Helkey 3 — A Gilded Tower Among the Pyrocumulus

“Are ya ready?” Mori asks in his gravely, off-hand kinda way.

Ready? Is he nuts? I’ve just had 90 percent of my memory of this bat-shit crazy plan wiped from my noggin. So I’m forced to rely on trust that this was a decent kind of bat shit crazy plan. That my parents have my back. That I’m not going to fracking just be sacrificed as demon or devil food. I look at my Fit Bit. It’s 5:14 PM. Just an hour and sixteen minutes before the big dump. I stand up, pushing myself away from the table, all-the-while trying to calm my churning insides.

“What the hell do you mean? No. I’m not ready.”

Beatrice puts a hand on my arm, tracing my name curse. “Beloved, you are wise to be afraid. But you are protected.” She touches my forehead and her own curse energy flows into me. For a moment I feel oddly out of place. The surroundings seem to darken and push inward. There is a sound like a bell in my ears. I lurch back from an odd sensation of split perceptions. But it is gone the instant it began.

Beatrice is withdrawing her hand from my head. She moves to cup my cheek and meets my gaze. “Your mission is secret. Locked up, key tossed, location of key and secret erased. Kept from the predator eyes of those who hunt us. A work of lifetimes to make a safe path for you. You’re fighting for our future. It’s why you agreed.” She embraces me so hard I feel like she doesn’t want to let go. I don’t want her to let go. “Know that while you are below, we will be fighting for you here and above.”

All Beatrice-speak roughly translating to ‘we got your back in a big way.’ I sigh. I slump my shoulders. “Did I really agreed to do this?”

“You made us let you volunteer,” Mori says cracking a sympathetic grin. “Kinda in your name and all that.”

Helkey. Yeah. Irony. Funny-ha-ha. OK. So I’m going. So I wanted to go before I drank that cup of mental blitzkrieg? And so you’re saying I’ve got back-up?” I have to ask this. The whole situation is tougher than doing one of those trust fall things while you’re standing six feet up on a wobbly platform and you didn’t see the people line up behind you to catch you.

“You’ve got backup baby girl,” Mori says. “You’ve got level 10 back-up. Maximum back-up.”

I breathe out. Maximum back-up. It means major magical resources are being used. Favors called in. Boatloads of mystical currency spent. Groups of mages and possible other entities involved well beyond our family circle of three. That’s what Mori means by maximum back-up. Damn! And I’ve known about it all through years and years. Now nothing. Nothing as I’m about to plunge into a Hell I know is hungry for exactly my kind of wisp. A spirit energy capable of developing magical channels to produce curses. Hell’s lords covet the magical affinity of my brand of wisp the way a financial crimes syndicate covets cryptocurrency. They even have a special class of devil whose profession is to hunt wisps like mine. The Curse Riders. And here I am walking right into Hell. It’s like logging an unsecure computer loaded with a thousand bitcoins straight into the real world version of hackersville. If the computer were my friggin body and the bitcoins my soul. What an ask! I breathe in and look down through my hair at my shirt and boots. Phoenix shirt. Rising from the flames of its own destruction. I wonder if this was my message to self as dress code. Destruction is scary as Hell. But a promise of rebirth from the flames after is dubious assurance.

“I just wish I knew the plan,” I say weakly. “That I had something…” I tap my head, “real knowing, an objective, something.”

“You know what you need to, Myra.” Beatrice says softly. I can tell she’s putting on a brave face for me. She’s worried too. I probably promised to make her say just this type of stuff if I volunteered for this crazy caper. Man, she probably just wants to pull me out and forget it all ever happened. Forget. Ha!

“And that appears to be next to nothing,” I say with all of sarcasm and bewilderment and wonder together. I just can’t believe I did it. Volunteered. Made them let me do this — most probably.

“Next to nothing. Exactly. It’s what’s safest,” Mori says. And then that’s it. That’s all that needs to be said.

“Good gods am I fucked,” I say. It’s my gamer motto. Whenever the odds look impossible, me saying ‘I’m fucked’ or ‘we’re fucked’ is my ritual. It’s my lucky rabbit’s foot. If I don’t say it, I know I’m gonna to die. But this isn’t some D&D game. This is real life. Strangely, the old ritual buys me back a shred of confidence.

