by Mori’s leather jacket. He’d do great as one of the Village People. “Da. Please.”

“Really, Mori, you could have had some extras on hand for Ivan,” she says, mock-scolding Mori as she walks them down the hall to a closet. She opens the door. Inside are a number of black robes for the clergy. She pulls one off the rack and sizes it up. “This should do for now. Shoe size?”

Ivan is looking at the robe with pursed lips. “Nine,” he replies.

Sadie produces some black slippers to match the robe. She motions for him to enter the closet as she leaves, then closes the door behind her. “Just knock on the door when you’re done,” she calls back to him. They here a muffled “Da” from inside. Sadie’s looking directly at Mori now. “So, you got Myra into Hell without a hitch?” she asks in a whisper.

“Well, wouldn’t say without a hitch,” Mori whispers back as he scratches the side of his head self-consciously. “Ivan…” He trails off. Sadie already knows about the possession so no need to go into it now. “She got through. Her name curse worked as planned. But Ivan sent out what sure as hell sounded like a summons when he went all wolf on us. It was pretty scary.”

“You think Asmodeus heard it?” Sadie asks, eyes glittering with speculation.

“Probably. Don’t know for sure. But as you know Ivan’s been watched by him for a long time. All of us from the Council knew something was up with him. The rumors big A was grooming him for his Earthly herald seem to be true. If so, that means…” Mori pauses ominously.

“Ivan likely bird-dogged you and Beatrice for a hunt,” Sadie says what he doesn’t want to. Mori knows Terror Hounds can do it. And the call Ivan put out sounded a lot like one of them. “Well, that’s good news.”

Mori can only laugh nervously and raise his eyebrows at her poser. He sure as hell didn’t want to be the target of one of Asmodeus’s lethal and soul-stealing hunts. But that was the object of the whole distract the Devil mission after all. On the other side of the door, he can hear Ivan cursing and rustling.

“Don’t forget to put buttons-side front,” Sadie says more loudly through the door. They only hear Ivan’s exasperated exhalation as reply. Sadie drops her voice again. “No one saw Myra?” Sadie asks in a bare breath with intensity.

Mori can understand it. That part was pretty important. “A Pride-Eater saw her sparks. That was the first one I took out with Macto,” Mori whispers back.

There’s a rap on the door from Ivan. “It’s all as good as can be expected. We’ll talk more after,” she says as she opens the door to reveal an Ivan bedecked in priestly robes. Sadie looks him over. “It oddly suits you,” she says.

“Yeah, if you’re looking for a vampire priest,” Mori can’t help himself. Sadie cuffs him.

“Jacket,” Ivan says, handing Mori his coat. Out of habit, Mori makes sure Ivan didn’t drop anything untoward into one of his pockets or attach something to it. It’s clean. Why wouldn’t it be? The guy was frigging naked.

“Now, if you would please follow me, gentlemen.” Sadie glides down the hallway, returns to the stairs, and ascends. They pass up through the cathedral area, rising past a balcony with choir benches facing an organ. The organist is still playing. He gives them no notice. They continue to wind upward, ascending to a fourth floor – at last entering a long hall with office doors in rows on both sides. Sadie comes to one with her name on it. She produces keys, opens the door, waves them in. Inside is a cosey office with bookshelves covering one side, a half-moon stained-glass window for its back wall, some comfortable chairs scattered about, a green throw rug over hard wood flooring, and an old, ornate desk facing the door. On the opposite wall is a painting of a lioness padding through sun-dappled forest, reminding Mori of a female Aslan. A stack of papers on the desk is entitled Laudato Si. Beside it is a binder labeled – Interfaith Coalition for Earth Justice. Sadie flops down behind her desk and motions to the chairs. “Please, make yourselves comfortable.”

They sit down while she rummages behind the desk. In a moment, she produces a thermos, cups, and some paper-wrapped peanut butter and banana sandwiches. “I know it’s not gourmet dinner. But the PB&B and coffee will have to do.” She hands them to Mori and Ivan. Mori’s stomach rumbles gratefully. He didn’t realize he’d worked up such an appetite. He checks his watch. It’s 8:11 P.M. Beside him, Ivan is pouring himself a cup of coffee. Mori tucks into his sandwich. Ivan sips from his coffee.

“So, you have…” Ivan looks at Mori’s watch, “I give you until 8:30 to explain all the…” he seems at a loss for words for a moment “…phenomena. To convince why I don’t call police to have you both arrested.”

“For your first request – gladly,” Sadie replies. “Although, it might take more than the 20 odd minutes you’ve asked for. As for your second, no need, the police are already here.” She motions to Mori.

“Thanks for blowing my cover Sadie,” Mori grunts. He figures he’d have told Ivan soon enough anyway. Mori flips his badge out of his pocket. “Robert Hansen, Special Investigator, Climate Crimes Division, DOJ, Interpol, at your frigging service.” Ivan looks at the badge with raised eyebrows, scrutinizing its veracity. Again, the poker face settles in. He’s seen crazier stuff tonight for sure. But Mori is a little disappointed by his non-reaction.

Ivan spreads his hands out before him in a fanning gesture that is both dismissive and accepting. “Explain.”

“First, tell us what you remember of the evening’s events,” Sadie says. Her eyes glitter as she watches Ivan. Mori figures he could see the two squaring off over a high stakes game of poker.

“Da. I was in bathroom when Mr. Hansen broke in…”

“Investigator…” Mori interrupts.

“Investigator Hansen broke in on me in the bathroom,” Ivan continues. “His wife, Beatrice Hansen ran up behind him. She was shouting insanely and assaulted me with sword. Thankfully she missed.”

“She hit you exactly how she intended,” Mori corrects him. Sadie doesn’t bat an eye. She’s watching Ivan like that lioness in the painting might watch a creature of the savanna. Ivan rubs the mark on his forehead.

“Go on, what happened next?” Sadie says.

“It is inexplicable. I saw dark ghosts. Terrible. There were three of them. They had… giant claws. One of them is cutting me with claws. There is something coming off me. The ghost is eating it.” Ivan’s face contorts with involuntary fear as he recalls the event. He points an accusing finger at Mori. “Beatrice… she drugged me.”

“With a strike from the flat of her sword? Try again,” Mori replies.

“She is witch. She cursed me.”

Mori balls his hand into a fist. “Never say that word!” he growls. Ivan lifts his hands defensively.

“She did curse you with the sword-touch, Ivan. I’ve seen her do it before. It was a helpful curse,” Sadie says calmly as she waves Mori down. “That’s what let you see them. The ghosts, as you call them, are actually Pride Eater demons. They were attracted to you because you were full of the pride they crave.”

Ivan’s heard some of this before. He seems to accept it a tiny bit more the second time. “She cursed me?”

“It’s a kind of magical spell,” Mori says. “Beatrice cast a curse upon you so you could see the demons that had gathered around you. They’ve been coming there every night you sit on that damn golden toilet.”

Ivan sits forward. “No. I can’t believe.”

“Of course you can’t. You’re a frigging moron.”

Sadie turns her eyes to Mori. “Give him time,” she says evenly.

“Sure,” But Mori’s thinking time probably won’t do squat for Ivan. Garbage in garbage out.

“Now, what else did you see?” Sadie prods.

“There were the ghosts … tall demons, above me. Below me there was a circle. A glowing circle of light on the black. It pulsed with red light.” Ivan looks to Sadie and then to Mori. “What was it?”

“That, Ivan, was a Hell Gate,” Mori says turning to face Ivan, meeting his stone-faced gaze. “When the demons saw you dripping with pride from their perch in Hell, they ripped open that gate with their claws so they could come to feed on you. Since you did your little crap on the world thing pretty regularly and in the same place each day, they knew you were a sure thing. An easy hunt. But that’s not all. You didn’t just attract the eyes of the demons. Someone else caught wind of you. You see, Pride Eaters are a kind of demon that the Devil keeps on a short leash. He uses them to hunt the most prideful of mortals as they are often his best servants. When he asked them what they were doing with you, they happily told him. And that’s how the Devil became very intimate with the name of Ivan friggin Volkov.”

“Devil?” Ivan is whiter than usual which is saying something.

“Yes. The frigging Devil. Not a devil. The Devil. And his name is Asmodeus.”

“Your claim is kakashka. Preposterous.”

“It is written in your flesh now. I saw the mark on your back.”

“You shot me.”

