Hellfire Universe Glossary

CONFUSED about (my fictional version of) Karma? Want to know more about how Max and Kate got together?

THANKS TO SEVERAL READERS for suggesting this glossary. Some of what appears here may contain slight spoilers in the form of information that would otherwise have been parceled out in bits and pieces throughout the book. Please note this is a purely fictional universe. No disrespect to existing religions or religious terms is intended.

Abattoir: Tongue-in-cheek name (“slaughterhouse”) bestowed on the art-deco speakeasy in the Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship building.

Afterlife: The collective community of souls who are not eligible to move on after death. This group includes the residents of Hell (primarily demons) as well as assorted demis and ghosts who may remain in the living world.

Alcohol: Provides a handy source of energy for supernatural creatures, reducing the amount of karma needed to operate in the world. Although tastes vary, the widely known favorite is demon rum.

Alton Woodsen: Felicity’s and Hanna’s twenty-year-old baby brother. Largely, if not criminally, neglected by his mother, Alton was raised by Felicity whenever she could catch him. Alton’s greatest wish is to be recognized as a supernatural player and earn the respect of his family.

Anapos: An arch-demon in the Egyptian underworld. Kate bribes Anapos to get information about Lily and the Woodsen family from the Demonic Archive.

Angel: Smug, interfering, supernatural beings who step in after demons have done the honest hard work of processing dead souls. Angels are in charge of each person’s exit from Hell through either the Doorway to Reincarnation or the Doorway to Heaven.

Arch-Demon: A super-powerful demon who has placed himself above the goody-two-shoes laws of karma by binding a witch as his consort and stockpiling karma in a demon-consort charm.

Ben the Mouse: Frank Reed’s familiar.

Bernie: Frank Reed’s apparently much younger wife. A witch and member of the Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship.

Binding: Magical subjugation of one soul by another. The bound soul loses free will, meaning his or her acts become the responsibility (and affect the karma) of the master. Demons sometimes agree to be bound temporarily to warlocks, usually as part of a summoning ritual, often hoping the warlock will run up a debt that makes it easier to eventually purchase the warlock’s soul.

Bobo: Zombie bartender at the Abattoir, the art-deco bar inside the Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship.

Canines on the Green: Felicity’s dog-training business and kennel, located in Redwood City, California, which she ran without much help from her former fiancé, Greg Green. The original startup money came from Greg’s family and the business remained in his name.

Chester the Cat: Rose Woodsen’s tabby cat, with whom she replaced her husband, Chester Woodsen, when he deserted the family.

Chester Woodsen (aka Chester Reed): Rose Woodsen’s husband and Felicity’s dad who abandoned the family when Felicity was five, Hanna two, and Alton barely conceived.

Consort: A living witch who has been bound to a demon through the use of a demon-consort charm like the Minsk Homunculus. This, in turn, allows the demon to accumulate karma (power) beyond the ordinary limits imposed by the afterlife.

Coven: An association of witches, usually seven or thirteen in number, who band together to pool magical resources.

Deal: An agreement with a demon. A demon (or other supernatural being) who breaks a deal is stripped of all karma and becomes the lowest, most abject slave, subject to the whim of every dead creature. A human who breaks a deal can be punished by any demon who feels like it, any way up to and including death.

Darcy: Felicity’s 140 lb. African Boerbel descended-from-lion-killers rescue dog.

Demi: A “half-demon” indentured servant whose natural state is pure hellfire but who may take on physical form depending on the situation.

A person who sells his or her soul to a demon becomes (upon death) a demi who must work off the debt. This group includes most traditional supernatural creatures (fairies, sprites, the occasional vampire, etc.).

The highest ranking demis (Personal Spiritual Assistants), are essentially genies and have sweeping magical powers which they—of course—use faithfully in the service of their masters.

Although the term indentured servant is polite, demis are, in reality, slaves, bound emotionally and metaphysically to their demons through the mechanics of karma.

A demi who is untrustworthy may be sold, traded, or even bound permanently to a location or object, the latter making it nearly impossible to earn karma or advance.

Demon: The bureaucrats of the afterlife, demons are responsible for ushering dead souls through Hell and into one of two doorways controlled by angels. No demon can say for sure where these doors lead, although angels like to spread propaganda about Heaven.

There are two ways to become a demon. By selling your soul to a demon, becoming a demi, and working your way up through the ranks, or by dying in complete and utter despair. The second, much rarer, option was employed by Max some 300 years before the opening of Keys to the Coven. (See: Kate and Max’s Backstory.)

