Helkey 27 — Into the North Sea’s Jagged Teeth

The zodiac’s motor whirs. A gust flings spray off the Brons — splashing Beatrice’s face. Smoke stench from the fires fades as they speed toward flooded marshlands. Swells grow. The zodiac bobs and rolls. She huddles close to her companions — Mori, Sadie, dour Ivan, a surprisingly chipper Finn — in the bobbing boat. Above and ahead are towering masses of cloud. Fingers of lightning flicker at their dark bases. She can’t yet make out the North Sea. It’s blocked by low islands covered in grasses and scrubby trees. The marsh churns in chop and foam.

A wave bumps her face into her hand as the boat skips into the marsh. The soft scent of horse upon her skin — a momentary comfort. Ivan thought her calming the gentle creatures was curse magic. Only the craft of long years spent observing, learning their subtle gestures, how to cant her body and voice to project compassion. To earn their trust. It came easy. For she loved them in all their beauty and innocence. She had decades and decades more experience at it than any human. A practice in empathy. No curses required.

The zodiac plows into the marsh, lifting and dipping through swells and chop. It handles rough water surprisingly well, lifted up on a wave formed by its forward motion. Nonetheless, spray splashes in. Soon they’re all wet. Mori has a mad grin on his face. It makes her laugh. She’s pretty sure he’s trying to bleed off tension.

Finn points to an outlet emerging before them. The water broadens. It roils with chop and rising waves. A tumultuous confluence opening to an angry North Sea. Out there, massive rollers drop tails of white spray as they tumble before the storm. Jagged gray and white teeth pointing toward an angry cloud deck above. “There she is!” he shouts into the rising gale. “Our good Sun Shepherd.”

Beatrice follows the line of his finger. Tossed about in the confluence is a vessel about 100 feet long and covered from stem-to-stern in glistening solar panels.

Mori turns to her. Excitement flicks across his wet face. He’s such a geek for these things. “Badass! It’s one of those new electric boats. Skateboard battery laid through the keel. Super-efficient motors. Covered in solar panels, it’s got a practically unlimited range.” She grins back at him. His excitement is infectious.

“Wonderful! Can it handle the storm?” Beatrice asks as the zodiac flies over a large swell, catches air for a moment, then slams down into the trough. Spray flies everywhere. They’re all double-drenched now. The little craft is powering out through the choppy confluence. Her teeth clack together as they slam into another swell. Her hands, white-knuckled cling to a rope looped along the gunnel. Beatrice feels like she’s riding a child’s toy boat getting tossed around in a bathtub by a capricious toddler. Sadie’s holding on, gritting her teeth, closing her eyes against the spray. Ivan’s curled up in the zodiac’s bottom. His face taking on an unhealthy, green tint.

“Our little Sun Shepherd’s a fast one,” Finn says in answer. He’s stooped down on his knees. One hand on the motor handle, another gripping a cleat. “Her top speed’s a hundred and twenty! She won’t be so fast in this mess. But she’ll get us to Wind-Sun Isle in about a couple hours.” He points out toward a dark base of cloud rushing toward them. “We should miss the worst of it. Though I think we’ll take that gust-front head-on.”

The zodiac flies through the air, lands, then pitches. A breaker barrels over the little craft, flooding it in about four inches of water. Pumps kick in — spitting spray out behind the small boat as it barrels toward a majestic Sun Shepherd. Coming up alongside it, Beatrice takes stock of its size. At twenty-two feet wide and a hundred feet long, she dwarfs their zodiac. Massive waves, looming like hills behind, made her look surprisingly vulnerable as the larger vessel turns to shelter them from the onslaught churning out of the North Sea. Two crewmen toss lines overboard. Mori catches one. They haul the boat in, then swing a boom over the side to fasten the craft. Finn points to a ladder. One-by-one they clamber up — emerging onto a pitching deck with all the dignity of soaked cats. Beatrice times the swell, springs, shoots past the ladder and lands gracefully on the deck amidst a rain of spray. She blows her wet hair aside, relieved to be free of the tiny zodiac.

