Helkey 20 — Devil Drivers in a Button Hook

I look over my motley companions, take a breath, let it out. I check my horologium watch. It’s 5:15 PM Hell time. So about forty five minutes ’til sunset. I walk up to Zel and Theri, check their gear, tighten a few straps. I glance at Mottle — he doesn’t do gear. Turning to Zaya, I ask — “you need anything?” I motion to the dead Poachers’ remaining equipment. Zaya folds her arms in front of her chest, turns her nose up, and scoffs. OK. That’s my answer.

“Sun’s almost down. Is everyone ready?”

In answer, Mottle swoops down from his perch then fastens onto my shoulders. His multiple contacts with my body cause my senses to blur. When they re-focus, I can see both through my eyes and his. It’s not as disorienting this time. He taps my neck with his teeth, injecting his strange liquid food directly into me. He must’ve eaten again when I slept. I feel a rush of energy. I’m thankful for it. Mottle can sense my thanks through our contacts. I didn’t want to eat that devils’ food. Meat looked way too humanoid. I don’t typically eat meat anyway. Too much cruelty involved. On Earth it was easy enough to get my protein from things like tofu and tempeh. In Hell, all my food’s been coming from Mottle which is such a major boon. I don’t want to think about not having Mottle.

The others jump as Mottle wraps himself around me, then seems to bite my neck. I just grin, flap Mottle’s muscular body, then hop-glide toward the cavern’s mouth. “I’ll take that as a yes!” I shout back to them. “Follow me!” Seeming to at last take my merging with Mottle in stride, they rush along behind us.

Outside, the pre-sunset air is still blast-oven hot. Stink of sulfur beats down as if weighted with lead. A green sky yawns above us — blending to a pine-needle color back toward the toxic ocean. I’m glad for Mottle’s cooling body, the fluids and foods he’s giving me. Makes Hell almost bearable. Almost.

Theri and Zel jog up beside me. Zaya flits to hover a few feet off to my right, casting about warily. I turn to Zel. “First things first. How do we best track Cyda?”

Zel nods, kneels down. Theri joins him. Together they scan the ground. The canyon floor is covered in broken rock and sand. I can see numerous footprints tracking between the cavern mouth and a trail winding down the canyon. To me, they all look the same. Zel points to a set of tracks leading off to the left — toward the canyon wall. “Those are Cyda’s tracks. He’s barefoot. His claw marks give him away.”

To the Wisp Fields

I feel a little tinge of regret. Zel and Theri both have shoes now. Their companion ran off — maybe out of fear, maybe out of opportunistic greed. Whatever the case, the poor guy is running around Hell in his bare feet. I don’t know why this makes me feel sympathetic. I glance down at my combat boots and am damn glad for them.

We follow the tracks to the cavern wall. There’s a natural stair made up of sandstone and gravel. We scramble up it, then continue on into the hilly, sandy lands surrounding Knife Lake. An orange-red sun plunges down behind the distant shape of Overseer Tower. Its crooked form wavers in a heat mirage making it look like a serpent slithering up into the sky of dusk. Despite a distance of at least twenty miles separating us from Overseer Tower, I still feel exposed. As if the eyes of some lookout are already tracing our steps. I’m pretty sure my fear is baseless. But Zel and Theri also seem to shrink from the tower.

Once up on the hillside, it’s even easier to follow Cyda’s tracks. They wind down toward the huge purple and green lake. Switching back and forth between hills but inexorably bending toward that ugly water. As we walk, shadows lengthen and a heat-mist rises from Knife Lake. A wind picks up at our backs, blowing the mists away from us and toward Overseer Tower. Sun is gone now. Overseer Tower — shrouded in mists. With light dimming, Cyda’s tracks become more difficult to follow. We slow down just to see. Zel stoops and seems to almost crawl. Zaya drops behind. She’s singing softly. In response, the ground behind us susurrates and shifts. All traces of our passage vanish. That little faerie gets more amazing each time I see her do something. Nobody’s going to be tracking us without some major effort. Dark or no dark.

We continue on in this way for about another hour. By seven o’clock Hell time I summon omnis scienta to help. I weave a little lux enchantment into my sensor, directing it to move in front of Zel. It glows, providing him with a dim light even as I’m able to see things about ten times better than before. Our pace picks up and I kick myself for not trying it sooner. I’ve got plenty of magic continuously filling up my energetic vessel. So I’ve got no excuse. We cut between two hills, avoid some nasty spike vegetation, then come to a wide-open area covered in low-hanging mist. It stinks of sulfur. I suppress a gag. But my eyes widen as I notice various glowing orbs floating in among the mists. They each spill out a light and color all their own. They slowly drift — giving me the impression of bio-luminescent sea life.

Live reading of Helkey 20

“They’re wisps,” Theri says, echoing my thoughts.

As if by some unspoken signal, we crouch down. The place is open, full of wisps. We’re suddenly on high alert. Not a moment too soon as out of the mists explodes a gigantic contraption. Spewing smoke from long rows of pipes, a machine about one hundred feet long crawling on six legs — each made of segmented metal ten feet in diameter and forty feet long. Two great pincers sway in front of a gaping maw filled with jagged metal teeth. Above it is a massive, swooping limb with a great glowing bulb on its tip. It dips this arm repeatedly into the mists, snagging fleeing wisps which are swallowed by the bulb. Clusters of lamps like eyes shine with a greenish glow above a metal mouth. On its back near its head is a platform. There I can see devils, perhaps six, operating various mechanisms I assume control the great machine. The whole apparatus reminds me of some monstrous infernal merger between scorpion and machine.

“Drivers,” Zel barely breathes the word.

I nod in response. The great devil machine continues to advance, segmented legs digging furrows into the ground. Massive claws edging ever closer. I want to freeze. To hide. But I’ve got to do something. We can try to hide, then withdraw in stealth and double back to continue following Cyda. Or we can take our opportunity and attack the Drivers now. The longer we wait, the more likely we’ll be spotted.

I blow out a soft puff of air, then nod my head. “Right,” I whisper. Motioning for them all to lean in closer, I point at the giant scorpion. “This is our chance. We’re going to take out that Driver, clue? We’ll keep tracking Cyda after.” I look into each of their eyes in turn. They nod agreement. This is what they signed up for. No time for pussy-footing now. “Good. Now listen quick. They outnumber us. But only slightly. They command a hulking machine and a shit-ton more brute force. We’re going to use that against them.” The huge scorpion is bearing down on us. We have maybe a minute before they spot us. Warming to my subject, I continue. “What we’re going to do is something I learned a while back called a button hook.” It was something Dad taught me while playing paintball. Great for fucking up bigger forces that have trouble reacting quickly. He said it worked against lumbering armor too. He should know. Mori’s ex military and all that jazz. Besides, the giant scorpion thing had armor written all over it.