Demons need karma and can get it through: (a) work (b) good deeds (c) glorious, life affirming sex with living humans or (d) purchasing human souls and putting them to work after death as indentured servants (demis).

A demon has free will, hellfire blood, and is nearly indestructible, but has strictly limited supernatural power. Most never leave Hell (except for an occasional warlock summoning) but some opt for karma-intense jobs in the living world, such as Max’s position as a Demonic Intervention agent.

To remain a demon, an individual must keep his or her karma within a specific range. A demon who drops below the minimum karma threshold is demoted to demi and auctioned; a demon who earns too much karma is promoted to angel. Demons can lie, murder, cheat, and steal, provided they pay the price in karma. But because prices are steep, they plan their misdeeds with care.

No demon ever willingly breaks a deal. To do so is to lose every bit of karma and be demoted to demi, to restart the afterlife as the lowest, most abject slave in Hell, subject to the command of every other dead soul.

See also: Demon, Physical Presence.

Demon-Consort Charm: A rare magic artifact that—when used to bind a living witch to a demon—can hold an unlimited number of purchased souls. This bypasses the normal karma thresholds built into the afterlife and creates an arch-demon whose ability to stockpile karma is only constrained by his or her talent for purchasing souls and stuffing them with karma.

A demon-consort charm can only be created from a volunteer demon. The demon remains intelligent, self-aware, and irretrievably trapped, which makes volunteers hard to find.

Demon, Physical Presence: Unlike Personal Spiritual Assistants, who shift in and out of hellfire at will, a demon has a permanent physical body with hellfire blood. This body is difficult to harm and quick to heal (by spending karma), but its loss means final death. As far as demons know, there is nothing beyond the afterlife. Their souls cease to exist along with their bodies.

By default, a demon has the body he or she died in. This can be modified with karma, but it’s considered more prestigious to stay close to the original. Max has aged himself to appear in his mid-thirties, but otherwise remains as he did in life.

Demonic Archive: Repository of accumulated demonic knowledge, accessed through closely guarded gateways in Limbo. Demons who want information about the terms of deals or the mechanics of the afterlife, can query the Demonic Archive via library demis. But for the sake of secrecy, it’s often considered better to bribe one of the arch-demons who holds a key and conduct an independent search. Because the interests of demons tend to be somewhat limited, the system contains a backup access to the Internet.

Demonic Blood: Also called hellfire, the blood of full demons is the source of all magical power, the stuff of creation in the afterlife. A supernatural creature’s own personal karma can be used interchangeably with hellfire.

Demonic Intervention: An agency of Hell run by demons for demons and protecting the interest of demons, which is primarily focused on getting as much magic as possible out of the hands of living humans. Since magic is powered by demonic blood, this position is not entirely unreasonable.

Doorway to Heaven: One of two alternatives (the other being reincarnation) presented by angels to dead souls after they are processed through Hell. Demons make no representation about the quality of an individual’s experience after selecting a door.

Doorway to Reincarnation: The other option available to dead souls who are processed through Hell. Represented by angels to be a fresh chance at life.

Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship: Rose Woodsen’s family coven, which she hopes to pass on to Felicity. The coven, organized around a ninepin bowling alley, consists of a group of witches who enjoy unusually easy access to hellfire thanks to the Woodsen family’s relationship with Roxashael.

The Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship building is adjacent to Mr. Wu’s Fine Advices, one block up from the train station in the mythical mountain town of Falstaff, Arizona. In addition to a two-lane ninepin bowling alley, the Fellowship contains a small commercial kitchen, an art-deco bar called the Abattoir, and several private rooms. The basement holds a combination meeting room and coven, complete with a large, hidden pentagram formed out of solid hellfire.

Familiar: A witch’s non-human assistant. The association is one of friendship, rather than magical binding. Regular exposure to hellfire may give the familiar increasingly human intelligence and abilities.

Felicity Woodsen: Eldest daughter of Rose & Chester Woodsen, Felicity is next in line to inherit the Minsk Homunculus, a magical artifact that will make her the consort of the arch-demonRoxashael. Upon Rose Woodsen’s death, Felicity also inherited her mother’s gift of sorcery, the ability to draw hellfire directly out of Hell in order to do magic. Most witches have no innate ability to summon hellfire and are forced to bargain with demons or warlocks to get it.

Frank Reed: Chester Woodsen’s estranged brother and Felicity’s uncle. A warlock in his own right, Frank is married to Bernie and serves as general manager of the Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship.

Genie: A powerful, high-karma demi, also known as a Personal Spiritual Assistant.

Ghost: A dead person that has chosen to linger in the afterlife. Ghosts do no work and have very little power. Demons and demis generally view them with contempt.