“I shot the Pride Eater possessing you. If that was an earthly bullet, we wouldn’t be having this enlightening little chat.”

Ivan sits back, going silent. Sadie steeples her hands. “Now Ivan, tell us what you remember of the thing that happened next.” Ivan looks away. He rubs a hand over his head. His eyes glint.

“It stabbed me with long talon. Girl, Beatrice told me it was demon. I should have been protected. Was baptized.”

“Baptism doesn’t do squat for what you invite willingly,” Mori says under his breath. Ivan continues talking as if Mori hadn’t spoken.

“I felt terror, pain, rage. Power came into me like the rush of fire. I grew and changed — becoming wolf. My eyes could see far, my ears could ear heartbeats, the sound of far away voices like echoes, my tongue could taste feelings, emotions, fear, my nose could smell city, the stink of sulfur rising up through red circle. With my senses I knew your…” Ivan struggles for a moment, not wanting to say the word, “… magic. I saw and smelt your names. Mori, Lushael.” He laughs. “Not Hansens. That is alias. I felt mighty above all things – glorious and terrible. What was in me gave me strong voice. I knew I could call to others for help against you. To track you down and make you pay for your crimes against me.” A wicked glint has bloomed in Ivan’s eyes as he recounts his experience. Mori can see that the demon possession was so complete Ivan still mistakes its thoughts and desires for his own. Again, he almost feels pity for the guy as he wonders at whatever broken or crooked thing within Ivan made him so vulnerable to willing possession by evil.  “So I used my great voice to shout your names,” Ivan continues. “To mark you. My voice went out through the mighty kingdom. I am certain it found ears.”

Ivan is sweating now. He has raised his hands into the shape of claws. He is reaching for Mori’s neck. Mori’s arm shoots out and smacks Ivan on the forehead, hitting near the mark Beatrice left there. The force causes Ivan to fall back. “Get a hold of yourself, man!” Mori shouts.

Ivan self-consciously drops his hands. “Then you shot me! Stabbed me! Pain! Death! I was dead. Dead.” He is blithering as he recalls the moment of trauma. He omits the part where he almost bit Beatrice’s leg clean off.

“We didn’t kill you, moron. We shot and stabbed the demon that possessed you. Our strikes were an exorcism. Yet you sympathize with the demon that took you in mind, body and spirit.” Mori turns to Sadie. “Please tell me you know how we can work with this guy. I am drawing a blank. He looks like wasted effort to me. The moment Asmodeus gets a demon to touch him again, he’s a complete goner.”

“Dead… How am I not dead?” Ivan says accusingly toward Mori who waves his hand at Ivan dismissively.

Sadie stands up, walks forward from behind the desk and puts a hand on Ivan’s shoulder. Her eyes glow with faetor oculorum. Mori figures she’s seeing the scar the demon left on him. She runs her hand down to his back. “You are not dead because Beatrice and Mori, in their grace, decided to save you. To give you this last chance, Ivan, not to be damned as a destroyer. Beatrice nearly died to save you. Yet you are still marked in body, mind and spirit. Asmodeus has claimed you for his own with that, still-burning, brand upon you. We will intercede. We will try to save you from him. But you have to help us. We need you to agree.”

Mori laughs harshly at this. “Sadie, the guy is a total lost cause, can’t you see it? He doesn’t even realize what he does for his vile life’s-work is the dead-wrong thing that summoned the demon he now chooses over us.”

“Then we will teach him.”

This must be a part of the ‘plan’ that Mori’s not yet fully cluing in on. He and Beatrice were mainly focused on the Myra side. Sadie had identified Ivan and his Hell Gate. Had instructed them to use the Gate and to bring Ivan to her. For Sadie, Ivan is as important as Myra. She saw him as Asmodeus’s earthly implement and wanted to, as she called it, “take Asmodeus’s rod from his hand.” But Sadie was cagey about the modus operandi part. Typical mage with her secrets. Mori can’t talk, he’s got about a hundred up his sleeve too.

“How do you intend to teach this guy? What makes you think he’ll learn a damned thing after all he’s already done?”

“We will take him to the celestial realm. Its ocean heart – Merrin.” Sadie probes at Ivan’s scar and faces him. “Does this hurt you Ivan?”

“Yes. Pain in my back. Burns… Exactly in place I can’t scratch. It maddens.”

“What if I said I could heal it fully? What if I told you – I could take you to a place where this death in your flesh could not touch you any longer? Would you come with me to Heaven? Would you open your heart?”

Ivan looks over Sadie. Mori can see the condescension and disbelief on his face. Mori can tell Ivan’s even less able to take it in because of the black-skinned, female face before him. Can tell he sees her as a lesser being. Oh man, you can’t even begin to comprehend how far beyond you she really is.

“How could someone like you show me, Heaven?” Ivan says. Mori grinds his teeth to hold back his anger. On top of everything else, this guy’s a bigot too. Mori isn’t surprised. But it still pisses him off.

“Oh, you just live in that doubt, don’t you?” Sadie says evenly, taking his insult right in the teeth then biting down hard enough to break it. “I dare you to let me show you. What you will witness, through me, will be far more spectacular and wonderful than the healing I did for Beatrice. Consider it a gift I offer you. One you do not at all deserve. But a great gift none-the-less.”

Mori is silent as Sadie plays magical Santa Claus. He shrugs his shoulders and thinks to himself Friggin special treatment. It’s the only thing that seems get through to guys like Ivan. Because they always want more.

“You can fix back? You can take to Heaven?” Ivan says as he reaches toward the scar that still hurts him. These words seem uncharacteristically meek, as if they come from another person entirely. Mori’s magically sensitive eyes flare briefly and he picks up a thread of Ivan’s thoughts. He has a brief vision of a chill wind blowing over Siberian forests. Of a tiny mitten in Ivan’s larger hand. A sense of love and belonging. Associations from a more wholesome past fragment. Maybe. Mori wonders if this is the real Ivan. This frail as butterfly wings flicker of nostalgic love beneath a lifetime’s mountain of dark deeds so foul they attracted the eye of Asmodeus, Lord of Hell. He reminds himself – which one is real is up to Ivan. Mori, for his part, doesn’t hold out much hope. He’s seen too many like Ivan. Too many unable to turn back from the dark path.

“We can bring you there bodily at great cost. To remove you from Asmodeus’s grasp, if only for a brief while, will be worth it. The rest is up to you,” Sadie says. Mori can see a perplexing kind of joy light in her eyes.

“Da. OK. We go to Heaven.” Ivan’s face is still half-disbelieving his own words. All Mori can think is – Great, I just sent my own daughter to Hell and now this jack-ass gets to go to on a free all-expenses-paid trip to Heaven. Oh, the humanity!

(Want to read the first Chapter of Helkey? You can find it here.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Helkey — Curses

During the 13th through 17th Centuries in Europe, the Church declared all magic blasphemy — calling it cursed — in an effort to permanently confine demons to the outer realm and devils to hell, to reduce their influence, and to remove their ability to harvest wisps. This declaration and the genocidal war against mages that followed had the opposite effect, however, generating numerous temporary hell gates through which demons and devils feasted upon earthly humans. It also created unnecessary confusion and fear regarding the use of magic. Eventually, the word curse was used to describe any socially taboo or offensive language – i.e. curse words, or to describe any solemn utterance aimed at invoking supernatural power to inflict harm.

To mages, curses are quite different. Whether they inflict harm or are used for benevolent purposes is determined by the intentions and acts of the mage who uses them. Curses are thus the means to unlock a mages’ magical abilities and span healing, invocation, summoning, divination, transmutation, exorcism, along with other more rarified magic. They are both a mage’s art and the bridge by which a mage accesses universal wisp energy channeled through their unique being. These channels are set through intention and often come in the form of chants, written words, or symbols. Mages choose words and languages that have power and meaning both to them as individuals and to larger society. Older words and languages often bear greater force in association and are therefore typically ideal choices to serve as vessels for intention in magical curses. The most common form is Latin. But any language can be used so long as it creates enough significant weight of intention to cause the curse to form an effective bridge with wisp energy.

List of Curses in Helkey

Duplici exemplari an alteration curse that duplicates a simple substance, such as food or water, over time. Often used to expand a basic resource. Not useful for complex materials like manufactured materials or volatile chemicals.

Exorcizamus – An exorcism curse that involves a long incantation to develop the curse energy needed to expel a demon from a human body.