“Show-off,” Mori quips as he staggers up beside her, clutching his briefcase in one hand, gripping a hand-hold with the other. Every surface on the sleek vessel except for a narrow wooden walkway is covered in solar panels or solar film. It makes Beatrice think of a great black whale. Ivan is leaning over the railing, making foul noises. Sadie sways as she clenches a crew member’s offered hand. Finn scampers down to the first well deck at the vessel’s rear, he motions for them to follow. Beatrice lets a crewman — Karl — guide her companions back to the well as she assists another crew member — Franz — in attaching the zodiac to a pair of ropes, then hoisting it up using metal booms. With her help, it takes only a minute.

“You do ship work?” Franz asks in halting English, not aware she has omnis scientia drifting close by for translation.

“Yes. Back home,” Beatrice says simply. What she doesn’t say is her home world, Merrin, is almost entirely covered by water. Ships there are far different from those plying Earth’s own increasingly dangerous seas. Some principles of seacraft, though, are universal.

Franz makes a sound that could be an impressed grunt as they fasten the zodiac to a berth on Sun Shepherd’s roof. The noise is drowned out by the roaring sea. He pops a panel, then motions for her to help him fold a hard shell over the boat. She works with him to pull the sections out, fighting gusts as Sun Shepherd turns her nose into the waves. The shell comes in three parts. Each is covered with solar film. They snap sections together, attach electrical plugs to some internal wiring, and then are drenched by spray as the bow cleaves through what must be a fifteen foot wave. The wave’s force momentarily hurls them into the air. Beatrice turns instinctively, grabs a cleat, then with her trailing hand snags Franz by the hood of his rain slicker. They slam back down onto the deck. Franz scrambles up. Blinks at her in surprise and gratitude. Then gives a matter of fact nod. “Good!” He shouts. “Now best get below!” The roar of waves and wind nearly drowns out his voice.

Beatrice smiles at his affirmation. She nods toward the well, indicating he should go first. Franz curses something about how he should be helping her. She flicks his prideful outburst away with a glance, then watches on protectively as he struggles to reach the well across a pitching deck. She comes to her feet. In little bounds, she springs behind, riding the deck like a surfboard. Franz doesn’t look back. But Beatrice can see Mori keeping eyes on her through the bridge’s glass. He, Sadie, and a young woman are watching her escort Franz back to the well. The young woman — she must be Glenda Goodfuture — is staring with naked awe as the harsh elements force the large and muscled Franz to lurch and stagger even as Beatrice rides through it all with the grace of dancer.

At last, they reach the well. Franz lunges toward the door as Sun Shepherd pitches through a massive roller. Walls of foam surge on either side. He lurches through, nearly falling, still managing to hold the door open for her. She waits for the wave to pitch the stern upward, then uses its momentum to leap through, flying past him. Her boots squishing on a dry cockpit floor — the only sound she makes.

She’s greeted immediately by a beaming Glenda Goodfuture. “Bravo! Excellent!” she exclaims as she claps, then hands her a towel. “I was scared for you. But you make fighting through a storm look like body art.” She puts out her hand. “I’m Glenda.”

Now it’s Beatrice’s turn to be impressed. Here before her was the pint-sized climate activist who’d taken the world by storm — forcing so many to reconsider their place on Earth and what they were doing to protect it for future generations. She nods a gracious thank you for the towel, then extends her hand. “Honored to finally meet you,” she says.

Glenda takes her hand, pumping it with a surprisingly firm grip for one so small. Beatrice at 5′ 4″ looks down at 5′ tall Glenda. She’s thin, early twenties, long sandy-blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail. Her T-shirt reads the now widespread youth climate message — #ClimateStrike #FridaysForFuture. A tiny form for quite a force. “Given your outfit, I figured you must be Erroll Flynn’s girlfriend. But he says you’re married.” She gives Mori, who looks every part the drowned crow, a disapproving frown.

Mori staggers forward, propelled back and forth by the Shepherd pitching as it struggles through the seas, hugs Beatrice, clears his throat awkwardly. “I definitely got the better end of that bargain.”

“Yee-ah,” Glenda says with an eye roll, then turns toward her father, her mouth scrunched up into a pensive frown. Ivan’s finally recovered. He looks green. His expression hang-dog. The bruises on his head are turning into ugly shiners. His burned hand is wrapped up in a gauze someone must’ve scrounged up while Beatrice was on deck securing the zodiac.