“Zel, you go left. Stay about a hundred yards off. When you come perpendicular to its right side, I want you to shoot eight times with your rifle at them in rapid succession. When you’re done, immediately run to the rear of the machine, then wait for me. But be ready to unload with everything you’ve got left.” I make a motion with my hand, pointing him in the direction I want and toward the nine o’clock position relative to the machine beastie. “Go now! And start shooting immediately when you get into your first position!”

Zel dashes off. I watch him for a second, then turn to Theri. “OK. I’m sending you around to the other side about opposite of Zel. But I don’t want you to move until he starts shooting. Once you get into position, which should happen about twenty seconds after Zel finishes firing, I want you to shoot six times with your handgun. I know it’s not as effective at long range. Just do your best. Then I want you to run around to the rear position, join Zel, reload, and be ready to unleash Hell. Zaya and I’ll meet you there.” Theri nods. She’s giving me her wicked grin. She likes this Driver baiting plan.

The machine is getting uncomfortably close now. I can see the six devils on the platform. They’re all red-skinned and heavily armed with various weapons. Three are operating the machine. One is driving. The other sits at a station that I think must control the claws. The last operator is spinning a ball and pulling a lever. I assume this combination directs the tail which seems to mirror the ball-spinning, lever throwing movements. The other three devils are guards and lookouts. They don’t see us yet. But they will soon.

Bright flashes light off to our left — on the devils’ right. Zel has started his attack. Bullets ricochet off the platform. One catches a guard in the thigh. He goes down. I turn to Theri, patting her on the shoulder. “Go now!” She runs off like a bolt, keeping low in the mists for concealment. Zel unloads his last shot. This one is a frigging fireball bullet. It explodes over the operator of the tail contraption — blasting through the tail’s structure and causing it to sag. The operator dives away from his exploding control station but is pinned by a massive piece of metal falling down on him from the fracturing tail. Two wounded and one operating station wrecked. Not bad, Zel. I’m impressed.

The devils respond in fury. They focus on the location from which Zel first unleashed his barrage. The two remaining guards run over to the right side of the vehicle — our left — and start firing back. Bullets and fireball rounds streak toward Zel’s last position — lighting it up. But Zel is already gone — heading off to the twelve o’clock position. The scorpion’s driver swings some levers. The ponderous machine turns toward the nine o’clock. The claw operator at last springs into action. Putting his hands into two gloves, he flips a toggle. The claws lift up, let out a loud banging sound as they clack together, then both light on frigging fire! Holy shit! The night is suddenly illuminated by the hot, red glow. Good thing the mists are thick and they’re all facing toward the nine o’clock. The claw operator sends the massive pinchers thrusting down. He rips burning furrows into the ground. Material flies into the air. All for naught. Zel is gone. I can’t see him from my position. I’m glad for it.

I turn to Zaya. “Thought I forgot about you, didn’t ya?” Zaya giggles and shakes her head. I can barely hear it over the din of the guards gunshots and of the great scorpion machine venting its fury. “Good. So I noticed that stuff you did with the ground to cover our tracks. Do you think you can sift the sand beneath it to cause it to sink?”

“Oh, yes!” Zaya replies. “I can sink it. Maybe not bury it. Sand’s not deep enough here.”

“Good. All I need you to do is slow it down. But wait for my signal. And once you do, be ready because I’m going to need you to follow me fast.” As I speak, Theri starts shooting with her massive revolver. She’s about a hundred yards off. Her handgun is nowhere near as accurate as Zel’s rifle. And she’s only got six shots. Nonetheless, bullets ricochet off the platform from a position directly behind them. A final fireball shot explodes on the machine’s flank, leaving a big, glowing dent. No more casualties for team bad. But Theri sure as hell got their attention. Which was all I wanted. From the devil’s perspective, they’ve now been hit from their present front and rear. The guards don’t know what to do. They don’t see the first shooter. They’re taking fire from a second shooter. One continues to shoot in the direction of Zel’s first firing position. They’re practically on top of it now. The claw operator lashes out blindly. The second guard runs to the other side of the platform to shoot at Theri. But like Zel, she’s gone. The scorpion driver, after a brief argument with the claw operator begins turning the machine around. They can’t find Zel and the most recent shots came from their rear.

Perfect! I turn to Zaya. “Now!” The little faerie begins singing as I lift my hand into the air and shout out “Vexare Verberare!” I assign two bolts to each of the guards, one to the driver. The bolts streak out. The sand sifts. The great machine sinks and lurches. Claws flail into the sky. The guards again begin to shift their focus, spinning their weapons even as my glowing missiles close on them. I can clearly hear one word shouted by a guard in Minosian — “surrounded!”

My magical bolts of force explode when they impact against his neck and head. Both are kill shots. The second guard is lucky. He dives flat and the bolts shred the heavy armor on his back. But he’s otherwise unharmed. The final bolt blasts through the scorpion driver’s arm. He still manages to keep the scorpion struggling along through the sand. But its mobility is now hobbled both by shifting ground and him having to operate two levers with one arm. Shots begin to fly over our heads. I grab the little Vila’s hand and, with a flap from Mottle, we’re gliding along the nape of a hillside and down into a little dip about fifty feet away. The shots hitting our firing position are coming from just one guard now. But I’m glad we’re no longer there.

In three more short flights, we’ve come around to the 12 o’clock position. It takes us another thirty seconds or so to find Theri and Zel. They’re huddled together behind a rock. Both have shit-eating grins on their faces as they point ready guns at the ailing monstrosity. It’s seriously fucked up now — smoking from the two fireball bullet hits, its tail a wreckage, foundering in shifting sand, three of six crew down. The scorpion driver is clearly suffering from his wound. Guard and claw operator are confused and panicked. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

I look at Theri and Zel. “You ready?” Zel nods. Theri gives the thumbs up. “Alright then. Let’s give ’em Hell!”

Zel’s rifle and Theri’s handgun both shoot out their remaining fireball rounds. I lift my hand into the air and launch another vexare verberare! volley. The combined magic and diabolical artillery cause the Hell-scorpion’s platform to explode in light and sparks. When the resulting flash finally dims, none of the monster machine’s crew’s left standing.

Wow. Man, did that plan work out better than expected.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? 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 16 — Glenda Goodfuture and the Solar Train to Denmark

Mori suppresses the urge to cuff Ivan. The racist bastard snuck off, went on a binge, started bullying a black pro football player, then literally almost got transformed into a fucking demon-wolf when Hell dialed him in. The Hell dialing part is weird. Something he can’t quite figure out. The Ivan being a pure 100 percent dick part is as easy to get as it is infuriating.