Faetor oculorum – A divination curse used to detect other curses, see the otherwise invisible presence of demons and hell gates, sense heat as visible light, and otherwise visualize various forms of radiation.

Horologium — A chronomancy curse that allows for the telling of time through a multi-functional magical time-piece. Often-semi-permanent.

Ignarus – A long lasting, easy to maintain, and sometimes permanent suggestion to ignore the presence of specific people, objects, sounds or activities. Most mages operate under some form of contingent ignarus curse which is often used to mask their implements and activities.

Indespectus – A curse that renders the subject temporarily invisible.

Infernum clavis – A Helkey curse to send the recipient through a temporary Hell Gate. Also one form of Myra Helkey’s name curse.

Lunen Svert Umbra – Moonshadow blade which is a summoning curse. This is a unique curse crafted by Myra Helkey. It produces a blade formed of light and shadow and is linked to her name curse.

Name Curse – A curse that becomes a channel to universal wisp energy which is a kind of oversoul. It is a signature curse that determines the nature of a mage’s curse expertise and her level of overall power. Each mage possesses a unique name curse that expresses its magical curse energy in its own particular way.

Macto – A curse used to smite demons, devils, and undead.

Omnis scienta – A divination curse that allows a mage to project an invisible magical sensor through which she can visualize a subject – usually a person or an object. This sensor will then track the subject.

Pluma – A transformation curse that slows the rate of fall of the subject. Often used when jumping off tall buildings.

Sana Carnes – Healing curse that repairs damaged flesh.

Scriptum fictus – An alteration curse used to insert forged script into physical or electronic writing.

Somnos – A curse that causes induced sleep in a subject. It’s one that can be resisted, but becomes more difficult to if the subject of the curse has a higher level of physical exhaustion.

Suggero – A suggestion curse used to erode the will of anyone through the use of language. Beatrice is an expert practitioner of suggero.

Teneo – An alteration curse used to hold barriers open.

Una – A channeling curse that allows numerous people to share the effects of a linked curse.

Venenum sa – A healing curse that removes poison from an afflicted creature or person.

Visus capitis – A curse that changes a sensor’s perspective to that of the subject’s head or eyes.

(Want to read the first Chapter of Helkey? You can find it here.)

(Looking for something else? Check out Helkey Contents.)

Helkey 9 — St Mary’s Healing Angel

Mori clenches his jaw in worry as Beatrice leans against him. Together they hobble away from Furze Bank even as police cars rush in – lights flashing, sirens wailing.

She’s putting on a brave face. But God only knows what kind of poison Ivan as demon wolf injected into her with that bite. Ivan, meanwhile, is still following them like a lost puppy. Thankfully, the ignarus curse on Mori’s leather jacket – now draped over Ivan – is obscuring him as well. They’re not drawing much more than the odd confused glance. Cops rushing to the scene give them little notice. Mori focuses for a moment on Ivan. He seems surer of himself. The shock is wearing off and Mori imagines infernal pistons starting to fire up again behind the Russian’s eyes. Fucking great! Beatrice’s left legging, meanwhile, is now red and black with blood and poison. Three tooth-shape serrations have ripped through the fabric – making a mess of the flesh beneath. It continuously wells blood. At least it’s not spurting.

“Wait a minute,” He says to Beatrice after they’ve moved about a half block on and edged into a side-street. Already, ingarus has handled most on-lookers. They’ve forgotten the odd little trio and are staring instead at the light show still going on at the top of Furze Bank HQ. Beat cops run past them on foot with barely a second glance. A helicopter flies over them, but trains its spotlight on the damaged sky scraper. The broken glass glitters with all the various lights. Its jagged edge looks a lot like an open maw to Mori. “Give me your pouch.”

Beatrice fumbles at her belt and unhooks a pouch made of some soft-yet-durable material from her home world. She pushes it toward Mori. He quickly rummages through it – pushing aside an intricate silver pen, a small living bulb filled with flickering lights, and a miniaturized book of curses, to produce a Maxi Pad and a handful of green moss. In a few swift motions, he unwraps the pad, presses the moss onto Beatrice’s wound and seals the Maxi Pad over top. She makes a little noise of pain, but nods in appreciation. The kindre moss has already started to take the edge off. The stuff is heaven-sent. Literally. It’ll help dull the pain while slowing the bleeding and drawing away some of the poison. Not that it’s a cure. But it will buy them some time.

“Good idea,” she says, cracking a waifish half-smile as she adds her own pressure to the make-shift bandage. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” She nods at his weapon. He’s still getting odd looks from people on the street. Ignarus is dealing with it. Kinda. But better not attract too much damn attention. He pushes a button on the rifle’s hand-guard. There is a whirring as the rifle does its dance back to briefcase mode.

They start walking again. Mori has his phone out. He is calling his special Uber driver Stefan even as he watches Ivan out of the corner of his eye. The guy is obviously starting to get spun up. His eyes growing big at first and then narrowing to slits as his pupils roam around. Mori helps Beatrice sit down on a nearby bench. Stefan is 3 minutes away. Ivan suddenly springs up and lunges to make a run for it. Geez oh crap! But Mori expected something like this. His hand shoots out and grabs Ivan by the collar. The Russian does a little spin and lands on his butt.

“Let me go! I am kidnapped!” Ivan shouts as he kicks and grabs at Mori’s hand. This is enough to attract the unwanted stares of a few puzzled onlookers. They quickly lose interest as ignarus throws them off the scent.

“Like Hell you are! We just saved your ass up there! Without us you’d still be 100 percent wolfie. Hell, you’d probably be nom nomming on those guards right now.” Mori points to the lights still searching the wreckage of the Furze Bank HQ executive water closet. He thinks about showing Ivan his undercover badge and reading him his rights. But it’s not time to play that card yet. Hell, he isn’t even sure the electronic surveillance suite running in his briefcase collected enough to book ol’ Ivan. Almost certainly. Almost. But there was such a thing as standard of proof, after all. Furze Bank is a hive for shady and probably illegal deals. Ivan was high up in that corrupt pecking order. Mori forces himself to take the diplomatic route. “But you’re safe now. More important, they’re safe from you. So shut the fuck up!”

“That was real?” Ivan says, still kicking a bit, but clearly giving up for now. Dazed disbelief shows plainly on what must be one of the best natural poker faces in all the worlds. Ivan looks up at the broken glass atop the tower where he lorded over everyone in a most disgusting manner. Mori can barely imagine what the guy is thinking. He’s a real piece of work. Definitely sociopathic. So he’ll be more trouble later. Lots of damn trouble. But Mori figures he can at least put an effort in to delay the inevitable.

“Look – you can come with us and I’ll explain everything after I get help for my wife here. You know, the one you just fucking took a bite out of?”

“Da, OK. So where are you taking me?” Ivan asks – somewhat mollified if still suspicious. Damn, the guy still has some of Beatrice’s blood on his teeth. He coldly considers Mori through those narrowed eyes. Mori stifles the urge to punch him.

“We’re off to St Mary’s Church. We have a friend there – Sadie – who has the skills it takes to treat the kind of unnatural wound you inflicted on Beatrice.”

Ivan grunts but seems satisfied for now. A normal person would have apologized for what happened to Beatrice. Sure, the demon took control when it possessed him. Dominated him and drove him to bite her. But Mori is willing to bet serious money Ivan didn’t fight too hard against it. Sick fucker probably enjoyed it on some level. Ivan nods in his calculating and still somehow feral manner. The quid-pro-quo game is working, if only temporarily. Time in exchange for information. A transactional arrangement. Back to the kind of bullshit game this blood-sucker understands. Mori gets a momentary sense that Ivan’s still a demon-wolf who’s staring at him over slavering jaws, contemplating.

Beatrice waves a hand. “Yeah. About that treatment. I’m starting to get cold. My sight darkens. Soon I think I won’t be able to see a thing.”

“Ten minutes Bea,” Mori replies. “You’re tough as nails. I know you can make it.” She’d better make it or I’ll kill that fucking Ivan — Asmodeus baiting or no.

The black Tesla model X arrives with a futuristic whirr. Its left x-wing door pops open. Mori gives Ivan a nudge. “You first,” he says. Ivan shrugs, stands up, and slides into the Tesla. Mori helps Beatrice up, takes the middle seat and lets her flop down beside him. Stefan watches them through the rear-view mirror. Once they’re all in, he guns it. The smooth and soundless acceleration pushes them back into their seats with pure g-force. Stefan already knows where to go. Mori gave him the info by text. He’s also a master driver. Buildings blur by. The chaos surrounding Furze Bank shrinks from view.