Mori knows the ritual. He grins and holds his fist forward. Beatrice gives a half-grin and offers her own refined hand in the gesture of fist-bump. I leave them hanging for just a few seconds. We are all standing up in some weird circle around the Starbucks table in a pose like something from that cheesy 70s anime with the Casey Casum lead voice – Battle of the Planets. The image makes me laugh.

“Oh, what the hell,” I say, bumping each fist in turn. “Gods I am probably going to regret this in about a billion different ways.”

Mori pumps his own fist into the air. Making a salute out of his reply. “Yeah! Now let’s go kick some ass!”

*       *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

We blast out of the air-conditioned Starbucks and onto the steaming and smokey early summer streets of Berlin. Steaming because it just rained and it’s hot. Smokey because there’re wildfires burning and they reek. Sun’s still up. But the shadows are lengthening toward a roiling red and white and black, lightning-slashed east. I look around. We’re in an industrial park type area. About twenty blocks away is the ever-rising, multi-sided glass tower that I know is Furze Bank HQ. In the distance, I can see the plumes of thunder-heads with their feet in flame-flickering smoke looming in the distance. I’m seeing pyrocumulus clouds boiling up over eastern Germany and western Poland from the recent never-before-seen wildfires blazing there even now. Fire thunderstorms. A word combo that hadn’t existed until the 21st Century. Each rising up over its own hellish inferno of burning forest. The kinds that have been lit all over the world during present years as the Earth grew ever-hotter from the nasty furnaces and engines spewing heat-trapping gas. I smell smoke on the air and wonder if the setting is coincidental prelude or entirely wrapped up in the whole reason for my journey. Knowing what I know of Hell, it’s probably the latter. Or like mom would say — as above so below.

Dad’s got his phone out. The Uber is a few blocks away still. We rustle at our pockets, producing masks – which are still required in cars and on aircraft here in Europe. Even in the Starbucks, about half of the people were still wearing them. The last major infectious disease wave hit a couple of years ago. It’s mostly petered out by now. But old habits die hard. And there’s probably another new disease coming from somewhere. There always is these days. Another now global 21st Century phenom. Masks. At first just a fashion for the East where various respiratory viruses, springing up out of the hottest and growing hotter places, started to emerge. But when the viruses went global the masks did too. Well, for everyone except the morons, of which there also appeared to be an endless emerging supply. The masks today served a double purpose, also becoming more obnoxiously usual, filtering out wildfire smoke polluted air and emerging new disease transmission prevention.

My mask today is stylish white with a silver flame symbol on the front. But it immediately makes me hotter. Rebreathing your own 98.6-degree exhalation is a freaking great way to boil in the 95-degree Berlin heat. I shed my blue flannel, but break a sweat in seconds anyway. Yeah, this is all great prelude for where I’m heading. But it’s the state of things really. We’ve all been getting steadily deeper into the hot shit for years and years now.

An electric hum heralds the Tesla Uber’s arrival. Mori would never order a fossil fuel based ride-share. Not unless it was “death on the line.” He and the rest of us mages know all-too-well where the money spent on fossil fuels goes. It’s paying for Hell on Earth.

We pack in, immediately relieved as the wave of cool, well-filtered air blasts over us. It’s a jelly bean black Model X. So we have plenty of back-seat room to spread out. The X-wing doors lower and I can’t help but grin in thrill as that first-in-class acceleration blasts me off toward an awful destiny. May as well go to Hell in style, right? The Starbucks shrinks from view and we are flying along toward Furze Bank. There’s a large park full of green to our right. Manicured trees and a perfectly groomed lawn form a blur of scenic delight in odd opposition to the pyrocumulus explosion in the distance.  The space-ship like nose of the Tesla points toward the glass tower rising up before us. It’s an old 550-foot-tall skyscraper built as a hotel during the happy and more innocent 1980s of yore. A color, hairstyle and wardrobe-challenged period that looked like it was crazy-fun to live in. Probably because it didn’t take itself too seriously. Not anything like the bad batshit crazy present where everyone takes everything too damn seriously and then gets all twisted as a result. Immediate danger has that effect. I look back at the tower. Even it seems to have a hairdo. This once-hotel now filled to the brim with some of the most corrupt bankers in the world. The top bit of the tower is shaded orange-gold. Yep. Gilded crapper all right.