They lead Ivan the jackass back toward Marienkirche. Beatrice is keeping to the shadows, feeding ignarus more curse energy, her luminous eyes scanning for hiding places, head on a swivel. The shadows won’t hide them from actual demons or devils. But demons can mostly only manifest as spirits on Earth and it is very rare for devils to take form here. The main concern will be humans who are taken in by Hellish and demonic influence. Unless… He doesn’t want to think too much about the worst possibility right now. He takes Beatrice’s hint and starts to mirror her actions. Stay alert, stay alive. Especially when you’re escorting Asmodeus’ prophet.

St Mary’s Church and Mio Bar

“Care to explain what happened with the phone call?” Beatrice asks Ivan as they cross a street, then enter a park to the east of St Mary’s Church. They’re cutting through the park and along a hedge row that leads toward the church. This gives them a screen from any possible prying eyes.

Ivan purses his lips. “Why should I tell?” He looks like he’s about to mutter an expletive at Beatrice, then glances back to Mori who’s glaring at him, and takes another tact. “You attack me again. No reason to talk.”

“Whatever called to you triggered your pride-wound,” Beatrice replies. “You experienced a partial transformation and were about to bite Jonas Herrington’s arm off. I defended both him and you.” She takes point, leading them in her silent way to the end of the hedge row. She gives him the side-eye, then continues on her way.

“You keep hitting me with sword.” Ivan is playing the victim again. He’s still got his hand on his head. It sports another bruise. Serves the bastard right. His other hand keeps reaching for his back. He pulls it away, but it keeps drifting toward the black scar. Mori bets the real pain is coming from the wound those Soul Eaters gave him. He’s not saying much about that. Reflects too much on his own guilt. He’s just whining and deflecting from their questions about the phone call.

“Hey jackass, Beatrice uses her sword for healing and protection as well as for fighting. As a last friggin’ resort. She’s never used its sharp bits on you. She could have. With justification. You owe Beatrice about a thousand apologies for going all murder hobo. Twice.” Mori climbs the stairs and they file into the church. “She kept you from turning into a monster at major risk to herself. Again. You should thank her. You don’t want to turn into a monster, do you?”

Ivan goes quiet again. The church is dark and silent. It’s about 4 AM. Mori’s tired, but Beatrice looks bright-eyed. His girl has never needed much sleep. Angel’s badass physiology and all that jazz. But he’s hoping to get at least another two hours of shut-eye. Whatever Sadie has planned for tomorrow is going to need him at 120 percent.

“Come-on Ivan. It’s back upstairs for you. Let’s sleep off the devil-spiked booze. Hopefully, it won’t give you too much of a hangover.”

Ivan grunts in reply. Beatrice closes and locks the door behind them. Then they’re climbing up the stairs, entering Sadie’s office. Beatrice settles herself down on a stool next to the window. Mori flops down onto his chair. Ivan rolls onto his cot. Bleeding curse energy into omnis scienta, Mori sets the magical sensor to keep watch over Ivan and the door again. Then, with a relieved sigh he lets his eyes shut. He’s reassured Beatrice is back to her good ol’ self. Not like he doubted once he got her into Sadie’s hands. She’s sitting over by the window. His little badass angel. Keeping watch.

As soon as his eyes close, he’s out. Sleep is precious. His work often makes it scarce. This particular job is bound to get more hectic. More dangerous.

After what seems like just a moment of sleep, the smell of coffee wafts into his nostrils and he’s greeted by the rich, sing-song voice of Sadie Dextera. “Wakie, wakie, eggs and bakie!” she says as she plops a plate on his lap. He groans and rubs his eyes. “Yes mom, what time is it?” he looks down at his food groggily. It’s in one of those nice, brown recyclable containers. Clearly ordered in. Some kind of tofu, potatoes, and veggie bacon scramble. Yum! He lifts his fork as Beatrice hands him a coffee, then digs in.

“What time is it?” he asks between mouthfuls.

“It’s 7:30 sleepy-head,” Beatrice replies with a smile. “You slept late. And the only thing going bump in the night was your snore.”

“Tell me about it, girl,” Sadie says when Beatrice mentions his snoring. Apparently, it’s one of his many famous traits. Not like he would know. They could be making it all up. Mori scans the room, finds Ivan sipping his coffee by the window. He’s dressed now. Jeans, a button down flannel, and a Godzilla T-shirt. The T-shirt looks familiar.

“Aw, no more Ivan the priest?” he says, between scarfing mouthfuls. “I was getting to like the vibe. But where’d he get the new duds?”

Ivan turns toward him, gives a poker-face, then returns to gazing out the window into early-morning Berlin.

“You should recognize the T-shirt,” Beatrice replies. “It’s from Myra’s luggage. Awful ugly thing. Don’t know why she ever liked it. The rest is from the church donations box. We found a few things that fit him. Though the jeans are a little baggy and he needed a belt.”

“You dressed him up in our daughter’s clothes?” Mori gives a crow-cackle laugh. “You know, she’d actually find that funny.”

He can feel Ivan’s gaze return. Threatening. Mori looks straight back at him. “Godzilla T? I change my mind. It fits. You should thank my daughter for her charity.” He’s not going to let Ivan the Wolf look at him like that without reply. Besides, the Russian doesn’t know shit about Myra. And that’s for the best.

Ivan seems to soften a bit at the word daughter, his face showing some actual emotion. “Godzilla? My daughter likes too. Never understood why she calls it cute. Ugly beast.”

“Well count me among the amazed,” Beatrice says. “Ivan and I can agree on one of the most important subjects of our time.”

“The ugliness level of Godzilla?” Mori quips.

“Indeed,” Beatrice replies.

“Well count me out. To my eye, the big, green kaiju strikes a handsome pose.”

Sadie has made her way over to Ivan through the banter. “You sure you don’t want any breakfast, hon?” She motions to the neglected food container beside Ivan.

“Don’t eat bird food,” Ivan replies.

Mori scoops it up. “Don’t mind if I do,” he says, then shovels a heaping forkful of Ivan’s grub into his mouth. “Man, I’m surprised you don’t want some of these delicious hashbrowns.”

Ivan snatches the food container from Mori’s hands, then looks accusingly at Sadie. “Wi.. didn’t mention hashbrowns.” He picks up the fried potatoes with his fingers, eating them daintily. But the jocular mood is broken. The word Ivan had almost uttered is witch. Among mages, particularly those like Sadie and Beatrice, this is a vulgar slur. Ivan must’ve keyed in on their reactions as the word almost escaped his mouth — biting it off at the last instant.

Everything gets quiet for a few minutes. Mori’s appetite is gone. He puts the container back down, then walks away. For a moment, Ivan seemed almost human.