“You got water?” Mori asks. Stefan pops the center consol and tosses back a cold bottle of Voss. Mori cracks it open and hands it to Beatrice. She grabs it with her dexterous hands and takes measured sips. She’s keeping it together. But just barely.

“What were those… those things?” Ivan’s cool look is puzzled. Mori can tell he’s torn up about asking the question. Like admitting he doesn’t know something somehow takes life points away from him. Mori allows himself a moment to enjoy the Russian’s confusion.

“You mean the Pride Eaters? Yeah, those guys are real pieces of work. Demons. And, Ivan, here’s the kicker – you summoned them.”

Ivan purses his lips at this new information. “Pride Eater?” Mori can tell he’s struggling to believe it. “But… how did I summon?”

“Well, those guys absolutely love to slurp up some pride. And you, when you do your thing every day at the golden throne on top of the world… Well, that is like a gourmet meal to them,” Mori stifles a laugh. It shouldn’t be that funny. He looks down at Beatrice’s leg. The bleeding has slowed. Good. He turns back to Ivan. “Look, I told you I’d fill you in on everything after I get Beatrice some help. So just shut up for now. Got it?”

Ivan’s hearing what I’m saying but it’s pretty clear it’s not completely registering yet. He’s getting a glimpse of the world as is and it’s not at all adding up to what he though it was. For someone like Ivan, that’s a really tough thing to process. Of course, he wasn’t much good at processing ‘normal’ reality either. So no surprise there.

St Mary’s Church in Berlin as seen from above and at first floor level. Note that this is not an exact replica of the real church. It is a re-rendering for the Helkey series.

The Tesla rumbles to a halt in front of St Mary’s Church as it passes over cobbles. Mori is greeted with red brick-work, gothic architecture, and lights twinkling through stained glass windows. A stern statue of Martin Luther glares at him from atop a marble pedestal.

“I’m calling Sadie now,” Stefan says, picking up his cell.

Mori reaches out to give his shoulder a pat. “Good man,”

The Tesla’s x-wing door is already open. Mori is helping Beatrice stumble out of the Tesla and across the stones. Ivan reluctantly stands to follow. They make their way to the red-oak doors. It’s dark. But the church is well lit and its striking red appearance seems somewhat ominous to Mori. Stephan gives a thumbs up from the Tesla, then drives off. A couple seconds later, there is a rustling at the door. It squeaks open.

Behind the door is a diminutive black-skinned woman wearing a multi-colored dress and shawl. Her face beams as she ushers them into an enormous cathedral area walled in white with flying buttresses swooping up overhead. There is a warm and comforting energy surrounding her. She’s from Beatrice’s home. And like Beatrice she’s got the whole angel mojo going on. Mori imagines her as some ancient and noble Libyan queen strait out of antiquity. “Come in! Come in! Allow me!” she says as she scoops up Beatrice’s other arm – helping the wounded angel-girl limp across the flag stones. “Stephan got word to me just a little while ago. I’ve made ready for you in the basement. Now, let’s keep off that leg, dear.”

Beatrice grunts in reply. “Thanks… Sadie…”

Mori has Beatrice’s other arm. Between him and Sadie, they’re practically carrying Beatrice. They make their way to a spiral stone stairway and descend. Ivan follows, glancing around like he’s on tour. They go down a floor, cut through a hallway covered in flag stones. They pass a crypt of some old dead German general, turn right, and enter a doorway.

Inside is a whole other world. Bulbs of dancing lights like the small one in Beatrice’s purse are in the corners, providing gentle light. Their living green fronds have sweetened the air, made it clean, more wholesome. A stronger blue-white light shines from a crystal mounted on top of a candle holder beside a cot. To Mori, this light feels kinder than Earthly illumination. His skin drinks it up as if its touch provides sustenance. Somewhere above, someone’s playing organ music — adding to the whole celestial vibe of the place. Beside the cot is a table with more kindre moss, a basin of water, some surgical implements, and various sterile bandages. They rest Beatrice upon the bed. She’s gone white. Her lips and finger tips are starting to turn blue. But her green eyes are still moving. She lets out a sigh of relief as that heavenly glow touches her and takes a deep breath of the good air. Ivan glances about with a bemused look on his face. Mori notes Ivan’s confused expression. You ain’t seen nothing yet, bud.

“I’m sorry for the informalities, Mori. But I’ve got no time to waste,” Sadie says as she lifts a set of surgical scissors and cuts away a chunk of Beatrice’s legging. She pulls off their make-shift bandage and observes the wound. “Tsk. Tsk. Someone has been a very bad boy.” She glances at Ivan. “Demon possession, I take it?”

“Yes, Sadie,” Mori does his best not to sound too reverential. But this is that most famous among mages Sadie Dextera after all.  He glances at Ivan reminding himself he can’t talk too freely in front of Asmodeus’s chosen, even if he didn’t know shit for now. “There were Pride Eaters at the Hell Gate. One of them had already tethered Ivan. Forced him to take the form of the Wolf of Wrath. He bit Beatrice.”

Sadie’s kind-but-sharp eyes focus intensely upon him. “Good thing it wasn’t you he bit. Wouldn’t have made it back here.”

“That’s why Beatrice does the close work. I’m too fragile for it.” Mori’s not shy to admit it. Angels like Beatrice are much tougher than humans like him. Though Mori knows a few magical tricks for staying alive if poisoned, he sure as hell doesn’t want to test Sadie’s theory.

Sadie picks up the crystal atop the candle holder. She holds it over Beatrice’s wound. Waving a hand above the crystal she blows at it. The light beaming from the crystal seems to swirl with Sadie’s exhalation. Its beams flow more brightly even as they extend and undulate – forming fingers that reach down to Beatrice’s wound. They touch her flesh gently, probing with slow care into her torn and wounded tissue. Sadie’s eyes are closed now. But Mori knows she can keenly sense what she’s doing through her light-fingers. She is far defter than any earthly surgeon. Arching her back she raises one hand and curls her fingers into a crescent. The fingers of light mimic the gesture.

Venenum sa!” she incants. The light-fingers probe into Beatrice’s body. Mori can see them moving beneath her skin. They travel up her leg, into her torso, around her hearts, through her shoulders, up her neck and beneath her eyes. All of it is glowing through her skin and clothes. Her eyes shine with the healing radiance. Darkness pulses down the light fingers. It’s the venom – drawn out drop-by-drop. Sadie holds out a silver basin to catch it. The black stuff hisses as it pools in the container. After about twenty seconds, the venom is all removed. Sadie carefully places the basin on her table. Then, she starts to move her fingers in a kneading gesture. The light fingers again mirror her motions.

 “Sana carnes!” she chants as her second curse begins to knit Beatrice’s flesh back together. The light fingers have moved back to her leg now. They gather into a tangle of flowing blue and white light. Sadie molds the light into various shapes. It steadily shrinks layer by layer. And as it withdraws it leaves behind pink, perfect flesh. Unbroken skin. Pulling back slowly into three silver round marks where Ivan’s teeth struck. But even these scars are faded and hard to see now. With Beatrice’s regenerative capacity, such slight marks will be gone in a month or so. Mori lets out a sigh of relief. He didn’t realize he was holding his breath.

Sadie drops her hand, inspects Beatrice’s leg with a critical eye, then turns to her table. She picks up a syringe, pops the cap, and injects some serum into Beatrice. “For the tetanus and other crud that was probably in his wolf-mouth,” she says with a glance toward Ivan. She then picks up a second syringe and makes a gesture for Mori to roll up his sleeve.

“What the hell?” he says. But he’s already rolling his shirt up. He sure as hell knows better than to cross Sadie.

“It’s your SARS COVID 5 vaccination. You were due and it just arrived. I thought — what better time than now?” Sadie injects the vaccine into Mori’s arm. He’s used to it. Doesn’t even flinch.

Beatrice starts to sit up. But Sadie stops her. “No. No. Time for you to take a little nap. You need to rest to recover from your trauma. I know. You’re a tough girl. Now let’s make sure it stays that way.” Beatrice is starting to open her mouth to protest. But Sadie just lifts her hand and chants “somnos.” Beatrice’s head falls back onto the pillow with a flumph! sound. She’s out like a light.

