Helkey — Lore

Arisen World – The threefold multiverse containing the universe of the Earth, its dark possibility which is Hell, and its bright potential which is Heaven. These three worlds overlap – each sharing a future interdependent with the others. The Arisen World is the gestalt or combination of all three acting in bonded discord. A kind of entangled conflict. Each world’s course and future is determined by Actus – or the action of dependent matter and independent forms. Forms are made up of life (corpus) and spirit (wisp or psyche). Forms possess Agency – which is the ability to alter, however subtly, the destination of the Arisen World through willful acts.

Asmodeus– The present lord of hell. Asmodeus overthrew the old lord whose name is now forgotten. In doing so, he secured the vast collection of wisps in hell from mortals who, in life, were afflicted with greed, rage, cruelty, lust, fear, jealousy and other emotional weaknesses to the point that they inflicted terrible harm upon those around them. The old lord of hell had sought to reform these souls – teaching them over long ages how to act without harming others. Asmodeus instead declared these souls irredeemable – deciding to use them as a kind of currency and fuel combined. He employed powerful demonic and diabolical engines to sunder their essence and produce energy to power mighty magics. In doing so, Asmodeus generated a greater cycle of exploitation and harm. One in which all forms of such abuse fed his power even as he enslaved the abusers – tapping their power and very being to fuel his own growing might. Over time, Asmodeus learned how to trap other poor hapless souls by exploiting any harmful activity in life to draw their wisps into hell. He did this by convincing individuals that a person’s character was forever marred by the worst thing they’ve ever done. This concept, called sin, became a self-fulfilling prophecy for many who would otherwise have developed the will to escape the influence of hell but were instead inexorably drawn in to its deepening spiritual gravity.

Ammit-Heh – The chimeric dragon displaying features of a crocodile, lion and hippopotamus who lairs upon the Burned Isle in the Lake of Fire. Ammit-Heh serves the purpose of devouring hearts. This enables Asmodeus to use whisps as both currency and power store.

Avernum — The battle land of Hell, Avernum is a blasted land crawling with armies fighting for supremacy. This terrible place of endless bloody conflict was set aside long ago by Asmodeus’s dictate of Bellum Aeternus or Eternal War. As an absolute dictator, Asmodeus rules with an iron fist. One would think this might lead to a kind of fearful peace. Not so in Hell. The Lords of Hell continuously plot to overthrow each other, to take power, and to even topple Asmodeus. The place is rife with internecine conflict, plots, rebellion, ambushes and assassination attempts that always threaten to boil over into war. To prevent continuous open warfare throughout Hell and to better organize Minos into ‘productive districts,’ Asmodeus set aside the land of Avernum as a battlefield where the lords of Hell, including himself, might settle their differences. Once war is declared, each opposing Hell-Lord moves their forces into Avernum with the aim to obliterate or subjugate the forces of his rival there. Any open major war conducted outside of Avernum invokes Asmodeus’s wrath and almost always results in the destruction or enslavement of the offending Hell Lord. To be clear, other conflict still occurs in Hell. But the ritualized, sanctioned conflict of Avernum is one structure that separates the Hell Lords from the roiling diabolical and demonic masses of Hell. And Asmodeus rewards those who take part in his structed conflict while punishing those who do not.

Beatrice Lushael – Mother of Myra. White mage. Angel. Mage name means – Rain of Stars.

Blue Skinned Devils — The most numerous humanoid devil. Blue skinned devils are also cast into an impoverished and mostly powerless rank in devil society. They mostly serve as slaves and low level servants for the less populous red skinned devils and other devils of high rank.

Blood of Earth – The mage name for fossil fuels – as they are gouged out of the body of mother Earth. Also the name of any industry or activity that results in the ruination of life giving lands, airs, and waters. Blood of Earth attracts the interest of demons and devils in much the same way as other harmful acts. However, it has a special attraction as destruction of the Earth, particularly for profit, often is the result of a combination of greed, lack of remorse, pride, and joy in doing harm.

Burning Lands — An expansive region of coal fields in the northern section of Infernia lit afire by volcanoes. Devils mine and capture the fluids and gasses produced by these lands for use in hellish infernal combustion engines.

Brian Gannon — an extraordinarily greedy Furze Bank executive.