Girl’s Guide to Demons: A book of advice for would-be warlocks (male or female) written in the mid-eighteen hundreds, extensively annotated and reproduced despite the best efforts of demonsto destroy all copies. The book contains information about the supernatural world as well as descriptions of many known demons, their likes and dislikes, how to summon and negotiate without automatically sacrificing one’s soul, and how to target a demon’s individual preferences. The Guide’s author is rumored to be serving a six-to-ten thousand year sentence inside an active volcano.

Gram: Felicity’s grandmother, Rose Woodsen’s mother. Gram died when Felicity was very small, making way for Rose to become Rocky’s consort. Gram never dressed in anything but her late husband’s clothes after his soul was locked inside the Minsk Homunculus by Roxashael.

Greg Green: Felicity’s almost immediately ex-fiancé. Legal owner of their joint kennel and dog-training business, Canines on the Green.

Hanna Woodsen: Felicity’s glamorous younger sister, just starting her third year at Stanford Medical School. Hanna is grateful for the amount of time and money that has been poured into raising her. But she does wonder if Felicity might want to consult her brother and sister about what’s going on in the family. Once in a while.

Hell: A metaphysical location where demons usher dead souls out of life and into one of two angel-supplied options: the Doorway to Heaven or the Doorway to Reincarnation.

Hellfire: Another name for demonic blood. The stuff of creation in the afterlife, hellfire is the one necessary ingredient in every spell. A supernatural creature’s personal karma can be used interchangeably with hellfire.

Demons have physical bodies with hellfire blood. Demis are made of pure hellfire and take on physical form as appropriate.

Hellfire Charm: A magical object with two forms: the one it’s used in, and a miniaturized version that can be triggered by a demi. The higher status the demi, the more likely he or she is to be laden with hellfire charms.

Human Blood: Human blood is to demons as demonic blood is to humans. It can be used to strengthen magic (hellfire is still required) and to heal supernatural injuries. Because human blood is highly addictive, cautious demons prefer to spend karma to meet their physical needs.

Karma: The balance between good and evil, measured against a dead person’s behavior in the afterlife. Karma is the currency of the dead, the demonic equivalent of sex, power, money, and trading cards. It can be substituted for hellfire to fuel magic, used to heal a demon’s injuries, expended to meet his or her physical requirements, and extracted in payment for debts. Demons earn karma through good deeds, hard work, and glorious life-affirming sex with living humans. The amount of karma a dead person has determines his or her status. With the exception of warlocks, living humans are not subject to karma and are neither rewarded for good deeds nor punished for sins when they die.

Kate: Max’s Personal Spiritual Assistant (genie). Kate is demi, a half-demon indentured servant who was bound to Max without his consent the night they both died, over 300 years ago.

Kate and Max’s Backstory: Before death, Kate was a warlock who fell madly in love with the devastatingly handsome seventeen-year-old Max. Max was the youngest son of a successful coppersmith and a Jewish beauty who converted to Christianity upon her marriage. Lovely, educated, and demure, Max’s mother was never accepted by her husband’s community and spent much of her life in secluded devotion to her adopted religion. Max’s father, however, increasingly prosperous and outgoing, decided to arrange a match that would improve the social position of his favorite child. At age fifteen, Max was betrothed to the beautiful thirteen-year-old Elise.

Kate sold her soul to Roxashael, promising to turn Max into a demon while simultaneously conceiving Max’s child, thus founding a new line of sorcerers. In exchange, Roxashael promised tobind Max to Kate as her eternal demonic slave.

A known witch in the community, Kate set about seducing Max away from his fiancée. After some resistance, Max gave in, slipping through the woods one night to visit Kate’s cottage, betraying his father and the fiancée he adored for the sake of lust.

Instead of sex, Max walked into Kate’s trap. Drugged and bound, he watched in horror as Kate forced a confession out of Elise: she’d only played along with the engagement so Max’s family would pay her father’s debts. Elise had lovers, but would gladly die before she’d spread her legs for a Jew.

Outraged for his family, heartbroken by Elise’s bitter words, ashamed of his own betrayal, and in terror for his life, Max felt the power of Kate’s seduction, the wash of fury as she thrust a bone knife into his hand. But despite Kate’s urging, he wouldn’t murder Elise.

As Max balked, Kate’s ritual slipped out of control. She butchered Elise herself, strapped Max to her sacrificial altar, and summoned Roxashael in an attempt to salvage her deal with the arch-demon. When Max steadfastly refused to father a child, Kate had no option but to complete the ceremony and turn the bone knife on him.