“That was… I don’t … It was spectacular.” Ivan is having trouble finding words to describe the second supernatural event he’s witnessed in a single night.

“Yeah. That’s our Sadie. Pretty damn amazing. Good thing too.” Mori says as he lowers his brows at Ivan. The Russian gets the look and holds his hands up in a calming gesture. Mori just plows on by. “So I told you I’d explain. Now that Beatrice is safe you, Sadie and I are going to have a talk. It’ll probably be the most important talk you’ve ever had in your slime and sludge filled life. So, listen up good. It’s a literal come to Jesus moment.”

Ivan shrugs in a noncommittal way. “Yes. You owe me explanation.”  

Mori is damn sure he doesn’t owe Ivan squat. He lets it slide and turns to Sadie. “My good lady, is Beatrice safe resting here?”

“Yes, dear. You can be assured that all the necessary protections have been placed. There are watchful friends here to help protect.” She looks at Beatrice. “She is stable now and quite strong.” She turns her sharp eyes to Ivan. “I am eager to talk to you – Ivan the Wolf. We have much to discuss.”

Mori almost feels sorry for the bastard. Almost…

(Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

The Mysteries of Myra’s Magical Tattoo as Name Curse

Having journeyed well more than a mile in Myra Helkey’s shoes, it’s probably helpful to pull back the curtain a bit to explore her particular and somewhat unique brand of magic. As our main heroine, Myra is a mage. She possesses the ability to use magic through specific curses. What’s more, she is marked with a very personal permanent magic in the form of her unique tattoo as name curse. What kind of magic user is Myra? And what makes her magical tattoo special?

The Kinds of Magic

To better grasp Myra’s magic, we need to first understand the general ways in which magic may manifest in her universe. In Helkey’s Arisen Worlds setting, the source of all magic is wisps — which are the house of an individual’s spirit or soul. Wisps as soul-houses possess both power and the signature nature or personality of a being. Devil magic, demonic magic, and angelic magic rely on wisps directly, though each form of magic manifests in its own way. Demonic magic devours wisps to inflict transformations, harm and horror. Devil magic dominates wisps — forcing them to serve as slaves, food and energy, and as a power source. Angelic magic sacrifices a person’s own wisp energy to form magics that vitalize, enable, commune and protect.

Separate from these is the magic of mages. Mages are unique in that their wisps connect to the universal spirit of the multiverse. A kind of wisp as oversoul. This worlds-given magic is more mutable and versatile than other forms. It also comes from a deeper wellspring and so is only limited by an individual mage’s ability to store it. Mages set intentional channels for their magic through curses. And curses can come in the form of chanted or written words and symbols. Mages are typically human. Although angelic and diabolical mages are not unheard of, even if they are rare. Demons are anathema to the multiverse — so its magic forsakes them.

Myra Helkey is a mage. Her origin is a bit of a spoiler, so we won’t reveal it now. Though you may have guessed some of it based on what you now know about her parents — Beatrice and Mori. Suffice it to say that she basically operates by the same rules as other mages in the use of her magics. Though, unlike other mages, she also possesses a specifically crafted magical tattoo linked to her own unique wisp.

Magical Tattoo as Name Curse

Myra’s name curse is Infernum Clavis or Helkey. It is a whirl of ancient letters inscribed into her left arm in the form of magical channels and written with a special ink. Both the language of the curse and how it was crafted is yet to be revealed. However, what I will say is that Infernum Clavis is just part of the lettering. The rest is of dancing characters that are presently without form.

Infernum Clavis is linked to Myra’s wisp. It serves as a store-house for magical energy from the worlds-wisp. This gives Myra an extra well from which to draw to form magical spells. So she packs a bit more ooomph and endurace than is typical for a mage despite her young age. But that’s not all. This magical tattoo possesses two more special powers that have proven very useful thus far. The first is the Helkey’s ability to easily open Hell Gates. We saw this property in action during Chapter 5. The second is its signature ability to steal benevolent wisps from devils and then to protectively draw them within the bounds of its form inscribed in her flesh. For these innocent and good souls, Infernum Clavis is a refuge. Malign souls can also be taken by Infernum Clavis from Hell. These ill-intending wisps are banished to the house of Myra’s shadow. There they reside as tiny shades flowing through her larger one — also kept safe but separated.

As you have probably already guessed, this soul-stealing from devils who have built their fortunes on taking mortal souls for themselves makes Myra quite the threat to the denizens of Hell…

(Want to read the first Chapter of Helkey? You can find it here.)

(Looking for something else? Check out Helkey Contents.)

Helkey 8 — Saving Mottle

What starts out as an odd sleep — where I feel like I’m in two places at the same time — proceeds swiftly to dead-tired, I don’t dream of anything. I can vaguely sense the storm roaring outside, the water lashing in on me, the sulfur scent of Hell’s air, the cooler and cleaner air coming up from the cracks. A part of my mind is still alert. I’m in fracking Hell after all. A place full of dangerous devils along with various lurking demons. All hungry in their own ways for the wisps of earthly mortals.

I don’t know what wakes me, hours later. Perhaps it is the sudden quiet outside. Perhaps it is the sound of scuffling and muttering. Probably both. But all I know is there is a whip-sharp crack of a single spark from my name curse as warning and then I am wide awake.

“I am hangry! Bob is hangry!” something hisses pitifully and angrily from a three-foot wide crack about five feet off to my right. A big green scaley lizard head emerges. A long tongue flickers out between hooked teeth the size of my forefinger — tasting the air. Bulbous yellow glowing eyes shoot beams like spot lights into the cleft where I am resting. The eye-lights flick over me and then continue on toward the raging storm outside. “Smell something. Ssssooofffttt. Smells, soft. Smells of wisp. Strong wisp. Tasty wisp.” It clacks its jaws and sound echoes out. It then bobs its head up and down as the rest of its body emerges from the hole.

I freeze as the twelve-foot-long lizard emerges. It possesses a sinuous body with a spiney ridge along its back. Four legs, the forelimbs of which look dexterous enough to manipulate objects, propel it in a chameleon waddle-hop. On its right shoulder is a glowing blue orb. I know what this object is somehow. One of my memories from before the potion has re-surfaced. That orb holds captured wisps. Kind of like a devil’s lunch box, power crystal, and money purse all wrapped up in one. Worb for wisp orb. So this is a devil? Perhaps it was once human but since it is keeping wisps it has now transferred fully over as a native of Hell. Probably did so to survive. Humans in Hell learn quick that it’s either be prey or predator. There’s really very few other options in the zero sum world of Hell.

“Could it be… the Mottle??” Bob the devil lizard hisses to himself. Hot spittle from its mouth splatters toward me. Where it falls into the water, it causes a boiling reaction. “No. This smells…” the long tongue flicks the air, I shift away from it as it licks the space where I was sitting a moment before. “This smells hoomannn. Sssstrong. Closssee.” It pauses to ponder for a moment. “Besidesss, Bob ate other Mottles. The last grew cunning. No longer staysss on ground.” It clacks its jaws again, making quite a racket.

Thank the freaking gods I set up a full body ignarus curse. Saved my ever-loving life. But it won’t last long. The thing can clearly smell me and it keeps licking the space I was in only a moment before as I dance away. It can actually see me — but it doesn’t realize it yet. Won’t take long, though. It’s already engaged its other senses. I should use the element of surprise while I still have it. I lift my left hand. As I do, I can hear the wind starting to pick up outside again. The calm eye of that monster storm is about to pass bringing with it the second half of its destructive force. I can’t think about that too much now. I have the devil lizard Bob leaping around and waving his tongue in my face.

My magical tattoo begins to spark as my intention to fight fills it. I’m cornered. I have little doubt that Bob here would eat me and devour my wisp in an instant given even half a chance. Not gonna let that happen. This situation calls for one of my original curses. No half measures will do. I shift to the side and position myself to strike at Bob’s shoulder and through its wisp orb. Such a strike will take away his devil magic, free the wisps, and hopefully put Bob immediately out of commission all in one go. That’s the theory at least. But to do it I need the right weapon.

“Lunen svert umbra!” A beam of moonlight shoots up from my magical tattoo into my hand as I chant the invocation. The light casts a deep shadow that magically forms into a razor-sharp blade. I hold its light and shadow as a rough sword-like form in my hand — leaping forward to strike. Its point catches the worb, punches through its hard outer shell and then starts to slice into Bob’s shoulder. But Bob is quick. He’s survived Hell so his instincts and reflexes are honed to a T. Bob leaps back. My blow is not lethal.