Carcerus — The slave-labor prison of Hell, Carcerus is a land filled with fortresses that serve as combined forced labor and concentration camps. Wisps formed into bodies are often sent to Carcerus where they typically work until they perish in body — at which point their wisps are harvested for worbs or to fuel diabolical magic. The prison masters of Carcerus also send out Chain Bands to various regions of Hell to do heavy labor or dangerous work of various kinds. Slaves that survive 101 years of this deadly work are freed. However, time of incarceration under the slave masters of Carcerus can be extended even for minor infractions. So terms of slavery can often extend decades to centuries beyond the first 101 years. Nonetheless, devils do occasionally survive the slave masters’ whips to matriculate to ‘freedom.’ These freed devils are often among the most ruthless denizens of Hell — having learned the lessons of brutality, torture, and relentless unforgiving labor beneath the most terrible task-masters in all the Arisen Worlds.

Century — A battle group of one hundred devils.

Charon — Hell’s moon which was destroyed in a great cataclysm about 2,500 years ago. All that remains is an orange cloud of debris surrounded by an accretion disk.

Corpus – Physical form which is the unity of wisp and body.

Curse – Channeled or crafted magic that alters an aspect of reality. Called a curse because the ancient church long ago declared all magic blasphemy in an effort to permanently confine demons to the outer realm and devils to hell and to reduce their influence and remove their ability to harvest wisps. This declaration and the genocidal war against mages that followed had the opposite effect, however, generating numerous temporary hell gates while creating unnecessary confusion and fear regarding the use of magic. Eventually, the word curse was used to describe any socially taboo or offensive language – i.e. curse words, or to describe any solemn utterance aimed at invoking supernatural power to inflict harm.

Curse Riders – Asmodeus’s elite hunters who are specifically tasked with hunting down mages. Curse riders specialize in dragging mages into Hell and butchering them for their wisps. Mage wisps are especially coveted by Asmodeus. For this reason, most mages are hunted and do their best to keep their craft secret. It is typically considered suicidal to attract the attention of a Curse Rider. Though a few powerful, cunning, or lucky mages have managed to face one down or give one the slip on occasion.

Curse Hunt — When a Curse Rider hunts down a mage. Such hunts are often expansive — taking in numerous persons, demons, and devils held in thrall by the Curse Rider. Curse Hunts are often also called witch hunts.

Dark Psychic — A cleric of a diabolical religious order — Invicti Asmodei — wholly devoted to the service of Asmodeus. Dark Psychics possess the ability to project their senses long distances both individually and through a world-spanning Minosian Web (see below) in which every Dark Psychics’ worb acts as a node. The Minosian Web enables these devout servants of Asmodeus to possess a semi-omniscience. Accessing the Web allows them to see and sometimes hear past and present events occurring on Minos (Hell) so long as the Dark Psychic knows where and when to work. These Dark Psychics then feed sensitive information to the heads of their order who in turn inform Asmodeus. In this way, Asmodeus and his Hell Lords are able to observe practically any event on Hell that draws their attention.

Demon – A powerful and unruly wisp composed of pure, unbridled negative emotion. Demons are primal, often ancient, and inhabit the outer darkness but can also cross into hell or possess the bodies of mortals or mages. They feed on the negative and malicious emotions of mortals. It is for this reason that they congregate at hell gates or tear open small and temporary ones. Mortals afflicted by addiction, mental illness born of malice, or lack of compassion can create a channel through which a demon from the outer darkness may come to possess them. Demons in the hells can possess the body of a devil or a mortal – twisting it into draconic, chaotic, or other wild and monstrous shapes. Demonic possession can impart both great power and terrible madness.

Devil – A creature that inhabits hell. Often, they are wisps trapped in hell who are given a second body by one of the Lords of Hell or through forcibly taking over the body of a being stranded in hell. Devils are often twisted forms of mortals in life, can come in the imagined shapes of dark guardians like black knights and gargoyles, or, in the case of the lords of hell, are the dark reflections of angels.

Drivers — Devils who corral and enslave wisps. They are typically red-skinned with horns sprouting from the front of their foreheads. However, other devils can also act as Drivers.

Doppleganger – Fake body double used by some mages to house a wisp while the real body sleeps.

