Time: Shortly after Beside a Black Tarn
"You're not nervous, are you my dear?" Shax set the formal hat aside when they reached their rented room and switched out his lace-trimmed party gloves for more practical ones.
"I'm not, Papa Shax." Leopold waddled on two legs to the occasional table to remove his feathered bowler. "But I'm not sure about this. Will we cause harm here?"
"Harm? Of course not. We won't hurt the old sweetheart and she won't miss the bauble." Shax hung up his dinner jacket and changed out of his heels into soft-soled boots. "She's no children of her own, so who would her jewels go to? Those awful sisters of hers? You met them tonight."
Leopold's spines shivered and he nodded. Good. Shax had a moment of inordinate pride that his son was so observant.
"Excellent. Apparently, Dame Lydia lives on the outskirts of the city. Rather lonely sounding place, actually. So we'll have to follow her float car to find it. Ready?"
Leopold dropped to all fours and scurried over in his new tool vest. Much handier than a backpack. Quite fetching black synth-leather as well. Shax scooped his hedgehog son onto the back of the hoverbike and told him to hang on tight. A tag on Dame Lydia from earlier in the evening showed up as a green blip on his helmet visual. Simplest thing in the world to follow.
He followed at a sane distance and noted the house where the hired car stopped to drop her off as he drove past. Not that this was at all difficult. It was the only house for several kilometers around. After another kilometer, which would mask the whine of the hoverbike, Shax parked the vehicle in a copse of tree-like stalks and they hiked the short distance to the house. Shax hiked. Leopold scurried.
The house was already dark by the time they reached the side yard. Old girl must've already gone to bed. Ah, well. We won't even need to disturb her rest.
Leopold tsked softly as they examined the kitchen window. The blasted thing wasn't even alarmed. Shax frowned as he ease open the pane. Sweet little old lady, living all alone out here? She should have at least invested in a basic alert system. That gave him a moment's pause. What if she didn't live alone…?
No. His intelligence had been thorough. She was estranged from her family, had outlived her husband, and had no children. Alone.
He wriggled in through the lace curtains and dropped silently to the floor, then turned and helped Leopold through. Scents of lemon and lavender dominated the kitchen with undertones of recent baking. Everything shone from meticulous cleaning and there were…cozies. The teapot had a cozy. The mixer had a cozy. A shape that could only be an old-fashioned toaster had a cozy. Even the handle on the cold storage unit had a cozy, all of them quilted in floral prints and lace-trimmed. Everything was so cute, from the kitty-cat handled utensils to the tablecloth with embroidered duckies.
Unexpectedly flummoxed, Shax lost track of what he was doing for a moment. He stumbled into the parlor and found himself face to face with the lady of the house. She let out a little yelp of shock, fumbled for the lights, then stopped, squinting at him.
"William? Is that you? Oh, you gave me quite a start, dear." She bustled about, snagging a shawl from the back of a chair to put over her bunny print nightgown. "You really should have messaged. Are you in trouble? Come in, come in, I'll get you something."
Shax's mouth opened and closed several times before he got out, "Ma'am I think there's been some mis—"
"Now, now. Don't put on airs, William. I know your mother sent you off to that fancy offworld academy, but I don't care what they taught you. I'm still Auntie Lydia."
Leopold looked from her to Shax and shrugged. Shax raised an eyebrow, hesitating only a moment before he followed after.
"Of course, Auntie Lydia."
"Goodness, you sound different, dear. All grown up, I expect, though." Lydia sighed and shuffled through the ritual of making tea in her pink bunny slippers. "It is nice to see you, of course. It's been a terribly long time. Earlier in the day would have been better, but I expect you had delays at the shuttle port, didn't you."
"I'm sorry, I—"
"Quite all right, sweetheart. You know you're always welcome, no matter what your mother says." She patted his shoulder on the way to gather mugs. "Goodness! You're so hot. I hope you're not fevered. That's a lovely jacket, dear, though black is so severe for you."
She bustled about the kitchen, bringing old-fashioned metal cookie tins and the accoutrements for tea. The mug she finally plunked down in front of Shax? Festooned with little cows in tutus. When she bent to pick up a dropped spoon, she spotted Leopold under Shax's chair.