“Valyria, should’ve never left,” Ivan says to her in Russian. Omnis scientia, trailing behind Beatrice and patterned with interpretor, dutifully translates. “Your home was forsaken.”

Glenda drops Beatrice’s hand, giving it a pat as she releases it, then turns in anger toward her father. “Nonsense! I had to!” Glenda shouts in English, her brows lowered in sudden fury. “You! You left! You! Too selfish to do what’s right! You tried to force me! To be like you!” Glenda’s face is red at her brief but intense outburst. “I did what I must! What you wouldn’t!”

Ivan’s face flushes. Her use of English in front of everyone is like a slap in the face. “Valyria…” Ivan starts, his mouth working. “To be an adult…” he continues in Russian.

“Is not easy?” she interrupts in English. “You always say that. I did the harder thing. I took responsibility. That makes me the adult!”

Ivan clamps his mouth shut. His eyes cut side-to-side. Everyone on the bridge is silent. Mori’s stupid grin is back. Outside the waves rage higher. The wind howls. Lightning strikes a wave-top about a half mile away. “I missed you…” He says lamely through the roaring thunder.

“And I you. Ever since you went to work for that stupid bank. Ever since age 12 when I lost my father!” Glenda shouts, her face red, she hops on her toes, tears of rage fall from her eyes. “This!” She points at the mages, at the raging storm, at the Sun Shepherd. “This is the result! Devils! Terrorists! You’re a fucking shapechanger!” She glances at Sadie, but does not relent. “A devil’s fish hook’s in your heart! This is my intervention. Your last fucking chance to be a fucking human!”

On the bridge consul, a red light begins to flash and an alarm sounds. Finn, who’d taken the helm as soon as he entered the bridge picks up a hand mike, keys the tab. “Attention! Crew and passengers! Brace! Brace! Brace! Large wave inbound!”

Beatrice, spins, flicks omnis scientia out the front window. Ahead, a massive blue and white wall rises — easily towering forty feet above the sea surface. Its top rolls. She grabs hold of a handle. The others scramble to brace themselves. Glenda is caught unawares. Ivan freezes. Finn guns the engine — pushing Sun Shepherd up the wave face and toward its axe-shaped peak. Beatrice makes a decision. “Hit the deck!” she shouts, then jumps from her place of safety, grabbing both Glenda and Ivan, she pushes them to the floor. The wave crashes. The outer deck roils under a wall of whitewater. It slams over the window. For a moment, the bridge is submerged. Blue water swirls around omnis scientia where it hovers just over the deck. Behind them, windows reveal a maelstrom of white. Beatrice, Ivan and Glenda are lifted bodily, then flung in a tangle onto a nearby couch. The Sea Shepherd gathers itself beneath the wave, powerful electric engines making a space-ship sound. Then, with a rush and an explosion of spray, the vessel bursts through the wave’s back — resurfacing like a submarine.

Sea Shepherd bobs for a few seconds behind the wave, rights itself, then swiftly plows onward. Electric drives pushing a tail of water behind. Finn turns around. “Everyone OK? Thumbs up! Let me see them.” he shouts over the roaring wind and sea. They managed to brace. All except Beatrice, Glenda and Ivan who’re busy untangling themselves. Everyone gives the thumbs up. “Good!” Finn says. “Now, better buckle in. This monster storm has quite the bite!”

Beatrice helps Glenda fasten a seatbelt in the couch, then makes sure Ivan’s buckled in beside her. Whatever else she may think of Ivan, he’s still Glenda’s father. Despite everything, Glenda clearly still loves him. Beatrice, at last satisfied both he and Glenda are safe, begins to snap her own buckle.

“Not you,” Finn says back to her. “You’ve got the best sea legs I’ve ever seen. And Sadie told me… Well, I know about your talent. You have your special sight active?”

“It’s called omnis scientia. And yes. It’s floating just above the deck near the prow.”

“I may need you to use it to help navigate this mess. Up here!” He pats a co-pilot’s seat next to him. Beatrice springs up to it. In one smooth motion, she buckles in. She scans the array of indicators and screens. Depth finders, wave height measures, level of battery charge (eighty three percent), various outside cameras mostly blurred out by rain and waves, lidar and radar, the red collision warning light that just blinked out.