Energetic Vessel — A mage’s store of curse energy coming from the multiversal spirit.

Felix Azriel — Furze Bank executive. One of many at Furze Bank who’ve attracted the attention of demons.

Fortress Invicti — The seat of Asmodeus’s power in Hell, Fortress Invicti is the mightiest stronghold of this terrible realm. Sitting on the shores of the Lake of Fire, Invicti commands the main trade route funneling wisps, newly fashioned worbs, and newly made devils northward to Mechanum, Avernum, and Carcerus. Its high towers can be seen for many miles in every direction. And its terrible inhabitants are among Hell’s most powerful and vicious.

Form Makers — Devils who forcibly shape wisps into devil forms. They appear as balls of floating darkness that shoot black lightning.

Furze Bank HQ — A large banking conglomerate with ties to various nefarious actors on the world stage, both earthly and otherwise.

Gibbens Crane — A Curse Rider summoned by Ivan Volkov to hunt Mori and Beatrice.

Holocaust Scourge — A powerful diabolical whip and channel for devilish magics that uses fire hot enough to cut steel for its lash. A holder of a Holocaust Scourge can also tap the energy of enslaved wisps to fling bits of this flame to inflict agony, grievous injury or both.

Helkey – An event or emotion that can serve to open a minor or temporary hell gate. These are often torn open by demons in areas where terrible things are happening. Helkey gates are usually temporary – only lasting for minutes to hours at most. Sometimes a permanent Helkey exists – attracting demons frequently who often form these temporary rifts over and over again.

Hell Gate – Semi-permanent structures that link Hell to Earth. Hell Gates form in places in which the most terrible events of the age have occurred. Present hell gates are located in places like Auschwitz or Hiroshima or in the warming Arctic or at the dying Great Barrier Reef.

Infernia — The equatorial region of Hell’s supercontinent Minos. Infernia features a great wasted defile of vast deserts, burning lands, and terrible silt bogs. It is also the region of Hell where wisps come to reside after death following their capture by the influence of Hell and its demons and devils in life. Infernia is so hot that it is only practical, even for the creatures of hell, to move about for extended periods during winter. Night-time travel is preferred. But the difference between night and day temperatures on Hell is less than on Earth.

Ivan Volkov – Otherwise known as Ivan the Wolf. Ivan is the unwitting dupe of Asmodeus on Earth – serving as his herald without realizing it.

Kindre Moss — A moss from Beatrice’s home-world of Heaven (called Heaven by those on Earth) known for its medicinal properties.

Knife Lake — A large lake on the eastern edge of Infernia whose shores are known for their abundant wisp-fields.

Lake of Fire — A burning region of Hell’s Ocean. While many areas of Hell’s Ocean burn, the Lake of Fire region is wracked by characteristically intense firestorms.

Lance — A fighting group of ten devils.

Mage Name – A partial true name that identifies the source of a mage’s power.

Magical Tattoo – A permanent channel for curses formed into the flesh of a mage just below the skin. Often taking weeks, months, or even years to complete, such tattoos often tap into the power of the mage’s true name. In this way, Magical Tattoos can serve as a direct link to the source of a mage’s power. Mage families will sometimes have these tattoos crafted for their children as a means of enhancing their ability to tap inherited magic and/or as a way to activate a specific kind of curse.  In the case of Myra, her name curse Helkey has been crafted into a magical tattoo.

Masters of Infernal Device — Asmodeus’s forge masters. Expert crafters of various devices and machines able to harness diabolical magic.

Mechanum — The ‘civilized’ region of Hell is a vast field of over-developed, smoking industry interspersed with hellish city-scapes. Here are Hell’s forges that craft everything from weapons, to transports, to dwellings, to Hell’s fearsome engines. Powering it all are the enslaved wisps — formed by various Hell-forces or creatures into devils, or housed in the traps used to power diabolical magic called worbs. Mechanum is located in the pole-ward portion of Minos just to the north of Infernia. Its climate is one racked by dust storms rising out of Infernia, drenched by vicious thunder leviathans, and poisoned by the smokes of Mechanum’s industry. Running through it all are toxic, burning black rivers.

Memory Draught – A powerful and illegal potion that is designed to selectively wipe parts of the drinker’s memory. Memory draughts can be dangerous, harmful and unpredictable. Memories from these draughts can take between days and years to return.