"And who's this, dear?"
"Ah, well…" Shax lifted Leopold into his lap. "This is my…cat. Er…Fluffy."
Leopold peeped in offense but wasn't quite so offended that he spoke up to contradict his new feline status.
"Oh, he's adorable. Lovely shade. One of those new designer breeds is he?" Lydia bustled off again, poking into cabinets, not satisfied until she had opened a tin of sardines and set it in front of Leopold.
Shax handed his teaspoon to Leopold so he could eat the sardines in a civilized fashion and opened the nearest cookie tin when Lydia flapped a hand at him and told him not to wait on her, she'd be right there. Inside the tin lay an army of cute, obviously homemade cookies—some baked too long, some not quite enough, some with irregular edges. Shax chose a chocolate twist of dough with colorful sprinkles and held out the tin for Leopold, who chose a heart-shaped cookie with pink icing. The cookie was too dry and tasted a bit floury, as if the dough hadn't been mixed quite well enough. But cookies with tea should be a bit dry, right?
Lydia sat with them finally, her bent bird-like hands careful as she added cream and too much sugar to her tea. Her skin seemed thin to the point of translucence, and though there were age spots here and there, her nails were still white and clear. Difficult to tell how old she was. Shax concluded the answer was very.
"So have you been to see your mother, William?"
"No, Auntie Lydia."
"No, I expect not." She made a little moue of disapproval before she picked a cookie for herself. "I suspected that you didn't leave home on the best of terms. No, no, I don't blame you, dear. She wasn't always terribly kind to you. But you always have a place here."
"Thank you, Auntie." Shax's stomach was churning tea. It made no sense at all. He'd stolen from little old ladies before and even charmed them in the process without a niggle of guilt. But this? Hell's pits, I can't do this. I just can't. "I, ah, can't stay too long."
"Of course, dear." She reached across the table to pat his hand. "I'm sure you have a hundred things you need to get done while you're home. I'm simply pleased that you took the time to stop by. Before you go—"
She was up again, bustling off in a soft rustle of flannel. When she returned, she clutched a beautiful wooden box in both hands. Pastoral scenes of wildflower fields and sheep decorated the top and sides. She set the box on the table and opened the lid toward Shax.
"I'd like you to have these, William."
For a long moment, for the first time in quite some time, Shax was speechless. Winking at him in the dim light of the kitchen were the same jewels he had come to burgle, diamonds, rubies and an emerald the size of his thumbnail. Which would have been fine, before the tea, the cookies, the sardines, the kind words—but now?
"Auntie Lydia, I… I can't take these."
"Of course you can, dear. Who would I give them to? My sisters?" She leaned in to kiss the top of his head. "I'd rather know they went to you than having people squabble over them after I pass."
"But you… Auntie, you might need them. If you get sick. If something happens to the house. Please keep them for now."
"Such a good boy." She reached in and plucked the emerald ring and a diamond pendant from the haphazard pile of pretties. "Just these tonight, then. I won't hear another refusal."
"Yes, Auntie Lydia." Shax swallowed hard. The cookie must have stuck in his throat. "Thank you."
She sat with them a bit longer, making small talk and admiring Leopold. When they said their goodbyes, Shax leaned in to kiss the offered cheek. How could he not? Leopold left him to his thoughts all the way back to the rented room.
"Will you, Papa Shax? Decide to keep the pretties? It doesn't seem right."
"I think…" Shax sighed and shook his head. "That was a monumentally strange evening. I have to think about it."
Two days later, Dame Lydia received a visit from several large men in a security company van.
"We're here to install the system, ma'am," the one with the clip pad said.
"Oh, dear. I haven't ordered anything." Lydia clutched the neck of her housecoat. "What sort of system?"
"Nothing to worry about, ma'am. It's all paid for. Full alert system on your windows and doors. Outside camera bots. Intruder resistant glass." He scratched his head, checking his pad. "Buyer said to tell you it's from William."