She turns and gives a little two-figured salute to Finn. “Aye, captain!” she replies, then flicks omnis scientia on ahead. It lifts off the prow, flits over raging wave-tops. “I’ve moved omnis scientia out to 300 feet in front of the vessel.”

“Good! Let me know if there’s another large wave coming. Something about double the size of regular swells.” He hesitates, takes in the raging sea-state. “Or larger… Describe it to me. That –” he points to the red collision warning indicator, now dim, “is just a dummy light.”

Beatrice gives the thumbs up.

“The rest of you, pipe down,” Finn continues. “We’re in for a rough ride out to Wind-Sun. You can settle your differences when you get there. Let’s make sure you do!”

(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.)

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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.)

Helkey 2 — The Golden Throne

Holy shit. Holy shit! Holy shit!! We are going to break into hell!!!

The recognition causes goose flesh to immediately break out all over my body. I begin to notice the strange sounds of people talking – notably the strange words. To recognize the strange street signs outside and the subtle, not-American look to the whole place. I glance around at the Starbucks again. It isn’t just any Starbucks. It’s a German Starbucks. One bustling with German people speaking, well, German and reading from German menus. The lay of the land and the sprawling city outside reveal a place that has long held a mysterious if ominous allure for me.

We’re in Berlin!

(Reading via video blog)

Man, this is one heck of a summer vacation. If you can accurately call it anything close to a vacation. More like watching the start to a Stephen King horror show while experimenting with magically enhanced mind-altering drugs. And my continuing feeling of not knowing what the hell is going on combined with a pervasive sense of disorientation is making me start to think this is all a very bad idea.

There are still so many bits missing… Obviously, I was part of one of my parent’s big plans. Something they filled me in on over the years. But now, because of the potion, I didn’t know squat.

“Uh, guys, if we’re going to break into Hell, then why the hell are we in metropolitan Germany?”

Mori and Beatrice share a look. It’s one of those – yeah, the potion worked better than we expected, perhaps too good kind of looks.

“Because, my dear,” Beatrice explains, “There’s a gateway to Hell on the top floor of the big bank building HQ just blocks from here.”

“It’s in the shitter,” Mori adds nonchalantly.

“To put it bluntly, it is the shitter,” Beatrice adds.

At those words, the memory starts to seep back. Furze Bank HQ is situated directly in the center of Berlin. It’s in this gigantic glass and iron tower. Looming over the city like some modern recreation of a medieval castle. On the top floor of that sky-scraper is a gilded bathroom that houses a great golden toilet. But this isn’t just your run-of-the mill opulent bathroom. This bathroom comes with a special window that allows those seated on the toilet to look out over the entire city of Berlin and its environs. To get the impression that one is sitting on the top of the world and shitting all over it.

“The Furze Bank HQ executive water closet. An appropriate metaphor of the sad mentality of many of this era’s richest people,” I observe with posed eloquence. “I think even my tight-ass AP English Lit teacher would appreciate the symbolism.” I laugh nervously at my own joke, still unable to shake a growing sense of dread. What’s the matter with us? – I ask myself silently, wanting to scream the words at my parents. Why would we ever plan to do anything so stupid as attempt to break into Hell?

“Ah, so you are starting to remember,” Beatrice replies with a wink. “Good.”

“Indeed, we live in the Age of Gilded Crappers,” Mori adds with dry humor. “And this particular crapper is our ticket, girls. A one-way ride straight to the worst place in the multiverse.”

So just between you, me and the wall, and because I really am starting to remember as Beatrice just observed, gateways to Hell are weird. I mean, really fracking weird even for a girl who grew up raised by actual live garden gnome nannies (redcaps are mean!) and with two of the strangest Martian ducks on the planet for parents. OK, well, they really aren’t Martian ducks. But you get the picture.

Now these gateways to Hell come in two forms. The first is a mostly permanent gateway. And there aren’t very many of those – about 13 or so correspondently existing during any given age and at any given time. One such monstrosity gapes its spiritual maw wide not far from here in the ruins of Auschwitz. Another lurks in the ground below the central point of impact at Hiroshima. And one just recently collapsed into existence in the thawing permafrost at a place called Yamal – which happens to mean ‘the end of the world’ – in Russia. Permanent Hell gates tend to form where bad shit has happened or is likely to happen. Places where fear or greed or war or neglect or blind pride or wanton lust or outright rage or abuse of innocents or of nature itself has resulted in or is all-too-certain to cause something goddamnbadaweful. And though they’re not exactly completely permanent, they can last for years, decades, even centuries.