Minosian — The primary tongue of Hell spoken by most devils. Though the super-continent of Minos is vast beyond the imagining of most Earth-dwellers, a common culture and tongue unite the devils in their misery.

Minosian Web — A network of interconnected Dark Psychic worbs that allows these psychically sensitive devils to project their senses and the senses of those who touch them practically anywhere and to any time on Minos (Hell). Each Dark Psychic forms a nexus in this Web. Their worbs continuously send energy bled from their captured souls out to other Dark Psychics. This outward flow of rendered spiritual energy captures sights and sounds as it travels. Dark Psychics can project their senses and the senses of others down these web strands to observe past or present events near a Web segment. The Minosian Web is a primary tool of Asmodeus in maintaining his stranglehold on power in Hell. Its Dark Psychic constituents are fanatical devotees who consider it a religious duty to report what they find to Asmodeus to ensure the sanctity of his unrelenting tyrannical reign. The fanatical Dark Psychics and their Minosian Web thus form an information and religious hegemony. A sect that through their Hell Web holds a stranglehold on both information flows and the interpretation of reality in Hell.

Mirror Specter — A magical mental construct that appears as a ghost or hologram and has a modicum of intelligence. These constructs usually act as archivists, librarians or lore-keepers. Myra’s Mirror Specter is an image of herself sent to give her advice in Hell. The curses used to activate her personal Mirror Specter are locked up in her magical tattoo as name curse.

Mottle — A form made out of wisp by a Vila in Hell. One of Asmodeus’s forbidden forms. Mottles are flat, wide bat-like creatures. Their muscular, cloak-like bodies are capable of flight, constriction, and partnering to assist humanoid creatures. When draped across a humaniod, they can grant short flight, help to reduce the impacts of Hell’s terrible environment, and even provide nourishment through IV-bites. Mottles also possess the ability to send thoughts by touch. These creatures are vegetarian and subsist on various Hell plants.

Multiversal Spirit — The energy of the multiverse which is composed of the interaction of all material and life that exists. How mages describe an all-encompassing spirit similar to a transcendental oversoul. One that connects all things, all life, all spirits and all realities. Mages draw in some of the energy of this multiversal spirit to power their curse-magic.

Myra Helkey – 17-year-old daughter of Beatrice Lushael and Robert Mori. Mage name has a double meaning. Actual name informed by a curse that has yet to be unlocked.

Nightmare — A specialized wisp-powered machine made to serve a Curse Rider for his steed. Typically made to resemble a horse, the Nightmare infernal construct is both capable of transforming into a variety of conveyances and of taking on the shape of a vague fearful shadow.

Overseer Tower — A wisp slave trade outpost overlooking Knife Lake.

Plumacats — A form shaped from a wisp by a Vila in Hell. One of Asmodeus’s forbidden forms marked by the Lord of Hell for genocide. Plumacats appear to be a hybrid of a velociraptor and a tiger. Two raptor eyes peer out from a feline face. Opened mouths reveal long fangs. Hands padded for running and pouncing feature both fingers and claws. Covered in large and lustrous black feathers, the bodies of Plumacats are capable of both bipedal and quadrupedal movement. Swift and graceful, these predators hunger to devour the flesh of devils.

Poachers — Devils who hunt various creatures to use for food, material, and wisps. Poachers and Drivers often overlap — trading, sharing information and resources. At times Poachers also act as slavers — selling captured creatures and wisps to Drivers and their clients. Poacher work is typically transactional and for profit. However, some Poachers also host hunt tours for sport.

Pride Eater – A form of demon that feeds on overweening pride and lust for power blind to consequence. Pride eaters inhabit Hell and the outer darkness. They often appear as tall, skinless demons composed of flesh and sinew on bone with hollow eyes, tapered skulls and giant claws protruding from their hands. Pride Eaters can form tethers with those they feed upon. They can use these tethers to possess or control their victims. Occasionally, Asmodeus will direct a Pride Eater to unlock a person’s diabolical potential through forced transformation. This is one way that the monstrosities of Hell are brought into being on Earth. When this happens, these monsters are called prophets of Asmodeus. It is a rare and terrible event for such an instance to occur.