At last Sadie puts her hands together. “So, I suppose I should tell you what we have planned for you Ivan. How we plan to ferry you off to Heaven. But first things first, Beatrice informs me we had a late-night relapse of your devil-wolf?”

Ivan coughs in reply.

Sadie just stares at him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand you.”

“Yes,” Ivan says, actually having the grace to look ashamed.

“I see,” she glances at Beatrice, then Mori. Mori turns to Beatrice. She raises her eyebrow in a way that says yes, I filled Sadie in while you were snoring your brains out. Except Beatrice would use more refined words. “So I need to be very clear with you, Ivan,” Sadie continues. “No more wolf relapses. We simply cannot have you transforming into…” she motions at his Godzilla T-shirt. “It would defeat everything we are trying to do to help you.”

Beatrice is standing beside Mori now. As Sadie speaks she grabs his arm. “Sadie knows she’s playing with fire,” she whispers into his ear. “The dreams of Heaven haven’t known a true nightmare in ages.” Mori puts his hand over hers. Though not a native of Heaven, he recalls a bit about the nature of its worlds. Enough to know that strong dreams can be made real there — the same was once true for nightmares.

Ivan’s not watching them. He’s absorbed by Sadie. His poker face is back. But Mori is pretty sure he can see the racist dislike for Sadie glinting in Ivan’s beady little eyes. His nostrils flare a little. “Apologize,” his voice is quiet. His tongue rolls off it like the word is disgusting to him. “Won’t let happen again.”

Sadie’s eyes are dark pools — drawing him in. “Very well. But I must extract this pledge from you. No more phone calls until we get to Heaven.”

Ivan waves his hand dismissively. “Da. No more phone.”

Sadie catches his hand. “Then, to hold you to your word…” she jabs a finger into his palm and incants “confractus telefari.” Mori watches as a whirl of curse energy imbeds in Ivan’s palm. It’s a curse set to disrupt phone signals coming to Ivan. Sadie feeds the curse a bit more, then cuts it off. It’s got enough magical juice to last for days. Pretty darn clever.

Ivan might’ve caught a glimpse of the curse firing off. He’s staring at his hand in amazement.

“Now, let’s talk about how we’re bringing you to Heaven. There’s a magical gateway just off Denmark in the North Sea. Since you’re a bit of risk, I’m not telling you exactly where at the moment. But we will be meeting your daughter Glenda along the way. I believe she can help you in ways I cannot. She’s agreed.”

Mori turns to Beatrice in surprise. “Glenda?” he whispers. She shrugs her reply. Mori recalls his brief shared vision with Ivan — of his daughter holding his hand in Siberia.

Ivan appears stunned. “Glenda?” A hundred emotions ripple across his face. “Not real name. It’s Valeriya.”

“I know she changed her name when she left Russia in protest. When she came to Europe and took on the surname Goodfuture.”

“Holy shit! Glenda Goodfuture, the famous climate activist, is your daughter?” Mori exclaims to Ivan.

At the same time Beatrice shouts to Sadie — “You’re working with Glenda Goodfuture!?”

Ivan scowls and Sadie gives a cat-ate-the-canary grin.

“Valeriya. Valeriya Volkov,” he insists. “I… she agreed to see me?”

“Yes. Yes she has. Indeed. She asked me to see you when I told her I planned to bring you to Heaven. In fact, she offered to help.”

Clever, clever Sadie, Mori thinks as he leans back to digest this new bit of info. He’d heard of the world-renown Glenda Goodfuture. A teenage climate activist who’d left Russia in protest over its continued use of fossil fuels as a tool for economic warfare against its neighbors and in its reticence to shift away from their burning — so obviously fueling climate Hell on Earth. He just didn’t know Glenda was Ivan’s prodigal daughter. She was able to secure independence through a Go-Fund-Me at the age of 19 when she left Russia. The media was always vague about her family — calling them ‘wealthy oil and gas oligarchs.’ Odd discretion.

“So Glenda — she’s a mage?” Mori asks Sadie.

“Not exactly,” Sadie replies. “Let’s just say Glenda-Valeriya made some good friends. One of them being myself.”

Beatrice is standing with her arms crossed, an impressed look on her face. Ivan’s expression is a mash-up of hope, surprise, and a little anger. He looks accusingly at Sadie. Takes a breath. Seems to struggle with his words for a moment.

“You interfere with Valeriya. Take her away,” Ivan says, finally spitting out his accusation.

“I merely helped Glenda when she asked. Her decisions are her own,” Sadie replies. “You should be proud. She is a fine person. A passionate advocate for all our futures. I think, perhaps, you could learn something from her example.”

Ivan purses his lips. The mask falls back into place. Mori is pretty sure he can still see sparks of rage in his eyes.

After giving Ivan a moment to reply, Sadie steeples her hands, takes a breath and continues. “Well, now that you know your daughter wants to meet you in Denmark, I suppose we should get going. No time to waste!”

Mori looks down at his rumpled clothes. Good thing he and Beatrice left some bags here with Sadie. “If we’re getting ready to head out, you mind if I take a quick shower?”

“Please do.” This quick quip from Sadie earns a little laugh from Beatrice. Funny-ha-ha. Yeah, Mori knew he needed a bath. He glances around. Everyone else looks pretty shiny. He supposes they grabbed a shower while he was still snoozing. He snatches his bag, then bee-lines it for the shower. After a quick wash, Mori emerges feeling mostly human again. They’ve gathered in the hall, waiting for him.

“Snap to!” Sadie commands. “Train’s at 9:15.”

Mori follows them as they shuffle off toward the stairs. “Train?” he asks.

“Yes,” Beatrice says, her eyes sparking with excitement. “Sadie filled us in while you were making yourself presentable. We’re taking the Solar Train to Denmark!”


They emerge from the church. Their Uber — already waiting. Telsa Model X making its almost sub-audial space-ship noise with its X-wing doors open to admit them. Mori swings around the front, his special briefcase and go bag in hand, opens the passenger door, then plops down shotgun next to Stefan. Beatrice, Ivan, and Sadie each grab a comfortable seat in the back. Beatrice sits behind Mori, reaching an arm over his chair to grab his shoulder.

“I checked up on Mirror-Spectre,” she whispers to him as the Tesla’s X-Wing doors lower. “Myra made it safely to Infernia. No other word.”

Mori pats her hand. “We’ll know more by evening,” he whispers back. He glances at Ivan in the rear view mirror. They’ll have to find a private place away from him if they want to talk openly about Myra or receive the magical reports coming from Mirror-Specter. The Tesla’s doors finish closing and they blast off through Berlin’s early morning streets. Already, haze, heat, and the smell of smoke from wildfires dominate the weather picture. Hot and lung-wrecking stinky with a 30 percent chance of pyrocumulus thunderstorms, Mori thinks to himself. Yet another nasty day on climate-wracked Earth. Though nothing like what Myra’s experiencing now. Mori stares out the window, tries to imagine, then figures it’s better to just leave that thread of thought. Beatrice is scared sick for their girl. If he’s honest with himself, he’s scared too. Dwelling on Myra’s plight ain’t gonna make things any better for her.