Bob wails as his broken worb falls to the ground and wisps begin to shoot out from it. Willowy ghosts that remind me of flying jellyfish dart into the air. Just more spikey and less globular. They dance up along my moon-shadow blade and flow swiftly into my name curse. It grows bright and energy fills me. I hear the wisps’ voices in my head. They are thanking me for freeing them. For giving them shelter. I get a brief image of the inside of my name curse as these wisps see it. Some geodesic dome structure filled with light and music. Five wisps now float there. Once humans who were trapped — by their own bad actions, by Asmodeus’s subterfuge or capture, or by pure bad luck — in Hell. Now, they’re somehow sheltered and temporarily liberated.

I am completely fracking surprised by this turn of events. Bob meanwhile is wailing even as the returning storm wind is starting to roar. A few bits of sand and grit are making their way into my cleft. The wind has shifted. The cleft has become less protective.

“Ssstoled them!!” He roars at me, oblivious to the environmental shift. “Ssssee you now! Hoomaan! Dead!” He turns the spines on his tail toward me and then launches them like freaking spears through the air at me point-blank. I have only one option. Dodge like hell. Throwing caution to the wind, I dive head first into one of the crevices. I fall ten feet down into some kind of pit-cave that has about three feet of water at the bottom. Splash! In a second I’m up. The water broke my fall and I’m unhurt. I stand – propelled upward mostly by panic. Just above me, a row of spines is embedded in the wall. The moon-shadow blade re-fires in my hand. It’s a strong enchantment and should last for an hour. One of its utilities is I can’t drop it. It keeps coming back.

“Dead now hoommaann wissssppp thief!” Bob shouts from above as he prepares to lunge down on me. I start to scramble back. But the ground is uneven and underwater, so I stumble. The roaring outside has now grown extreme. There is a great inrush of air as Bob springs. He never makes it to the bottom. The wind has returned but this time from the opposite direction. It is exactly lined up with the opening of the cleft. Razor sand and missiles propelled at what must be about 200 miles per hour invade the cleft – riddling Bob full of holes even as the devil lizard is thrown bodily against the back wall. Luckily for me the hole I dove into gives me cover from this death-wind.

There is a sparkling of blue-white light as Bob’s wisp emerges from his dead corpus. It flickers and bounces around in the wind, then drifts down toward me. My name curse sparks in rejection. One of these sparks imbeds in the wisp. As this exchange occurs, Bob’s wisp darkens, becoming inky-black. It flows down into the water like a snake, then shoots toward me. It leaps into the air, twisting behind me. Slowly it fades into my shadow. I hear one last final echo of Bob’s voice in my head.

“Hhhhaaannnggggrrryyyy,” it hisses. And somehow it is there. Behind me. A devil’s wisp locked up in my shadow. My name curse as magical tattoo sparkles a few more times mysteriously. In the core of my being, I can feel Bob behind me as a dark wisp. He is somehow locked up in my shadow by the magic of my name curse just as the other five wisps, ones it accepted, are sheltering directly within its magical architecture. What the hell?

I’d lifted my moon-shadow blade into a guard position to defend myself. I drop it a little and let out a long sigh of relief. That was way too fracking close. I pat myself to make sure everything is whole and unbroken. My first thought is of the glass Perrier bottle. Holy crap! But my hand lands on it and finds it somehow still in one piece. Will need to figure out some way to protect the glass. But what to do now?

I stand for about a minute in the dark, somewhat smelly, water and consider my options. There’s no way I’m going back up into that cleft. Already, little bits of debris are raining down on me. Even worse, water is starting to flow in. It’s rising. So pretty soon I’ll be swimming and then pushed back up toward that wind of death. I turn the light of my moon-shadow blade down the crevice to see how deep it goes. It narrows, but continues on. Looks like my only option.

I struggle forward through the water even as more pours down through the cleft above. The ground is uneven. I stumble. Occasionally I fall into a pit and have to swim. I’m crazy super careful about keeping my Perrier bottle safe. The water that gets up my nose and flows into my mouth makes me sick with its stink. And this is mostly rain water. Not the disgusting putrescence that was the Hell ocean. But it’s still definitely not fit for drinking. Where in this damned place is the water safe?

My progress is hampered as the crevice narrows. At least it’s starting to head upward. I’m slowly gaining ground, but the flood is gaining faster. Pretty soon, the water is up to my chest. At this point, I’m having to squeeze to move forward – pushing the pocket with the Perrier bottle in it ahead to keep it safe. I count my blessings that it’s not plastic. The chemicals in the water feel pretty reactive and I don’t think a thin film of petrochemical-goop would last long in such a toxic bath. Lord only knows what it’s doing to my skin. I try not to think about all that.

I’ve come to a narrow spot just before a larger open area. I can see a pool of water widening ahead. There a chamber opens above. The moon-shadow blade’s light flickers on dark rock formations and irregularities on the ceiling. Up there, I can hear storm winds roaring. Little bits of grit and water rain down in a gentle drizzle. An opening is nearby if not close enough to let the storm’s full fury inside. Some thirty feet away is a rough subterranean beach strewn with boulders.

I struggle to wedge myself through the narrow opening and into the pool. I kick, push and squiggle. I feel stone scraping my skin and clothes. The water starts to flow over my head. I breath out and hold my breath trying to make my body as thin as possible. My lungs burn. My eyes and nose are filled with sulfur crud. One last kick and finally, I’m in. My head breaks the surface. I choke and splutter. Water is pouring behind me, thrusting me forward. I swim to the shore and clamber onto a large boulder. The water is rising, but it’s also starting to flow out of other cracks in the chamber. Its rate of rise appears to slow. Lifting my moon-shadow blade, I inspect the ceiling. It’s uneven enough that I can’t see into all the shady cracks. For a second, I glimpse something reflective in the darkness. But it’s gone as quick as it appeared. Probably some water that splashed onto the ceiling.

I sit down, still somewhat hot as water drips off me. I break out my precious Perrier bottle and take another drink. My stomach grumbles. The last food I had was at Starbucks. So no real dinner. Pretty soon now, I’m the one that’s going to start getting hangry. No use for it now. But man am I going to have some questions for my Mirror Specter when 7 o’clock Berlin time rolls around again. I lift my name curse to scrutinize it. The wisps have voluntarily energized its structure, giving some of their natural force to aid my magic. It has somehow made a safe place for them from Hell. Their energy no longer bleeds out into the fallen world’s deadly environment. They’re no longer subject to the predations of Hell’s malicious populace. I turn to look at my shadow. It dances in the light of my sparks and moon-shadow blade. I can see the dark wisp undulating within it like some kind of Cthulhu tentacle. It is also somehow removed from Hell’s environment, no longer able to prey or to be preyed upon. I feel a bit of wisp energy coming from it as well. This give is more reluctant. Yet somehow it seems to sense that I protect it now.

“Well, this is all damn fucking strange,” I say out loud as I wonder if the memory draught was meant to cover up the knowledge of my curse in my own mind. But that doesn’t really make much sense. I just discovered it again. More likely – my lack of memory about my curse’s ability to shelter wisps in Hell was due to collateral damage from the magical draught.

As I’m sitting, pondering these mysteries, there is movement up on the ceiling. A bat-like shape unfolds its membranous wings, then leaps into the air. It is about human sized, but the wings are rather large. In merely two flaps it has alighted on my boulder.

Oh shit! I scramble for my moon-shadow blade and put the sharp as light and shadow form between me and it as I settle into a defensive stance. The thing makes a “wrrrrryyyyccchhhuukkkukkkk?” sound through a vertically open mouth. It has two big eyes sprouting from its head. Its body is long and mostly flat. I said it was a bat before but the creature looks more like a large blanket with backbone, a long tail, and a fuzzy head with enormous eyes and ears. Its landing was more like a belly-flop than the way a bird typically lands since its limbs are mere protrusions from the corners of its blanket-like body.

It makes no move to attack as it repeats its inquisitive “Wwwwrrrrryyyycccchhhhuuukkkkuuukkk?” sound. The wisps in my name curse chime, giving me a sense that this creature is somehow familiar to them. They do not feel threatened by it. The Bob wisp is silent. But it wriggles a bit in recognition. I look over at the creature again. This one doesn’t have a devil’s worb. It’s not a wisp devourer. Curious. I wonder how it survives here in Hell.