“Roman pillar of glass holding up the sky. Where-o-where is my sword of Damocles?” I muse to my parents, channeling good ol’ mom, more to keep from being quiet than anything else. I’m nervous as all Hell – pardon the expression – and I don’t want to start thinking too much about what lies ahead. I keep having to stop my foot from impulsively tapping. And the thrilling acceleration of the Tesla’s not mixing too well with all the fear trying to bite its way out of my gut. So I’m a genius and decide to talk about the trouble instead.

“Right,” says Mori. “Yeah, they’re regular Romans creating that sorta illusion. Holding up the sky? More like tearing it down and then blaming the rest of us for going all Henny Penny.”

“Sword of Damocles. I thought that was the particular style of heat you tend to — what do you call it? Ah, the kind of heat that you tend to pack,” Beatrice chimes in – looking at me with a cryptic expression on her elfish face.

“Yeah,” I reply. But I am thinking – what are they talking about? Sure, I know some hard-hitting magic. But not sword of doom level stuff. Maybe they’re trying to lift my spirits. I take a glance at the Uber driver. He looks very German, maybe even a bit Nordic. Though he probably knows English and these drivers can tend to be chatty. But this guy seems pretty cool with his hair buzzed at the sides and long on top — then tied into a samurai style bun in the back. He’s got the square and chiseled features to pull it off too.

I want to talk like a convicted felon who knows these are the last minutes she has left to enjoy the real world in conversation with regular, decent people but hasn’t yet learned the length of her fracking prison sentence. I also want to make sure it’s safe. Under my breath, I whisper the old curse faetor oculorum. My eyes swirl with the curse energy and I suddenly see in revealed layers. The driver is giving off a bit of excess heat. Probably because he was recently outdoors. No active curse energy. But a strange bit of residual drips off him as a visible strand of blue. Could be anything really. Pretty innocuous and not aimed at me. I blink my eyes and the curse light fades. The driver is not suspicious. He glances once into the mirror at me as I scrutinize him and then back at the road. Something in the slight gesture throws off a confidentiality vibe. I can even imagine this guy sitting on the other side of a screen in a confessional booth. Quiet, accepting, no hint of retribution. OK. If I’m any judge of character, and I am, this guy is cool, not radiating hostile magic, and we are in his sanctuary. Mobile holy fucking ground, Highlander. I’m free to parents-kid chat. Nice!

“So usual break-in style?” I ask quietly, wiping my sweaty palms on my shirt. Sure, the driver guy may seem trustworthy in a Snow Crash delivernator kind of way. But I’m not going to go shouting about our Hell gate crashing plot. “I guess I don’t have to worry about the security cameras afterward at least?”

“Not the kind of trouble you’d need to concern yourself with immediately,” Mori croaks. The fact that he doesn’t hesitate confirms my suspicion. Maybe Mori prearranged this driver. That would be like him. “Your mission will take a bit of time. You likely won’t be back until your 18th.”

Ouch. That’s nigh on a year. A long time to spend in Hell. Hmm. Scratch that. Three fracking minutes is a long time to spend in Hell. A year is an eternity. Not that I’ve been there. I’d remember that! But being a mage you hear war stories from those who have. Still, it’s reassuring mom and dad came up with some kind of exit strategy. Better be a good one. I don’t want to stay in Hell one fricking minute longer than I must.

“But you guys… You’ll have to deal with it.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Beatrice replies. “We have an appointment with Felix Azriel as his personal guests.”

“Should’ve known. Not real invitations of course?” Felix is another Furze Bank big-shot. How I know this I can’t remember because of the stupid memory draught which is still giving me a ridiculous fracking headache.

“Of course,” Beatrice says with a wink. “A little scriptum fictus curse applied a priori to the guest list and we are on our way, my darling.”

The Tesla wooshes to a halt and we are suddenly there. The glass building takes up a good chunk of the block. Its chunky, reflective body angling into the sky seems to stoop over me. I feel small. Crushable. I don’t want to be crushable. It makes me angry. Why am I doing this? Oh fracking yeah, that’s part of the not-explanation. I set my jaw. This had better be the good thing that mom says it is. I don’t go playing Horatio for diddly squat. And she knows it!