Going into one of those gates is dangerous. They are watched by mysterious, strange and powerful beings that defy mortal understanding. Beings that are typically unable to cross over the boundary into our world, but who can nonetheless draw in our negative emotions in a manner similar to a crack junkie puffing away on the water bong pipe. Who gather in the event that some poor sod might die near the mouth of such a gate and be drawn in – at which point a feeding frenzy is likely to begin.

Of course, some idiot mage possessed of the right curses and understanding might actively cast themselves across such a permanent barrier. But this course is decidedly not advisable. If you want to have your wisp ripped directly out of your recently decapitated or otherwise mauled, mangled, or killed corpus, and used to feed the awful engines and forges of power-mad Asmodeus, then try to enter Hell by one of those gates. My parents, both possessed of not your average share of intelligence and badassery, would never try such a stupid thing. But, yeah, if you’re badder than the rest of us or have a death wish combined with a lust to experience spiritual torture before the ultimate and most terrible of all ends that could ever possibly befall any poor being, then be my friggin guest.

Us? Well we – meaning me, Mori, and Beatrice – have found our own private gateway into Hell. It’s not a regular permanent gate. But it is a pretty regular dump, as the case may be…

You see, the second kind of Hell Gate can form under almost any nefarious circumstance that provokes a very strong negative emotion. Murder scenes, for example, are pretty much certain to open one. War zones too. And you can often find the things yawning open pretty frequently at the various trading floors around the world during times of big booms or busts. Greed, fear, overweening pride, mass death can all serve as a key. A Helkey. A thing that attracts demons who subsequently shape a rift to peer in on the unsuspecting bad actors of our present world. These watchers aren’t usually as powerful or dangerous or numerous as those creatures that tend to mass around the permanent gates. So entry isn’t quite as dangerous. Of course, confronting even the demons of a temporary Hell Gate is still a serious risk. And temporary gates present their own unique challenges. Most are either unpredictable or open in Earthly locations that are dangerous, filled with snoopy cops, or are otherwise simply chaotic. If we are going to be bat shit crazy enough to try to get in to Hell, then we want both a safer route and one that is predictable.

And that’s where Ivan Volkov comes in.

Ivan is a big investor from mother Russia. Us mages suspect that he’s here in Germany laundering or attempting to launder money for the various powerful Russian oil oligarchs who’ve looted billions in public funds and turned it into private wealth. People who do these kinds of things and get away with it often have an over-developed sense of self-worth. They tend to view other people not as real persons, but as objects. In the case of Ivan, Ivan the Wolf as his friends like to call him, he appears to get a ridiculously and maniacally prideful rush from the notion of sitting at the top of the world and shitting all over the rest of us plebes. This self-deifying pride and enjoyment over the imagined degradation of fellow human beings is enough to attract the attention of more than a just a few demons. Demons possessed of coldly cruel minds both utterly bestial and yet also advanced beyond human comprehension. Beings once orphaned from our world but now entirely alien to it. Creatures trapped in a broken world of poison airs and ash that are yet capable of lifting their grasping limbs to stroke the ether and to tear an opening between Hell and the Earth at precisely 630 PM Berlin time every day to look in on baleful Ivan as he ascends the grand glass tower, enters the gilded throne room, unceremoniously drops trou, puts his self-imagined royal ass on the seat of a golden toilet, and begins to unleash the pent-up volume of his great bowls upon a quietly unsuspecting world.

And so Ivan’s big daily shit is our big opportunity. If opportunity is at all the right word for describing such an insane enterprise as entering Hell through a toilet bowl swarming with demons.

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

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

Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught

Having parts of your memory selectively erased is not fun. Not fun at all.

I’m sitting here in fracking Starbucks, watching the damned almond milk in my coffee swirl into a dizzying tempest. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t for the life of me remember what I was thinking about only a minute ago. I’m sure it was important. Otherwise, both my parents wouldn’t be sitting here at this table with me – concern settling over their faces. Worse, there are nagging lost patches. Missing spaces in my recollection of weeks, months, even years gone by. It’s as if my recall has been hit with buckshot and big pieces of my past are now all blown to smithereens.