“What are you?” I ask. “Can you talk?”

At this question, it spins around, lifts its tail, and tentatively extends the end in my direction. The tail is long and tipped with what I would best describe as leaf-like fronds at its end. The creature waves the tail in front of me. I recoil. The tail waving pauses, then resumes. Inviting. I get no sense of aggression.

“You want me to take this?” I point to the strange-looking tail.

The tail waving pauses again and then starts back up. Oh what the Hell. I lift my right hand and slowly extend it toward the tail. In my left, I’m still holding my moon-shadow blade in case there’s any funny business. The tail immediately thrusts forward and wraps its leaf-fronds around my hand and forearm. There is some kind of slime exuding from it. When it contacts my skin, my vision blurs and I am swimming in a flood of thoughts coming from the creature.

I am Mottle. It thinks this to me and I suddenly remember the Bob lizard-devil’s talk of Mottles. As I think this a flood of memory follows. Mottle, or whatever it was called before it became a Mottle, is in a crowd at a concert on Earth. He is hanging out with friends, partying, dancing, jumping up and down to loud music. I’m confused for a moment. Then I realize Mottle is showing me a scene from his former life. There is a screeching sound as the music suddenly stops. Loud cracks of gunfire erupt. I see people falling under hails of bullets. There are muzzle flashes coming from the balcony of a far-off hotel. Mottle as human is down. He is bleeding. He reaches out to hold hands with a young lady I think must be his girlfriend or fiancé or wife. They are bleeding out together. She is passing out. His vision starts to darken. It turns black and then returns as an ethereal blur. I realize the Mottle person is dead now. I am seeing with his wisp sight. Through his eyes I see the Terror Hounds. Hellhound demons attracted to mortal fear. They are bounding through the dead, tearing out their wisps. One is upon the girl. It rips her wisp out. Suddenly, Mottle’s wisp is grabbed in one of the Hound’s jaws.

The Hounds holding the two wisps run through a temporary Hell gate. They emerge is flashes upon the plains of Infernia. They are bounding along a knife shaped lake toward a tower backed by a broken black and red land that billows endless smoke. There is a crack of lightning from the sky. The Terror Hounds are stunned. The two wisps flee together, flying as they spread to take the form of the Mottle-type creature before me. Hell has granted them their new shapes. A chance at life of a sort — clothing them in a shape suitable to their terrible new environment as happens with wisps taken in so unnatural a fashion. They alight on the rocky formation around me, finding shelter. I get a sense that this is their new home. Visions rapidly blur forward. There are other Mottles, years of life, and then the green devil lizard Bob arrives to hunt them down one-by-one. Mottle is the only one left. His sadness and loneliness consume me.

I feel Mottle searching my thoughts. I feel the wisps in my name curse chime in recognition. They exchange thoughts with Mottle. The story of my encounter with devil lizard Bob is relayed. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. And then, a simple thought. You’ve saved Mottle and those dear to Mottle. I can help you back.

I marvel as the tail withdraws. How could such a creature exist in Hell? But before the thought is finished, Mottle has flown forward and covered me with his blanket like body. There is a shifting as he changes color. The contact brings further thought. Myra rests. Safe now. Mottle will protect. Keep safe.

The membranous body of Mottle is somehow cooler. And I can see that he’s camouflaged me. Formed himself into a kind of mini tent the shape and texture of the rock I’m on. It’s much better than the ignarus curse alone. I can’t immediately sleep. I’m too charged up. Never would I have imagined I’d make an ally in Hell much less be able to steal wisps away from devils themselves. Maybe my parents actually knew what the hell they were doing when they sent me. Maybe I knew what I was doing when I volunteered to go. Feeling a bit more confident, I let myself drift off. Above, and outside, the storm starts to slake its fury.

(Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Helkey 7 – A Mirror Specter on the Beach of Infernia

I’m lying on the ground staring up at a putrid green sky. Trying to fracking breathe. The rotten eggs stench is overwhelming. A hot wind blows over some nearby sand dunes. It’s pretty damn strong – blasting hot sand over my skin which is quickly making it raw. This wind is carrying the stench I’m smelling. No relief from the heat either. Like air blowing out of a furnace.

I lever myself up onto wobbly legs. I look over my shoulder. The Hell Gate I came from is gone. I stare around. Nothing but sand dunes and gnarly scrub plants that look like twisted fingers sprouting serrated blade-shaped yellow leaves nearby. Some of the lower areas are damp and filled with green and purplish mud. To my west, the land rises into a rocky up-thrust among dunes. North and west, the dunes continue, backed by a distant wicked finger of some dark metal structure looming over dead lands. It oozes black smoke. The wind churning over the dunes makes a hollow wailing sound. It’s so crazy-hot I’m already dripping sweat. Thank gods I’m wearing my combat boots. Otherwise, my feet would be scorched five times over.

There is a sound of a bell ringing. It’s weird, out of place. I look around. There is no fracking bell tower – just dunes, those mean ass plants and… my searching eyes alight on a fricking skeleton on the back side of one of the dunes. It’s of some long reptilian creature with wicked looking jaws. Sooo fracking great! The bell rings again. Now I realize it’s familiar, reminding me of Beatrice. Then I remember – I heard the same sound when mom touched my forehead back at Starbucks. The displaced bell rings three more times, telling me that the time is 7-o-frigging clock. Like I need a timepiece in Hell. Well, scratch that, maybe I do.

When the bell stops ringing an apparition appears in the air in front of me. No. It is not Princess Leia. It’s me. I mean, the spitting image of me in the mirror in the damn morning in a nice safe bathroom in not Hell but on normal good ol’ Earth. Well, not literally in the bathroom mirror. A floating image of only me with no background. Just what I look like right after I’ve had a shower – all nicely dressed and clean. Except this me is the one before my current haircut. The hair is longer and tied back in a pony tail. It still has the red streaks. So, the spitting image of me from like two weeks ago. 

“Hey Myra,” The apparition says. “I’m the Mirror Specter you made before you took up this crazy ass quest.”

So it’s a quest now, is it? Sand blows around the image as clouds begin to cross the merciless sun. I hardly feel any cooler. Like that mean sun knows where I am and can shoot beams at me even through the clouds. My left hand is dropping sparks like, well, a hand-held sparkler. So I figure the Mirror Specter was set up through my name curse. Probably activated when Beatrice sent me through the Hell Gate. Pretty nifty really. I didn’t know those Specters were used for anything other than magical librarians. And I gotta say, my Mirror Specter is way cooler than those stuffy things. The Specter me is still talking.

“… Since I am here, it means you are fracking there.” The Mirror Specter looks around. “I mean we are there. I mean here. Gods I can’t imagine what you’re thinking now.”

“Hey, don’t rub it in.” I cough the words more than talk them. The air here is vicious. Some kind of poison in it. Too much sulfur. I need to get away from it somehow.

My Mirror Specter looks at me in sympathy. She reaches out to grab my shoulder and then seems to realize she’s insubstantial. Just a ghost. Yeah, not a hologram but a ghost me with a little bit of me in it. A little piece of my soul sent to ride shotgun with me for brief periods down here in Hell. Brief because the magic that keeps it going costs. And my wisp can only recharge so much each day. But still, a little is better than nada. It makes me feel a tiny bit less desolated. Just a tiny bit.  

“I’m here to help and you should listen because I have like maybe a minute left today.” The Specter looks around. “You’re on a Hell’s beach – that’s bad. And it looks like a storm is coming – that’s worse. You need to get off this freaking beach. The air near the water is usually poisonous here, clue? Water in Hell usually equals poison air. So, you need to avoid most surface water.” She looks at my pocket. “We have water?”

I nod in reply to myself and pull the Perrier bottle out halfway to show it to my Specter. This is really fracking weird. How did I suddenly become a fricking drill sergeant?

“Good. Now pay attention. You will need to extend that water as far as you can with the duplici exemplari curse. You know, the Jesus curse?” It was an old joke. I always called duplici the fricking Jesus curse ‘cause you could literally break bread almost endlessly with it. It gave you like x500 the original material. I guess I’ll be drinking Perrier mineral water the whole time. The Mirror me has read my mind. “It might last you a fricking month, but don’t spare. You need to drink constantly here. It is too fricking hot. Drink while I’m talking for gods sake.”

I pick up my Perrier, choke out duplici exemplari, and chug down some of the still-slightly-cool sparkling water. It makes me feel better. A little.