When Max’s stolen heart lay beating in Kate’s cupped hands, Roxashael revealed the future: the discovery of Kate’s and Elise’s mutilated corpses, the charge of Satanism leveled against Max’s family. Disgrace, degradation, and death for every person he loved. Unable to bear the vision, Max died in complete and utter despair.

Max became a demon according to Roxashael’s plan. But Kate had broken her deal, failing to conceive a line of sorcerers. In punishment, Rocky slaughtered Kate and bound her soul to Max as his demi.

Kate didn’t mind. It wasn’t the arrangement she’d had in mind, but at least it guaranteed one thing: she’d get to keep Max forever.

Keys to the Coven: Inherited by Felicity Woodsen. They unlock the front and back doors of the Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship building.

Kimberly: Greg Green’s assistant. Not much help running the kennel but talented in other ways, as Felicity discovers shortly after leaving home to settle her mother’s estate.

Library Demis: Demis who have a telepathic connection to the Demonic Archive and who are honor bound to perform research and answer the questions of demons. Library demis earn karmaat much higher rate than other members of the afterlife, but burnout is common and very few make the transition to full demon.

Lily: Margaret Elizabeth’s newest Personal Spiritual Assistant and Alton Woodsen’s even newer fiancée. Whether Lily is working for Margaret Elizabeth or was engaged in spying on Margaret Elizabeth for Roxashael is something Max would very much like to know.

Limbo: A shifting metaphysical location outside the laws of karma which has a few fixed points of intersection with both the living world and Hell. People who experiment with magic sometimes become lost in Limbo where their souls eventually degrade (as in the case of shades) unless they’re lucky enough to find a way back. Demons use Limbo as a debt-settlement zone. Deals made in Limbo don’t apply in the living world and vise-versa.

Magic: A supernatural effect, specifically when it occurs in the living world. Magic requires a source of power (hellfire or karma) and either a witch or demi who can shape that power into a spell.Demons provide the hellfire, but cannot do magic themselves.

Magic is an entangled system. The beliefs of any observer affect the outcome of a spell, which is one reason witches tend to prefer dark, secret locations.

Margaret Elizabeth: Max’s boss and the ruthlessly correct head of Demonic Intervention. A woman rumored to have been a dragon in a previous incarnation.

Max: A 300-year-old demon who has taken up employment in the afterlife as a Demonic Intervention agent, removing dangerous magical artifacts from human hands. In Keys to the Coven, Max has promised to do everything within his power to retrieve the Minsk Homunculus and pass it to his boss, Margaret Elizabeth, for destruction.

In life, Max was the youngest son of a successful coppersmith and a Jewish beauty who converted to Christianity but was never well-accepted by the community. (See: Kate and Max’s Backstory.)

Minsk Homunculus: A demon-consort charm that, for 600 years, has made each eldest Woodsen daughter the consort of the arch-demon Roxashael. Rocky promised Felicity’s mother, Rose Woodsen, that he’d surrender the Minsk Homunculus to be destroyed after Rose died. As a result, Felicity was never bound to the Minsk Homunculus, the way her female ancestors had been before her.

Mr. Wu: Felicity’s family lawyer. See: Wu, Mr.

Mr. Wu’s Fine Advices: Legal offices inhabited by a string of Mr. Wus since the nineteenth century. The original building burned along with the adjacent Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship building and most of the rest of Falstaff during anti-Chinese riots in the late 1800s. As part of the rebuilding effort (partly thanks to the influence of the coven) race relations took on a conciliatory tone, and Falstaff earned a reputation for quiet, unselfconscious integration.

Although considered ridiculous by some, the historic name Mr. Wu’s Fine Advices and the original office décor are still in place. The town council is suspected of paying Mr. Wu a stipend to appear twice daily in front of his plate glass window, dressed in period costume, to take pictures with tourists.

Ninepin Bowling: A version of bowling in which eight pins are arranged in a diamond around a larger central kingpin. An old-world religious tradition, carried on by Felicity’s coven, is to write whatever troubles you on the kingpin and then wallop the heck out of it.

Ostrich Feathers: One of a group of low-karma demons encountered by Max and Felicity in Limbo.

Pentagram: A five-pointed star, often constructed of some form of hellfire, used primarily by warlocks to channel high-energy magic.

Personal Spiritual Assistant (PSA): A high-karma demi (genie) who works under a demon with only loose supervision. PSAs can cast spells, shape-shift via hellfire into preset physical forms, and travel along data lines. Although only a full demon has hellfire blood, PSAs have resources in the form of hellfire charms and an allowance of karma.