Stefan has turned on the Tesla’s streaming local news. Someone — Sadie or Beatrice — set up an interpretor curse. So he’s hearing it in English. They’re still talking about the Furze Bank incident. Though investigators seem to be stumped. Berlin’s chief of police is giving tight-lipped news updates. So nothing new there. The news switches to coverage of a horrific plane crash at Berlin-Brandenburg Airport early that morning. Scores of souls lost as the plane slammed into the runway. Survivor accounts are mad and delirious — some claim the plane was taken over by ghosts. Authorities suspect hijacking. But no known terrorist groups are claiming responsibility. News commentators speculate that the Furze Bank incident and plane crash are somehow linked. Mori taps his ear and glances back to Beatrice. Her face is tensed with concern, her eyebrows raised as they share a knowing look. Yeah, babe, I’m with you. This plane crash smacks of something nasty this way comes. Over her shoulder, Mori can see a smoke plume rising up in the direction of Brandenburg where wreckage still burns. Whew, things are starting to get real.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof or Central Station isn’t far from St Mary’s. Maybe a 15 minute hop. It’s not long before Mori can see its glass palace structure glittering in the hazy morning sunlight. Train lines snake into the hub — each accompanied by its own gleaming racks of solar panels. The racks give off a reflective glow to the lines as they wind off into the distance. Panels feeding energy to electric train engines and battery cars directly through the platform. They’d made the conversion only recently. To Mori, it all looks pretty darn badass. A palace of light sending out its glowing vehicular emissaries. Its brilliant clean energy glory lifts his mood, turning his attention away from last night’s weirdness.

The Tesla whooshes to a halt. X-Wing doors open. Mori gives a thumbs-up to Stephan before gathering his rifle-briefcase and go-bag, then hopping out into the steaming-smoking morning. They make their way through the entry gates. Sadie scans their tickets. Ivan stands, hands in pockets, looking non-plussed. The long, white train is a beautiful conveyance. Marked on its side is the word Sleipnir stenciled in silver. Sleipnir as in Odin’s mythical steed from Norse mythology. Somehow, Mori’s not sure the old Asgardians were quite so forward-looking. Although the Marvel Comics version would probably approve. Mori glances over to another track to see a second Sleipnir train. He guesses this is what they’re calling the brand. They’re hulking white beasts covered in solar panels along their roofs. The windows also feature new transparent thin-film solar pads — visible as slightly darker cut-out shading. Near the train’s middle, the transparent solar film makes a lightning bolt emblem. It’s a pretty badass touch. Mori’s liking this solar train to Denmark.

They board. Mori instinctively extends his hand to Beatrice. As if she needs my help. I’ve seen her do a 12 foot vertical leap. She takes it, returning a warm smile. The interior is just as fancy as the exterior. Comfy cushion seats. Nice spacing that doesn’t cram everyone together. Even sets of facing seats bordering small tables. They sit down around one of these tables. Sadie beside Ivan. Beatrice and Mori right next to each other. The conductor is checking to make sure everyone has tickets, masks, and a vaccine card. Pretty standard for today’s travel.

There’s a refreshment car. Mori hops over, grabs some snacks and drinks. Returns to distribute them just in time to sit down before the engine engages. There’s a ‘ding’ and the ‘remain seated’ sign lights up. Beatrice puts her hand out and Mori takes it. They share a grin. The train glides forward in smooth acceleration that pushes them back into their seats or makes them want to put hands on the table to steady themselves.

“Whoosh!” Beatrice whispers to Mori as the train shoots out from the glass palace structure with hardly any noise. Mori grins back at her. He’s still crazy about that girl. Her easy sense of wonder and simple joy — even during a tough time — make life so damn fun. Mori can feel the serious force of propulsion beneath him. The trains are huge — weighing about 5,000 tons. But the electric-driven motors make the Sleipner’s motion seem effortless. They’re slurping down all that sweet sun-juice to put out some serious motive force. The train swiftly accelerates, reaching its cruising speed of 200 kilometers per hour. Buildings and foliage blur by giving Mori a sense of Star Trek-like warp speed.

Mori looks at their tickets. Next stop is Hamburg in a little less than two hours. Then on to their destination of Esberj, Denmark in another two hour hop. If all goes well, they’ll arrive by 2:15 PM — giving them time to meet up with Glenda Goodfuture for an early dinner. The notion of a tasty sit-down meal makes him smile. Mori glances at Ivan. He’s playing a crossword he nabbed from the refreshments car. Now that’s going to be an interesting reunion.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? 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 15 — Ivan the Troll Quits Church, Gets Triggered

Beatrice’s sleep is far from peaceful. The air — cleaned by plants from her home-world — is kind to her lungs. Their light bathes her body in soothing radiance. Sadie’s healing has washed away the pain of Ivan’s bite and poison. But she cannot rest easy as memories of her daughter falling through the Hell-Gate flicker in her mind. She turns and rolls in re-lived pain as Ivan’s demon-wolf teeth bite her again and again in dreams. Teeth like knives dripping black venom. That monster left with Mori and Sadie. Her fear for them, for her daughter, is a live-wire. So she tosses on her bed in Sadie’s healing chamber. The magic of somnos sluffs off bit-by-bit in awake moments that transition back to troubled sleep until at last she is laying on her back, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling.

She takes a breath, lets it out, lifts one lithe hand toward the tiles above depicting a star-field pattern. Not the constellations of Earth, but those of her world. Of what humans call Heaven. Not just one place. But a celestial convergence of many planets connected by mystical gateways. Lilani is what her people call the gates. And here, in this room, a temporary one sometimes forms. But not today. Today, with Asmodeus’ prophet so near, Heaven turns her gaze elsewhere.

Live reading originally recorded on the fantasyscribbler Twitch channel.

Beatrice glides off the bed. She slept in her clothes. A few quick flicks of her fingers and an utterance of the Bene Sevetur curse straightens out the wrinkles, reweaves ripped fabric, brushes her hair, cleans her skin and clothes of blood. It’s not as good as a shower and fresh clothes. But it’s close. She hopes Myra remembers Bene Sevetur. Hell is nasty, dirty, jagged. The Memory Draught shouldn’t have knocked it out. Shouldn’t… She shakes her head in frustration. She should be in Hell with Myra. She doesn’t care if it’s not part of the plan. She grits her teeth. Sticking with the plan means she’s supposed to be up here on Earth protecting Myra from afar. It goes against everything she feels for her daughter. The need to stand beside Myra burns like fire. Right now, she hates the plan.