“Now, for part 2, you’re going to need to get off this beach and find some shelter quick. Storms here are gods awful beasties.” She looks around. I can see where she’s looking. There is a sand cliff leading to rocky high ground about a half mile away. The rocks contain crevices and outcroppings. Mirror me points at the rocks. “Go to that and find shelter. It should be high enough. But get to the lee side and go as deep into a rock crevice as you can. Watch out for original owners. Gotta go.” And with that she is blown away in the sandy wind. I feel really weird – like I just lost my best friend.

The wind is picking up now and that sand hurts. But despite my Specter’s warning, I’m curious about what she said. Hell’s beach? That means there’s an ocean nearby? Probably on the other side of those dunes not far from here? Duplici has refilled my Perrier. I take another swig. I really am damn curious to see a Hell’s beach. Screw it, I’m going.

I trudge up toward the dunes. As I get closer, the air grows ever more putrid. I decide to hold by breath. It’s not easy – what air I keep in burns my lungs. I scramble over a rise and look out. Before me is a raging ocean filled with massive waves thrashing in green and purple slime. I can see pink gas rising off wave crests atop the churning toxic soup posing as actual water. Bacteria or algae material that looks like rotting flesh is piling up on shore. The foam over top of it looks like vomit. Skeletons and decaying corpses litter the beach as far as the eye can see. They probably succumbed in the poison air. Most are close to the water line. I realize the risk I’m taking is stupid. Yet I somehow feel so alive in this deadly place as I stand on my bone-cluttered dune. Out over that death sea is an advancing green-black wall cloud. Beneath it, the ocean looks like an explosion of water and foam rising above the regular water level. I’m reminded of a film I’ve seen about the Indonesian tsunami even though this far off tidal wave like thing is being driven by a storm. The cloud is maybe 20 miles off and moving fast. Well, I saw it. I’m a goddamn Hell tourist. Now time to get the fuck out before that storm rolls in.

I run down behind the dune, still holding my breath. I take about 20 paces before I choke in some more air. It’s terrible, nasty, makes my nose run and eyes water in all kinds of bad ways. The wind is carrying the ocean toxin inland. My next breath is ever so slightly better, but it’s still bad. I’m running on toward the rocks my Mirror pointed toward. Pretty smart really, without me I’d probably be a goner. I may still be a goner. My feet pound the ground as my lungs scream at me. I have to breathe and it hurts to breathe. It’s a frigging Hell version of Catch 22. The exertion is insane as I’m choking on air and running. Behind me, the ocean is starting to growl. It’s the growl of the storm sucking water over rocks, sand, and bodies. Over it all, I hear a strange and wicked howl coming from the direction of the Hell Gate. Now what is that? Maybe the Gate is still partly open? But what could’ve made that noise?

I can’t stop to think too much as I race toward the rocks. But I’m wondering if something happened to Beatrice and Mori back there. I did leave them with three freaking Pride-Eater Demons and Ivan fucking Volkov. Not your run-of-the-mill polite evening company. Not my problem, I think to myself. But I’m worried. The howl carries on for a few more seconds, it seems to travel onward into the wasteland around me. It’s loud, even over the storm. At last, it grows quiet.

I’m still running full tilt. I can breathe a bit better now, which is a godsend, because I was really starting to run out of air. Good thing I don’t have asthma. I’d be done-in for sure. The little weirdo plants are like razor mines. One leaf slashes a small hole in my jeans. Now I’m swerving to avoid them. If I trip and face plant onto one, I’m probably dead. Who knows if they’re poisonous? Why not? The air and water are. Great!

Behind me, the storm is rapidly growing larger. It is big and green and black and mean. A towering wall stretching out over all the ocean as far as I can see. The rotten tsunami wave below it has gotten close enough that I can guess its height. Probably about 30 feet. It’s terrifying, but I’m gaining altitude as rising land has given me a much safer view of the beach. I should have thought of that before I almost killed myself on that poison shore. Hell’s sun is now completely gone — swallowed up in a big white, gray and green cloud top like fifteen miles up. The wind is pelting hard. It beats at me in gusts. Grit riding on it hits me like a power sander. If the wind gets too much stronger it will start to rip through my clothes and flesh. Seriously. No fricking joke. Fat-ass raindrops are starting to fall around me. At least these are cooler. Maybe just a little. Luke cool. They pelt me intermittently bringing with them slight relief. My hair and back are a plaster of wet sand.

Legs are starting to burn now. Running in Hell over sand uphill while breathing sulfurous air is no joke even for someone who prides herself on staying in decent shape. The strong wind pushing from behind is a help to speed me along, though. At last, my feet touch rocky ground. Before me, the outcrop rises up. It’s like lots of fingers of some kind of hard rock clawing out of the sand to poke at sky. They make crevices and canyons between them. They’re also part of a land rise perhaps 100 feet above the shoreline. I don’t even turn around to look back. The wind and sand are now too brutal. I dive into one of those pathways in the rock, make as many little turns as I can to get some shelter from the wind and grit whipping through. I cross behind three separate walls of rock and make my way to shelter in a hollow beneath an overhang before I feel safe. It’s not really a cave. But a cleft that cuts about 10 feet into one of the bigger rocks. There are cracks and crevices that run deeper. But my Mirror’s warning about ‘original owners’ makes me wary of trying to go too far in.

Cooler air wafts out from the holes. It also smells cleaner. I put my back to stone, slide myself down to a semi-comfortable sitting position, pull out my almost endless decanter of Perrier water, take a big gulp and watch the storm rage just outside. I can’t see too much because I picked a pretty protected spot. Relatively high up and wrapped in by a crescent of large stone formations. What I can see is terrifying enough. It gets dark as night outside. Sand and water are hurled around by what must be tornado strength winds. The material is all blowing away from me and I’m sheltered by many walls. So, I’m basically safe. I don’t feel safe. I know if I step outside, I’m going to be picked up like a rag doll and ripped apart by sand-razor-wind in moments. Water coming down in that roaring mess is more than torrential. I’m quickly drenched as it pours and pools in my cleft. Thank goodness I picked a higher place. Otherwise, I’d probably be swimming. This rain water seems kinder than the ocean water. I tentatively taste it. It’s still sulfurous and probably not safe to drink. I stick to my Perrier bottle.

Despite the storm’s outrageous jet-plane roar of noise, I’m getting tired. The water falling in is cool enough to be comforting, the air coming up from the cave is kind. It lulls me. Hell, I’m pretty damned tired. It’s been a long-ass day – all with drinking the memory draught, sneaking into Furze Bank, falling through a Hell-Gate, landing on a Hell beach, breathing poison air while having to run a race through razor plants against the mother of all storms. I look at my name curse. It’s still got a decent amount of magic left in it. My wisp is pretty strong and my parents did their best to use their own magic to get me into Furze Bank. All I’ve done so far is open the Hell-Gate, summon my Mirror Specter and turn my Perrier bottle into an endless refills fountain beverage. All? Hah! That’s actually a lot. But I’ve got a handful of minor curses or a couple more major ones left to me.

A permanent Ignarus curse is already running on my name curse as magical tattoo. It doesn’t always work. But it prevents most mundanes and non-magically-sensitive types from seeing the color changes in it when I use it. It also makes the sparks less obvious to them. Although, as you remember from the Pride-Eaters, it’s not fool-proof. I decide to feed a bit more curse energy into my tattoo’s Ignarus and extend it to my body. I need to rest. But I need to do it with some assurance of safety. I haven’t yet met any of Hell’s live inhabitants. But I don’t want to press my luck. The dead things on the beach didn’t look friendly at all. What should I expect? I’m literally in fracking Hell.

Ignarus amplio, I chant quietly, focusing my energy on the already active curse magic. A couple of stray sparks fall from my tattoo. I feel the curse widen like an electric field. There is a kind of snap and crackle like electricity as Ignarus envelops me.

It’s not perfect. But a girl who just spent the day breaking into Hell and surviving her first frigging encounter with it has gotta sleep. As satisfied as I’m going to be, I close my eyes and allow myself drift off. Sleep comes quick – bringing with it more of those damn ringing bells. As I drift off, I again feel a sense of duplicity. Of occupying two places at once. In one there is hard rock, roaring wind, and lashing water. In the other, there is a sense of floating and sensory deprivation. The combination makes it oddly easier to drift off into deeper sleep.

(Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)