Time: Twenty-fifth century
Place: Earth, the royal precincts of Hell
Ashtaroth watched the destruction with varying levels of distaste, not the least of which was how incredibly filthy Lu would be by the time he was done. She stood on a high butte overlooking the plain where her only progeny's palace had stood of late, her imps holding a golden sheet above her as a canopy to keep off any stray bits of ash.
She'd had ample warning, of course. Her son had whispered hurried schemes to his companion, his garde du corps, and the stones of her palace had repeated those whispers to her. Too late to prevent her princeling's flight but in plenty of time to prevent wholescale razing of assets. Her army of minions had descended upon Shax's shining stronghold and had brought out the hellcats, cleared the stables, and packed up anything of value. The house minions had taken the hint and scattered.
Not three hours later, Lucifer had descended in all his glory and his rage, expanded to the size of a city block in his fury, black wings blotting out all light, massive horns curled and twisted from his temples. His claws ripped fissures into the earth. His eyes were black pits of madness. Ashtaroth, from her safe vantage point, breathed in the sulfur of his passage and longed to have him like this, at the pinnacle of his power. Foolish that would be, of course, and painful. Not to mention extraordinarily messy.
"My darling, stupid boy," she murmured as the palace went up, seared in the flames of his nib's howling tantrum.
Then she sighed and turned from the sight, impressive as it was, to make her way down to the throne room. Of course, Shax wasn't truly stupid. He was hers, after all, and she couldn't blame him entirely for fleeing an impossible situation. She was quite put out with him, nevertheless—one, for not confiding in her and seeking her counsel and two, for seizing on such an impetuous and precipitous solution. Permanent exile from the Earth herself, where his power would be diminished, his influence naught? Reckless. Not the done thing for a prince of the blood.
By the time she reached Lu's throne room of malachite and basalt, he had already returned to a more reasonable size and sprawled naked and soot-grimed on the steps to the dais. Imps fluttered around him, trying to wipe off the schmutz, but he kept batting them away. Naturally, after the monstrous tantrum came the depression. Some things never changed. He'd sulked and taken up postures of pitiable despair for weeks after the fall from heaven.
Vassago tried to warn her off, shaking his head, but she would have none of it. She was no cowering minion to wait upon the Dark One's pleasure or censure. She snapped her wings in tight to her back and began in her frostiest tones, "Lu, you can't just—"
"Don't tell me what I can't!" Lucifer bellowed, one eye hidden in his sadly snarled mane of ebon hair. He thrust a claw at her. "You! How dare you show your face! Your son betrayed me!"
"Oh, do stop whinging." Ashtaroth tossed her shining hair over her shoulder with a sniff. "You're such an infant sometimes. I'd no idea what my willful spawn was up to. And quite frankly, I don't recall being advised of your plans."
That single black eye swirled red with anger. "I owe you no expl—"
"Plans, my dear, that would have resulted in the certain death of my son," she cut across his bellow with her own, unmoved by his show of ire. "I don't approve of how he's handled the situation, certainly. Though I'm not best pleased with you at the moment, either."
Lucifer curled in on himself, hiding under his wings. And here came the waterworks, howls of misery to accompany his tears.
"Drama queen," some minion whispered, though impossible to tell which one.
Ashtaroth gestured to Vassago, who just rolled his eyes and stomped away, so she took a chance and approached. Her minions spread a cloth for her on the stairs so she wouldn't soil her silver gown and she gestured to the imps to clean off a spot on Lu's shoulder and wing.
When she had a clean space, she patted his broad shoulder. "There, there. I know it's a disappointment. We'll make plans for inciting warfare another day. Ones you share with your siblings, yes? In the meantime, you get yourself cleaned up, call session and declare Shax a traitor to the realm, banished for all eternity, so on and so forth."
Lucifer nodded. "Yes. For all eternity." He snuffled and hiccoughed on a sob. "With dreadful and complicated punishments if he returns."
"As complex as you like, Lu." She stroked the clean spot, careful not to go beyond where the Imps had wiped him off. "And then, consider that we have a prince of the blood out amongst the stars. Someone who can serve as eyes and ears beyond our reach. The reach of man is so far beyond us now. We need someone with more intelligence than the idiot pit demon mercenaries out there."