Rebecca: A witch from an unspecified coven. As Keys to the Coven opens, Max’s liaison with Rebecca (part of an assignment to infiltrate her coven and retrieve a set of soulstones) has just gone disastrously wrong. This is due in part to the interference of Rose Woodsen, who’s on the hunt for a demon she can trust.

Reincarnation: One of two options (Doorway to Reincarnation and Doorway Heaven), provided by angels for dead humans to select after their souls have been processed through Hell by hard-working demons.

Rocky: Rose Woodsen’s arch-demon. See: Roxashael.

Rose Woodsen (Thorn): Felicity’s estranged mother, Roxashael’s most recent consort and the only woman he ever loved. When the time came for Rocky to bind five-year-old Felicity as his future consort, Rose invented a special curse and used it as leverage in convincing the arch-demon to change his plans. In the end, Roxashael promised to give up the Minsk Homunculus and to take no more daughters from the Woodsen family line.

Roxashael (Rocky): An arch-demon who maintains his status above the laws of karma by binding the eldest living sorceress in the Woodsen family as his consort. Rocky truly loved Felicity’s mother, Rose Woodsen, and in a moment of weakness, he promised he’d give up the Minsk Homunculus to be destroyed and take no more daughters from the Woodsen line. Since an arch-demon’s power depends on keeping a consort, this promise opened the door to what Rocky does best: scheming and manipulation.

Sex for Karma, Trading: The ultimate union of life and afterlife, intimacy between a living human and a demon offers pleasure and a renewed sense of self-worth to the human while directly supplementing the demon’s karma. Because Hell and the afterlife are tied up with human belief (and what humans believe about Hell can be ugly) there are less savory versions of the sex-for-karma practice.

Shade: The fragment of a once-living soul that has degraded in Limbo. The last part of any shade to go are the eyes that let it see what it lost.

Shannon (Morticia): A waitress at Casper’s: the Friendly Toast, the Falstaff bar where Felicity and Max take refuge on their first evening together. Shannon has the bad luck to encounter Max on a bad night…and like it.

Soulstone: A magic item containing the enslaved spirit of a human being. Soulstones are typical of the sort of magic item Max retrieves and destroys as a Demonic Intervention agent.

Sorcerer: A rare and powerful witch who can summon hellfire (demonic blood, the source of all magic) straight from Hell. When a sorcerer dies, this ability passes to his or her closest living relation.

The founding member of a line of sorcerers must be conceived at the exact moment the father dies and becomes a demon, a process complicated, messy, and prone to failure. Kate originally promised Roxashael to found a line of sorcerers when she sacrificed Max. When the ritual went wrong, Rocky bound Kate to Max as his demi in punishment. (See: Kate and Max’s Backstory.)

As with warlocks, once a sorcerer has successfully summoned hellfire, he or she becomes subject to the laws of karma.

Summoning: The magical retrieval of a supernatural creature, usually a demon, usually out of Hell. A witch who successfully summons a demon is reclassified as a warlock and becomes subject to the laws of karma.

Warlock: A witch (male or female) who has successfully summoned a demon. Becoming a warlock subjects a living human to the rules of karma. Many demons volunteer to be summoned and (temporarily) bound to do a warlocks’ bidding. This not only gives the demon the opportunity for a little guilt-free mayhem—the warlock has to pay the karma bill—but also opens negotiations for the warlock’s soul. The vast majority of warlocks end up as demis.

Witch: A living human (male or female) who uses hellfire to perform magic. Witches have no innate access to hellfire and must bargain for it with warlocks, demons, and demis.

Woodsen Family: Felicity’s matrilineal family of sorcerers. Upon the death of each Woodsen sorceress, both the Minsk Homunculus and the (separate) gift of sorcery pass to her closest living relative. Because Roxashael prefers female consorts, the Woodsen succession is always mother-to-daughter, a system underscored by the fact that none of the Woodsen sorceresses take their husbands’ names.

Wu Fen-Chu (Mr. Wu): Rose Woodsen’s colleague and lawyer, in charge of passing the Woodsen trust (including the Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship) to Felicity. Jarringly old-fashioned, it’s quickly clear that Wu Fen-Chu is both a witch himself and operating according to some plan of his own.

Wu, Mrs.: The original Mr. Wu’s seventeen-year-old wife and the mother of his very young daughter. Mother and daughter were both lost during anti-Chinese riots in the late 1800s.

Zombie: A low-functioning demi, often ownerless or abandoned, whose soul is bound to his or her corpse as long as there’s enough karma to keep flesh together and then bound to wherever the corpse rots apart after that. Although brains are considered a delicacy, the laws of karma usually prevent zombies from eating living people.