(Reading via video blog)

I remember taking my AP English finals a few days ago, for sure. Whatever had swiped my memory hadn’t spared me that ordeal. All the pretentious questions and annoying rote bits I had to ‘creatively’ rephrase as if a hundred million students across the world hadn’t done the same thing a bazillion times over. But I can’t at all remember the drive to school or even whether I took the bus that day. It goes on – my fifteenth birthday party two years ago is perfectly clear, complete with the spectacular surprise fireworks launched over the beach by dad as my mischievously grinning fellow ‘gamer-girl’ friends ran a candle-studded D20 cake out to me. But the walk I took later that night with mom is mostly blanked out. All I remember is the start and end of another of her seaside chats – but none of the meat of what passed between us.

I feel robbed and alone. Alone even though both my parents are sitting directly across from me, eyeing me over their own broad and steaming mugs. Their scrutiny makes me feel paralyzed, helpless, and compared to them, ignorant. It’s fracking embarrassing. As if I’m under special, home-care, medical observation. And I don’t even know why.

A few rays cast off by the setting sun stream through the rain-spattered Starbucks window. They shoot out through a break in the clouds and warm my left arm – which immediately begins to itch. I shift the arm away from the light, ignoring the impulse to scratch.

I know why it itches – there’s a mostly invisible magical tattoo etched in my flesh. One that tingles irritably in sunlight or flickers with dark sparks by the light of the moon. An arching and swooping channel for the energy of stored curses all linked to one, powerful, central curse. But I can’t recall what that power is to be used for or, or where it comes from, or how it will manifest. It’s a really important bit to remember, I’m sure. Like any one of us forgetting the password to our smartphone at the exact time we need to call 911.

I pat at my head. Gently probing for damage. Wondering why it aches so badly as I scan the room. Everyone’s just going about their business, taking no notice of myself or my two odd-bird parents across the table from me.

“What the hell were we just talking about anyway?” I ask my dad.

He’s a thin, wiry guy named Robert Mori. About 5’ 11”. Dark hair all spikey and disheveled. His perpetual wry, ironic grin that kind of says – ‘I know Murphy’s a bastard… but yeah, shit gonna happen, so you might as well just grin about it and deal’ painting his face. He turns to my mom – Beatrice Lushael – with eyebrows raised. Her white skin, mithril hair, pale outfit, silver scabbarded rapier, and light-gray boots contrast with his navy jeans, T-shirt, and black leather jacket. Where he’s got the whole cool, edgy writer dude who looks like he owns a motorcycle and listens to heavy metal thing going on, she has an entirely otherworldly vibe. Like her diminutive 5’ 4” frame was instantly teleported out of some different time or place. A where or when full of people that vaguely look like elves or angels or Kryptonians or Vulcans or some other idealized fictional re-rendering of us regular humans.

Me? I’m Myra. Myra Helkey.

I share my dad’s dark, spikey doo. But it is almost shoulder length now and I recently dyed streaks of it red. I sprouted past mom’s height by age 14 and now have at least three inches on her. Regarding my reflection in the pane of glass, I thumb my spiked wrist-band. The combat boots, black leggings, shades of imperial blue flannel shirt unbuttoned with the arms rolled up and a fiery phoenix white T underneath I guess combine to make me look like a tough girl. That or just another punk-ass geek. Although for some reason I wonder if I should have just gone full-out unholy. It feels like an unholy kind of day.

“Looks like it worked,” Mori says in his gravelly voice.

“Yee-ep,” Beatrice replies, somehow musically, a thin smirk gracing her waifish face, “the kid is in the zone.”

My own face must be saying WTF??? in about a hundred ways because she giggles at me.

“Myra, you have the absolute best range of expressions. I can read your mind just by looking at you. You must get it from Mori.” She gently pokes me on my still-aching forehead. It actually starts to feel better when she touches it. Coolness soothing out from the point of soft impact. But I’m still annoyed.

To this, my dad caws out one of his harsh laughs. But he pats my arm reassuringly and says “Be nice, Beatrice. You know it’s one hell of a shock. Give the kid a break, OK?”