Lucifer sighed. "I know you're right. But I need to be pissed off for a while. I'll probably yell at you during session."
"Of course you will, dear. There are forms to adhere to."
"You are the best, Ash." He lurched toward her as if to put his great horned head in her lap.
She jerked the material of her gown away with a shriek. "No! Not until you're clean!"
"Oh. Yes. Right." He propped himself on one elbow and bellowed for his bath.
Thirteen beautiful succubae brought his golden tub. Thirteen gorgeous incubi slunk over to bathe him. Lu still moaned and complained throughout their gentle handling of him but at least he was doing instead of wallowing in depression. Sometimes being a princess of hell was quite satisfying, even fun on her most evil days. Some days, though? It could be quite vexing indeed.
Time: Shortly after Beside a Black Tarn
Place: New Bangkok, planet Barbary
This bar is powerful blue. Corny figured it probably wasn't all blue, but all the glass and chrome with soft blue lighting along the floors and walls certainly created the illusion. Peaceful. Like being one of them mer people in stories, living under the sea and breathing just fine. It wasn't a fancy place, not like one Cap'n might take them to where he'd have to get all gussied up and strangle himself with a stiff shirt collar. But it was a heaping helping fancier than the bars they usually went to in New Bangkok.
Verin glanced at his face and snorted. "They won't toss us out, cowboy. Don't say I never take you anywhere nice."
"It is nice. Was just taking a gander. Pretty place." Corny bumped shoulders with him before weaving through the patrons to a raised table at the far end of the blue glass bar top. He waited until they were settled before he asked, "What's the occasion? Did I misrecollect a date?"
"Just thought a change of scenery…" Verin shrugged. Clearly, he was chewing on something but Corny wasn't about to prod at him. If he wanted to say it, he would in his own good time.
They ordered the usual—something toxic for Ver, a whiskey for Corny—and settled back to watch the patrons and talk about little things. They needed to get a new file for Verin's claws. Corny kinda liked doing the foot claws since it wasn't too far a throw from taking care of hooves and it was… Well, it was intimate. Taking care of your lover's feet. Not something he'd been able to do before Ver.
Ver swirled whatever nasty rotgut he had in his glass, watching the gray-green whirlpool with a frown. "You ever regret it, Corn?"
That set Corny back. "Regret filing your claws?"
"No, dumbass." Ver blew out a slow breath, smoke spiraling from his nostrils. "Coming with me. Leaving your own time."
A quick answer would sound like he wasn't willing to think about it, so Corny tipped back his chair and thought a spell. "I miss some things, sure. Riding out under the sky most every day. The smell of a cookfire. Waving grass that…looks like grass should. Guess that's true of anybody who leaves home. You miss little things."
Verin stared off across the bar, silent, sipping his drink.
Corny let his chair down, reached across the table and seized Verin's hand. "But I don't regret it, Hammer. Not for one second. I don't regret bein' here with you. I don't regret traveling to a time where I can hold your hand and no one's got a word to say contrariwise. Where I can—"
He broke off and leaned across the table to plant a kiss at the base of Ver's right horn. While he would've loved to get a real kiss, probably best not while Ver was drinking poison. Corny smiled as he smoothed the dark hair between Ver's curled horns.
Raised voices came from the other end of the bar, two people arguing in a language Corny couldn't understand. One had multiple braids of different colors, though the blue light made it hard to tell what colors. The other was covered either in green scales or in tattoos of green scales. Corny had learned not to assume about things like that. Braids shoved Scales. The bartender tried to calm things down but it looked like these boys were fixin' to fight like Kilkenny cats.
Corny glanced between the brewing fight and his demon lover, still sipping his drink. Ver was interested but he was slouched back in his chair, relaxed. Wouldn't be the first bar fight, and sure as shooting wouldn't be the last they saw, but so long as Ver wasn't reaching for his weapons, Corny wouldn't start worrying.
Scales had Braids by the throat now. The bartender was signaling frantically for one of the security demons at the door.