Her rapier, kindre moss, and some bloody bandages rest on a table near the bed. She picks the rapier up. A soft glow of recognition flares from her name-curse — Lushael — as she lifts the blade. Myra’s name-curse is a magical tattoo inked into her arm. Beatrice’s own magical tattoos, each a model for Myra’s Helkey-as-name-curse design, are located on the backs of her hands and around each of her ankles. The rapier is a permanent magical device patterned to her name curse. When she picks it up, a harmonic resonance with its magic generates a quiet chime and a flash of light. Attaching the scabbard to her belt, Beatrice skips past the light-giving and air-cleaning globes hanging from the ceiling and stops at the door. It’s trying to avoid her gaze. Ignarus giving off a not-so-subtle deflection. But her trained sight locks in on it regardless. She turns the handle. Outside, the basement hall is empty. Windows show dark. It’s still night. How long did I sleep? Four, maybe five hours? Four is often enough. Her body is not, well, human. Nor is her sleep. Resting wakefulness is a fugue closer to dreaming for her. So her need for full rest is less. Sadie’s spell might’ve put her under a bit longer, though.

She walks down the hall, then bounds up the stairs. A brief glance reveals a dark and empty nave — pews bathed in shadows and illumination from outside light poles. They must be in Sadie’s office. Taking the stairs four at a time, she flies through the organ and choir loft. The next door opens easily. In a few bounds, she’s standing in front of Sadie’s office door. This is the way she prefers to move when unobserved by humans. Her angelic stride is more like flying than walking or running. But even with ignarus active, it tends to draw attention. It’s refreshing to stretch her legs unobserved.

Considering the door, she checks to make sure ignarus is still working. The curse energy feeding it runs strong and her reservoir brims full. She used up most of her allotment in the fight with Ivan and his Pride Eaters. Her rest in the healing chamber has restored it. Concentrating, she modifies the structure of her ignarus to cover her more generally, not just to mask her supernatural activity. She’s hiding. Not from Sadie and Mori. They’ll notice her anyway. From the devil’s tool who nearly killed her. From Ivan. Sadie might hold out hope for Ivan’s usefulness. Beatrice sure as Hell doesn’t. She respects Sadie’s strategy of trying to steal Volkov away from Asmodeus. But she doesn’t fully support it. Ivan is far-gone, corrupted by demons, deadly. Most of all, he’s untrustworthy. Treacherous. She wasn’t going to let Asmodeus’ Prophet on Earth harm her husband Mori or her dear friend Sadie.

She can hear them sleeping in the room beyond. Sadie must’ve thrown out cots for everyone. Quiet as a mouse, she opens the door and slips in. Her eyes take no time adjusting to the dark. Ivan’s resting in the fetal position on a roll-out cot. She slinks over to it. Puts a hand on her rapier. He looks so small. So ridiculous in his priest’s robe. Deceptive. Because he is far from harmless. Two quick thrusts of her rapier and no more Ivan. No more threat of Asmodeus’ prophet rampaging over the Earth. It’s tempting. She squeezes the handle but doesn’t draw. What is this rage? This fearful urge to kill to protect? I’m acting like Mori. Sadie wants him to turn Asmodeus’ gaze from Myra. Didn’t we do it at Furze Bank? Ivan as demon-wolf called a hunt. That should be more than enough distraction. What good comes of keeping him? She stands over the Russian a few moments longer, struggling with the feeling rooting deep in her gut that Ivan will murder many if left free to complete his transformation.

Beatrice turns away in disgust and drifts over to Sadie who’s asleep on the couch, her head hanging over the edge. Sadie’s face is placid. Oh you’re a good thinker, Sadie. I do trust you. It’s just you seem inclined to keep danger closer than comfort. She gently repositions Sadie’s head on a cushion. After, the priestess seems to sleep more soundly. She glances back at Ivan. Just be right this time, Sadie Dextera.

Spinning softly, Beatrice makes her way to Mori’s form which is sprawled out in one of Sadie’s comfy chairs. His mouth is open and he’s snoring. It’s not too loud. But it is a little amusing. She stifles a laugh. The glow of a magical sensor hovers over his head. Omnis scienta. He’s keeping a third eye watch while asleep. The sensor tilts toward her. Mori stirs from slumber. Without a sound, she folds herself onto the floor next to his chair — keeping the chair between her and Ivan. She doesn’t want the wolf to know she’s back if he wakes up. Ignarus can only do so much. Mori leans down toward her and plants a kiss on her cheek.

“Glad to see you up and about, sweetheart,” he whispers. “We had a little scare, didn’t we?”

She hisses an affirmation through her teeth, reaching up to take his hand. “An outrageously painful one,” she looks toward Ivan through the chair, imagining his demon-wolf form again. “Sadie still set to use him for a distraction? Wasn’t what we did enough?”

Mori gives a soft cough. “You don’t know the half of it. Sadie wants to take Ivan to Heaven.”

“So she’s going to try to save the Wolf from Hell’s grasp? Now that’s ambitious.”

“Our plan isn’t?”

“Oh it most certainly is.” Their plan to break Myra into Hell and everything after is flat-out crazy. “Well Sadie will complete the insanity. What would Myra say? ‘Mission madness accomplished.'”

“That sounds like her. I know you miss her, babe.”

“It’s hard. She’s still just a kid.”

“Parents always think that.”

“Truth doesn’t make it one ounce easier. I suppose this is what it’s like being a parent on Earth. Fated to send your children toward disaster?”

“It’s not always like that. Just is now. Myra’s tough. She can handle it.”

“Something you keep saying…”

“… It makes me feel better, at least.”

Beatrice lets out a long sigh. She’s still holding Mori’s hand. But she’s angry with him too. Angry at herself. Angry at the situation. “I’m going to be afraid for her for a long time. I’m going to be angry at my own helplessness to change things for her for forever.”

There’s some movement on the other side of the chair. Mori puts a finger over his lips. Beatrice leans forward, glancing around the chair. Ivan is rising to a sitting position. He rubs his eyes, looking over Sadie and the seeming-sleeping Mori. Ignarus is doing some work here. Though Mori put his back toward Ivan while speaking softly to Beatrice. So even if Ivan’s demon-enhanced senses push past the ignore-it curse, he probably won’t notice Mori is awake.

“Tserkov vonyuchiy,” he mutters to himself as he stands up, stretches, then moves to the door. When he reaches it, he fiddles with the latch, opens it without much noise, then slips out.

“Oh Hell no,” Mori says as he stands, scooping up his briefcase.