“Are you guys gonna key me in or just keep laughing at me and pretending I’m not here?” I’m really getting pissed. And the general continued sense of disorientation isn’t helping. My folks are great and all. Probably some of the best – and that ain’t even half the story. But they sometimes really seem to enjoy jerking peoples’ chains. Even if people, in this case, includes their daughter.

My father turns to me, his dark eyes assessing, revealing mild concern. “Myra, you remember the plan at least, don’t ya? The memory draught?”

Beatrice uncurls her fingers to show a small vial with a purplish liquid sloshing around in it before rolling it back up into her hand – out of sight. Apparently, no-one but the three of us conspirators at the corner table sees any of it. The sight of the memory draught sets off a slow-motion recognition-shock in my already addled brain that takes a few seconds to run its course.

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

If you hadn’t already guessed from all the obvious weirdness going down, the memory draught reference should’ve clued you in that something isn’t quite right and that we ain’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. But considering how much trouble I’m having catching up, I can understand how you might be a little confused yourself. So, let me just lay it out on the table for ya: my parents are both mages. Even sensitive items like memory draughts are a part of their all-too-supernatural business, and by extension, mine.

You see, I’m a mage too.

That’s it. Me and my folks are mages. Weird mage people with weird mage names doing weird mage things. Names? You may have wondered about those. My parents and I don’t share names like regular people. Well, in the mundane world we do. There we’re all the Hansens. Boring! But our real names, our mage names, each have a meaning that keys into the source and manifestation of our power. In short, my dad’s name – Mori – means to kill or to die. Pretty ominous, huh? Lushael is a really strange one – it means rain of stars. Yeah. Kinda badass and poetic at the same time – which defines mom to a T. And me, well my name – Helkey – should have a pretty obvious meaning.

We’re all mages and we’re all pretty much constantly involved in some kind of magical drama – be it simple or dastardly complex. For example, twenty minutes ago my mom just waltzed on into Starbucks armed with a deadly-sharp rapier completely unnoticed. Such a thing may seem weird and wildly illegal to you. Something likely to result in arrest or at least some serious questioning at the local down-town police station. But it’s no big deal for mage-types like her. She does it all the time. In fact, considering that various extremely nasty beings might pop up on her unawares at any given moment it’s abso-figgin-lutely necessary that she carry such an item. Besides, it’s no trouble for her to hide the blade’s existence from most casual onlookers. A simple ignore it curse is all she needs to distract the attention of pretty much every mundane away from the lethal 36-inch length of sharpened, enchanted metal dangling from her belt. And that Beatrice is a real master curse-crafter – so don’t get on her bad side, clue?

But a magical contraband memory draught is something on a whole ‘nother level. A sensitive item like that might draw some real attention if any other weirdos like us happen to be lurking around. They might start asking questions and that’s best avoided because those things are dangerous and powerful. Possibly personality-altering. Even the best-channeled ones can be unreliable. They are supposed to be temporary. But the effects can last for any period from hours to years. And parents administering such potent potables to teen-age kids like little ol’ me might be seen as abusive by an outsider.

And besides, even if I’m still not yet cluing in, we obviously do have a plan. A very secret one if I’ve just been given a memory draught chased down with a Starbucks coffee. If mom and dad have given me one of those, big ba-da-boom to the ol’ brain, things, it would be for one heck of a good reason. Which probably means that what I knew before I took the draught was self-endangering.

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

My shoulders slump and I settle deeper into my chair as realization begins to spark in my addled brain. I’m feeling kinda sick and unable to force myself to drink the rest of the strong-smelling brew before me. I also feel like a bomb just went off nearby – even though the shop is full of lively, happy, and amicably-chatting, if somehow-foreign, people and not strewn with prone bodies and shattered glass in a tinnitus-ringing aftermath. My stomach does a loop-de-loop like those big upside-down curves of the Lock Ness Monster roller coaster at Bush Gardens.

The plan!

“Holy shit!” I say, perhaps too loudly due to my sudden, shock-inducing recollection:


Mori cracks his best raven-jawed smile and Beatrice nods solemnly. “That, my girl, is indeed the plan,” he replies.

(Want to read the second chapter? Follow this link.)

(Looking for another chapter? You can find it here.)

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