Dad and Beatrice exit the car. Mori has his brief-case, she has her rapier. Yeah. They’re packing serious heat. Things could go down real bad. It’s a Hell gate after all.

We enter the lobby. It’s nice — but only if you like dressed-up pretention and office faux glam. A fountain bubbles near the doors spilling water over a crystal sculpture and down through grates. The court area is bordered by bright lights and plant cases set into the walls. Sunset beams in through tall glass windows running up to the second floor — illuminating the fountain. The ceiling continues higher terminating at least a hundred feet overhead. Multiple office levels are visible along a series of encircling balcony walkways. Conference rooms and open floor areas still twinkle with lights and activity. Behind the fountain is a security desk manned by two guards. Beside them — a set of metal detectors. A central pillar featuring glass phone booth elevators is beyond. On the far side is a sandwich bar with a smattering of tables. Some hangers-on are working late on their laptops or fiddling with their phones. Mine’s still in my pocket. Turned off. Guess I didn’t want any distractions before I drank my spiked coffee. A big clock on the back wall near the food court reads 5:34.

We approach the guards. One sits staring at a bank of camera images on screens, the other observes us. They’re wearing stock gray uniforms. Both are unarmed. I see the eyes of the one looking at us linger on Beatrice’s sword. He blinks and shakes his head as the ignore it – ignarus — curse settles in. Takes longer than is typical. I stiffen a little and elbow Mori. He nods, already watching the guard.

“Guden-tag, mein herr, frau, fraulein,” He says giving the German greeting, nodding to each of us in turn.

“Guden-tag,” Beatrice replies, “We’re guests of Felix Azriel. You should see us on the list.”

“Very good,” The guard replies as he picks up a tablet and begins to swipe through some screens. “Names?”

“I’m Beatrice, this is Mori and my daughter Myra. We’re the Hansens.”

“You are not on the list.”

I freeze. Beatrice said she had this. The guard must be an unexpected factor.

“That’s not possible,” Beatrice says, barely missing a beat. “Can you please check again.” She begins spelling out each of our names slowly and loudly to the now obviously annoyed guard – “I’m Beatrice. B-E-A…” – then swiftly inserts the curse – “Suggero!” – after she finishes and says “Now that sorts things out, doesn’t it?”

The curse again takes a moment to assert. But his eyes glaze after about a second.

“Yes, I suppose all is in order. Please sign in here.”

We sign in, pass through the blaring metal detector that everyone ignores, although the guard takes longer to. It’s weird, like watching him swim slowly through a jar of honey before ultimately going along with the active curse like the rest of oblivious humanity.

“What was with that guy?” I whisper to Mori as we make our way past the guard station and toward the elevators. “He a latent talent or something?”

“Dripping with demonic contact,” Mori replies. “Probably on his way to being possessed. Wonder if he’s tight with Volkov.”

“Volkov’s possessed? Great. This job gets better and better.”

“So it’s a job now, is it?” Mori smirks.

“If I think of it that way, it makes more sense that it would suck. But I’d rather hand-clean porta-johns than do this.”

Mori laughs his crow-cackle laugh. “Volkov’s a special case. We believe Asmodeus has interest in him.”

All the hair on the back of my neck stands at attention. “Then why are we here? Damn. May as well go through a permanent Hell gate.”

“Not quite so bad as that. We think that it’s only a recent thing. We hope,” Beatrice adds. “The guard was definitely demon-touched. I could see the influence wafting off him like dry ice in front of a strobe light.”

(Haven’t read the first chapter? Check it out here.)

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

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  1. This one is a bit early. But I think it’s ready to go live. The video blog or podcast version will post tomorrow :). I think I’m going to keep running the youtube version because that’s the way we started. Will likely add podcast versions later.


  1. Helkey Table of Contents | Scribbler’s Fantastical Workshop
  2. Arisen Worlds in Discordant Entanglement — Hell, Earth, Heaven | Scribbler’s Fantastical Workshop
  3. Helkey 16 — Glenda Goodfuture and the Solar Train to Denmark | Scribbler’s Fantastical Workshop

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