Beatrice springs up into a crouch then grabs his hand as he makes for the door. “Wait. Maybe we should follow him for a spell. See what he’s up to?”

“It’s not the worst idea.” They’re now crossing the room, leaving Sadie behind. They enter the hall, relying mostly on ignarus to mask them if Ivan’s within sight. By the time he’s on the stairs he seems to reconsider. “Maybe it’s not the worst idea.”

“We watch him, then collect him, come back, tell Sadie what happens.” Beatrice whispers this, then bounds down the hall. Mori shuffles behind. She makes the stairs and gets eyes on the top of Ivan’s head — giving Mori the signal she’s still got him in sight.

“OK. But we don’t give him much leash. Right?” Mori’s caught up to her at the top of the stairs.

“Would never dream of giving that one too much leash.” Beatrice waits ’til Ivan reaches the nave, then jumps down to the choir loft in one silent leap. She peeks over the railing at Ivan, letting her body lean out ’til her head is upside down, torso over the outside railing, legs thrust out for balance. Her eyes peer across the first floor ceiling beneath the choir loft and into the narthex. If Ivan turns around now, if he can pierce ignarus, he’ll only see Beatrice’s upside-down head appearing to sprout from the narthex ceiling’s edge, platinum hair trailing down, crystal eyes sparkling. He doesn’t. He’s too focused on the door. It seems to be giving him trouble. He jiggles it for a second. Spits out a few Blyats in Russian. Seems to figure it out. Then, finally, opens it.

Beatrice hears Mori reach the choir loft, gives him the thumbs up, then somersaults over the railing to land on her feet between the pews. Ivan is closing the door behind him and again misses the nimble Beatrice. She has enough time to run up and grab the handle just as the door closes, pushing it open a crack to observe Ivan. He’s making his way across the dark, cobble-stone traffic circle. Looking left and right, he trots over to the road, looks for traffic, then jogs across.

Mori has caught up to Beatrice, his ever-present brief-case in hand. “Let’s go,” she says and then lunges out into the night after Ivan. She can see him well. It’s late and the sidewalk traffic is sparse. At some point, Mori incants una and a second sight from omnis scienta outlining Ivan in a glowing tracery enhances her vision. They follow him into a Berlin late-night district. The Russian seems to know where he’s going. Passersby are occasionally whooping or making remarks at his priest robes. He ignores them. They come to a fountain, he turns left toward a late-night bar. It’s called Mio and is not far from St. Mary’s Church. Ivan must really know his bars. He enters, mounts a stool, and puts a hand out for the bar tender. Mori and Beatrice take one of the outside seats, dialing down ignarus to exclude the wait-staff. The night-time temperature has cooled to pleasant, though the smell of smoke from wildfires lingers. It’s around 2 AM and there are still a good number of people enjoying drinks or a snack.

Omnis scienta sends Mori and Beatrice a stream of information. Thankfully, Mori has also woven an interpretor curse into their magical sensor. So the words coming to them are translated from German into English.

“Ah, Ivan, welcome back to Mio,” the bartender says. He looks the Russian up and down, noting his dress. “Coming from a costume party? You don’t strike me as the religious type.”

Ivan chuckles, is eyes reflect the bar’s red and golden lighting. “Bertrand, it’s refreshing to see you again. Yes. Costume party is good description. It was… lively. Need good, strong drink. You’ll honor my tab?”

Betrand picks up a glass from the rack and gestures to the bottles behind him. “Your usual?” He points at a bottle of Dalmore 25 Year Scotch whiskey.

“Da. Large ice ball.”

Betrand produces the ice from a steaming refrigerator, plinks it into the glass, and pours the brown liquid. Screens are playing various sports and news in the background. A young couple sits down near Ivan. He rolls the liquid around in the glass, then takes a long, satisfied sip. “Ah! Nebesa,” he says, savoring the drink. He leans over to watch a news screen, casting his gaze toward Lupine — a major conservative media outlet. They’re covering boatloads of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa. Endless heatwaves and droughts now wrack the continent, making large portions of it unfarmable. Summer heatwaves produce Death Valley temperatures — killing animals and humans both by the thousands. The tide of humanity fleeing north has swollen into the millions. Lupine, a major source of climate denial and deflection, doesn’t say a word about climate crisis. The news commentator instead spews xenophobia.

Ivan seems taken in, watching with interest as the commentators lie on and on about ‘migrant armadas invading Europe, straining the medical and housing system, flooding streets with rapists and drug pushers.’ He finishes his drink. He’s relaxing. Getting back into his element. A grin creeps onto his face as he basks in the alcohol-tinged hate media. He orders another drink, then begins muttering under his breath. One of the other patrons standing at the bar near Ivan is dark-skinned. The hair on his head is styled in corn-rows. He’s tall, well built, dressed in a tailored business suit. Beatrice thinks he looks sharp. Ivan notices him — shifting his gaze between the hate-media and the man. Ivan finishes his second drink. Orders a third, then sidles over to Mr. tall, dark, and well-dressed.

“Welp, this looks bad,” says Mori.

“You think?”

Ivan puts a hand on the bar beside the man, signaling to Bertrand. “Get the newcomer Nigerian fresh from boat here another drink. On my tab.” He smirks as he speaks, pointing at the well-dressed gentleman with his thumb. Ivan is speaking German. The man doesn’t understand what he’s saying. But there’s something about Ivan’s flippant and derogatory tone he keys into.

“Excuse me, what did you just say?” He asks in English, turning to face Ivan.

“Ah. English. I see. What your name?” Ivan asks, brows lowered, his little beady eyes glistening.

“Eh… Jonas. Jonas Herrington.”

Mori crow-cackles. Beatrice splutters, choking on the sparkling water she ordered during their little stake-out. “That’s the Baltimore Ravens quarterback, isn’t it?” She might be an angel. But she didn’t arrive on Earth just yesterday.

“That’s him all right. Damn spitting image too.”

Ivan doesn’t seem to get it, though. Or he’s being willfully ignorant. Regardless, he just trundles along. “Bertrand. Please get Jonas — my Nigerian boat rider friend here another drink. I think Spade Champagne is good. He must be thirsty after long trip. On my tab.”

Jonas stands up from his bar-stool, displaying his full height. Ivan looks up. He purses his lips, making a pouty, mocking mouth. Just as Jonas stands, there’s a commotion behind the bar. The sound of a ring-tone, of Bertrand answering, then shuffling over to Ivan with a surprised look on his face.

“It’s for you. Says the name is Crane,” Bertrand hands the phone to Ivan, careful not to get between the little Russian and the towering QB. Ivan takes the phone. Omnis scienta suddenly flares. The phone sparks and tongues of magical flame rise up from it. Ivan is unperturbed. The flames don’t physically burn him. Beatrice doubts he can even see them. He lifts the phone to his ear. Red tendrils ooze out of the receiver, crawl over Ivan’s head, run down Ivan’s back, and enter his wound.