Red Skinned Devils — Devils stratify their society into ranks based on race, form, power and skin color. The red skinned devils are a higher level class of humanoid devils. They are characterized by their brutal sense of entitlement, reliance on bullying and violence to advance, and plotting nature. They viciously exploit others through various means. This includes the blue skinned devils whom they have mostly enslaved or forced into dangerous, less desirable work.

Robert Mori – Father of Myra. Death mage. Human. Mage name means – to kill or to die.

Sadie Medela Dextera — Pastor at St Mary’s Church in Berlin. Life Mage. Angel. Mage name means — princess of the healing hand.

Spirit Tether — A bond formed between a demon and a mortal. This bond is the first step toward demonic possession. Pride-Eaters are particularly adept at spinning spirit tethers and placing them on their victims.

Stelo-mal — Bad lizard. A large species of devil lizard native to hell. Shares some chameleon and comodo dragon-like features in addition to retractable projectile tail spines and vicious razor-sharp teeth. Like many devils, stelo mal are capable of speech and can practice diabolical magic.

Terror Hounds — Demons that prey upon the souls of those who have recently died in great terror. These hounds usually appear that scenes of terrible massacres or other traumatic events in which ultimate fear grips large numbers of creatures at their last moments all at the same time. Some Terror Hounds have been trained by devils to draw wisps taken by fear into Hell. These Terror Hounds are also sometimes called Hell Hounds.

The Great Arch of Time – The passage of time throughout the multiverse of the Arisen World. Time by mages is seen as an illusion that describes the consequences of action which generates a dimension. Time is, therefore, not seen as linear – per se – but as a pathway of consequences containing many branches that extend both forward and backward. As a result, different decisions generate different consequences – represented as bows in the Arch of Time. Eventually, the Arch of Time, like a rainbow, bends inward, forming a vast, expanding circle.

Urdrake — A form shaped from a wisp by a Vila in Hell. One of Asmodeus’s forbidden forms marked by the Lord of Hell for genocide. Urdrake are massive reptiles covered in large, spiked shells. Standing 6-7 feet tall and weighing 300-500 pounds, Urdrake are the most physically imposing of all the Vila-made forms. Their reptilian faces feature keen, binocular eyes and long boney snouts with fang-like ridges. From their foreheads and down their spines sprouts a ridge of white crystals. These are capable of emitting powerful beams of light like lasers. Urdrake’s voices are sonorous and strangely melodic. Like Plumacats, Urdrake hunger for the flesh of devils.

Vila — A faerie tree spirit native to Hell before its fall into tyranny and environmental destruction. While many consider the Vila to be an extinct race, a few survive in isolation.

Vortex — A single wheeled conveyance much like a motorcycle used for rapid movement. An engine powered by a wisp and by mined fuel propels these loud and dangerous machines. Vortex wheels are made of knobby metal and coated with glass. This glass continuously grows one to four inch long spikes — turning the machines into lethal weapons.

Wisp – The spiritual body of a soul. Wisps house a person’s unique being. A wisp remaining on Earth or passing into heaven or Hell retains consciousness and experience of a sort. On Earth, wisps are commonly called ghosts. There they are rare, mostly imagined or come in the form of a deep memory — often fleeting. Wisps passing into the great void disperse – losing form and consciousness. But, occasionally, these wisps coalesce in another material body at some point along the Great Arch of Time.

Wolf of Wrath — A demonic transformation into one of Asmodeus’s prophets on Earth. The Wolf of Wrath embodies the sin it is named for in the form of a terrible and twisted demon-wolf that incorporates the lethal traits of numerous creatures. The existence of The Wolf of Wrath on Earth sets off a string of killings and disasters as the demon-wolf’s instinct is to gorge itself in a killing rampage so long as it maintains its form.

Worb — A special device used by devils to hold wisps. They appear as orbs that devils often wear on their shoulder. The most powerful of devils have multiple worbs. Worbs can liquidate wisps in a number of ways — usually using them for power, food, or a kind of diabolical currency. To devils, wisps are the most fungible of all resources.

(Want to read or listen to Myra Helkey’s story? Here is where you can find the Helkey Table of Contents and chapter links.)

Helkey 3 — A Gilded Tower Among the Pyrocumulus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are not on the list.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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