“What the Hell is that?” Mori leans forward, as if getting closer’s somehow going to give him more information on the magical phenomena affecting Ivan.

Beatrice tenses, her eyes swirling with the light of magical detection. “That’s diabolical influence. It’s using the Pride Eater’s tether.”

“Holy shit! Through the phone?? What can do that?”

“Something with an extraordinary excess of diabolical power.”

As Beatrice and Mori scramble, Jonas leans down. “Little man — did you just call me a fucking spade?”

Ivan lifts his hand in front of Jonas, one finger raised. His eyes are sparking red. Beatrice and Mori see the tendrils pulse. They are pumping devil magic into Ivan. His robe shifts as the flesh beneath gives a spasm. “Da? … Da, I Accept.” He says into the speaker. Through omnis scienta there’s the broken crackle of a voice on the other line. It’s too distorted to understand. Ivan listens and nods a few times. He seems to be giddy about Jonas getting in his face. His lips form into a toothy grin that threatens more than it smiles.

Through their shared magical sight, Mori and Beatrice watch the tendrils thicken as a pulsing orange-and–golden ring forms around Ivan’s ear where it contacts the cellphone receiver. He smiles, finishes the call. The golden-orange ring over his ear remains. It keeps the magical tendrils alive even as Ivan hands Bertrand his phone back. Beneath the tendrils Ivan’s flesh sweats. Some of his hair lengthens. His teeth grow pointed. The bar tender, oblivious to Ivan’s subtle alterations, places the glass of Spade Champagne in front of Jonas, who is still glowering down at Ivan.

“What wrong? You not like? I say — spade for spade,” Ivan gives Jonas a pointy-toothed grin. His muscles gather beneath the robe. Bulging to unnatural size. It looks as if Ivan is about to pounce.

Beatrice and Mori spring into motion. Beatrice leaps through the open window, clears an occupied table, and lands near the bar. Her rapier springs into her hand. White energy wreaths around it as she lunges forward, eyes focused on the ring of diabolical energy triggering Ivan’s transformation and rage. Mori is running in behind Beatrice, his hand reaching out toward Jonas. Jonas hasn’t yet noticed either of them. He’s too busy with Ivan. People in the bar gasp with surprise — both at Beatrice’s glowing sword momentarily breaking through the ‘ignore it’ curse and at the spectacle unfolding near the bar.

“You weirdo little…” Jonas is saying as he looks over Ivan’s robe, takes in the excess hair, recoils at Ivan’s teeth “…hairy priest? Look, I don’t need your damn racist remarks. And this is what you can do with your fucking drink.” Jonas picks the glass of champagne up, hoists it into the air over Ivan’s head, then dumps it. The fizzy drink splashes over Ivan as he lunges forward. He growls. His face contorts. The tendrils flicker, forming his mouth into the elongating jaws of a wolf. He clamps down on Jonas’ arm.

“What the goddamn fuck!?” Jonas shouts in terror.

Confractus!” Beatrice incants as she strikes the glowing diabolical ring on Ivan’s head with the flat of her sword. “Clypeus!” Mori follows as he flings a protective barrier in front of Jonas. Beatrice’s blade spikes with white light. The diabolical ring hisses with this contact, then shatters. Pieces of it fly through the bar, leaving smoking trails in the air before landing on the ground as bits of charred ash. Mori’s protective barrier shoves Ivan’s wolf-mouth away from Jonas. Venomous spittle falls to the ground, hissing. But Jonas is otherwise unharmed. With the formed ring of diabolical energy now gone, the tendrils retreat and Ivan seems to deflate.

“This man assaulted me!” Ivan shouts as he lurches away from Jonas, wiping his mouth with one hand and holding the side of his head with the other. Wet hair plasters the side of his face. He’s glaring at Beatrice and Mori while pointing at Jonas. His split focus might be comical if the situation weren’t so awful.

Jonas swats Ivan aside like a gnat as two bouncers emerge from their post near the front door. He looks at Mori and Beatrice with raised eyebrows, freaking out. “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK, he says, making a calming gesture with his hands. The drinks here were sourin’ on me anyway.” Jonas turns, starts to rush toward the door, then stops. “I don’t know what the fuck just happened,” he says to Beatrice and Mori. “But I get the feeling you guys just saved my ass from something nasty. Here’s some thanks.” He pulls a chip card out of his pocket and drops it into Mori’s hand. “You and your girl come states-side for a game, you’re on my dime now.” Then, holding his head high and whistling past the graveyard, he strides out the door.

Beatrice’s eyes fall to the card in Mori’s hand. It reads Diamond Fan Pass — All Access. She puts a hand on Ivan’s collar. “Time to go, you old troll.”

He leans back, resisting her pull, still holding the side of his head. He glares at her. She can feel malice like heat on her skin. She instinctively pivots back, shifting away from him even as she maintains hold of his collar. The bar patrons and waiters are finally recovering from their shock. Ignarus is causing their eyes to glaze with forgetfulness. There is a pause, and then the nightlife resumes as if nothing happened.

“Haven’t gotten into enough trouble for one night?” Beatrice says to Ivan as she plunks some cash on the bar. Bertrand scoops it up without missing a beat. “Perhaps Sadie will reconsider her offer after hearing about this hateful outburst.”

Ivan deflates a little. “Da, Da. Just wanted drink. To blow off steam.” He pulls his hand away from his head, looks at his hand. Seems to expect to see blood but doesn’t. Then puts his hand back to his head. “Blyat! You struck head again. ” He snaps. Beatrice hopes his ear is ringing. He walks along beside Beatrice, pursing his lips. He is red-faced — his expression ranging from anger to shame. Beatrice is quite sure the shame part won’t last.

“You deserved it,” Mori croaks, escorting Ivan out of the bar and into the street. “Any more trollish steam coming from you and we’d be picking famous pro football player parts off the floor. So you need to fucking cool it.” His face is red, jaw clenched in barely controlled fury. He shoots Beatrice a look that says — This is what we have to babysit for who knows how long? They walk out onto the street and turn back toward St. Mary’s Church. “And what was up with that goddamn phone? That was some serious bad mojo.”

Beatrice silently agrees. This is serious. Deadly serious. Something literally dialed Ivan’s number in to trigger a transformation. To trigger his Pride-Eater wound-as-conduit for diabolical magic. Who or what, Beatrice doesn’t dare guess. But the weight in her gut keeps warning her it’s something awful. And Ivan isn’t helping with his rage addiction. Pride and hate — a vicious combination. Not that she expected anything different. Asmodeus sure knew how to pick the willingly corruptible.

(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.)

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