"Bets on the door goons getting there in time?" Ver asked with an evil grin.
"Five says the big demon gets there afore a punch gets thrown," Corny said, eyeing the action with more interest now.
Security waded through the crowd, hampered by their size. Braids kneed Scales in the balls, or tried to. Didn't quite connect since it just made Scales madder. He picked Braids up and tossed him down the length of the bar where he skidded to a stop just shy of Corny and Verin's table. Ver turned to Corny to say something but one of the patrons whose drinks had been bulldozed grabbed Braids off the bar and tossed him at the table. The poor table broke. Ver rose slowly from his chair, sparks shooting out with each breath.
"Just your fists, Ver," Corny murmured as Verin got up a head of steam.
Verin charged into the growing melee, going after the patron who had spilled his drink. She was a tough old bird and got in some painful licks before Ver flattened her. Not that it mattered. It was an out and out brawl now, fists flying without rhyme or reason. Corny sighed and waded in after his demon, keeping combatants off his back best he could. Wasn't too hard. When Ver got going, he was a one-demon wrecking ball. Best Corny could do was keep up and try to steer them toward the door.
He was so intent on his goal that he had to stop a second and reorient when they stumbled out onto the street. Sirens wailed in the distance. The riot raged on inside.
"Shame. Nice place like that. Best make ourselves scarce," Corny insisted as he steered Ver down the street. "All right there?"
"Yeah. That was great," Ver grinned and stuck a cigar stump between his teeth. "And you owe me five, cowboy."
Corny snorted. "I reckon I don't." He stopped in front of Verin and plucked the cigar out. "We said the first punch afore security got there. Weren't no punch till you threw one."
"Aw, c'mon. Technicalities."
"Nope. That was the bet. Fair and square, Hammer." He seized Ver's head between both hands and kissed him hard, right there in the street, which he could've never done in his old life if he wanted to keep breathing. "You remember what you asked me?"
Ver blinked a few times before he got out in a husky murmur, "Yeah?"
"I got some small wistfuls, Ver. But I ain't got no regrets." Corny dove in for another kiss, pulling Ver close with a hand on his ass for good measure. "Nary a one."
Place: English countryside, Earth
'Twas not a fit night out for man nor beast. Heavy clouds threatened snow and smothered the moonlight. The damp chill seeped into bones even through the heaviest cloak. Precious little light skittered along this stretch of road under heavy trees.
But there was a glint of hoof, a flash of harness, a quick bright flame to light the glowing end of a cigar. One horseman at least blocked the middle of the road, lying in wait for some unfortunate traveler caught out on this dark, inhospitable night.
Hoof beats drumming along the road began as a subterranean shudder until they grew loud and louder – a horseman come riding, riding, riding—a horseman riding through the gloom along the kind's road.
"Steady on," Shax murmured as he drew his pistols, his horse shifting restlessly under him.
Verin, who stood three yards in front of him, pistols ready, lit cigar jammed between his teeth, growled, "I know how this goes, you twerp."
"Did you want to say it?"
"Nah. You do it. Yours is more fucking posh."
Shax pushed his cocked hat back and sat up straighter in the saddle. Shame it was so dark. Their victim would never see the lovely scarlet coat he wore or the scandalously tight doeskin breeches. Oh, well. Best to dress the part, complete with leather and lace if one wanted to do things right. A black horse galloped round the bend and Shax cleared his throat and fired a pistol into the air.
"Stand and deliver, your money or your life!"
The horse reared and screamed in fear, her rider keeping his seat with ease, pistol butts and rapier hilt a-twinkle in the spare bit if starlight. The rider called out in a voice that tried for arrogance despite the quaver, "Nay, it is you who will stand and deliver!"
Shax gaped a moment before calling back, "No, that's not how this works. We said it first—Dick Turpin, is that you?"
"Aye. Who's doing the ask— Shax?"
"Dick, m'dear, as I live and breathe." Shax secured his pistols and rode forward grinning. "Haven't they caught you yet?"
"Not yet and my hope is not tonight." Dick Turpin, the butcher turned livestock thief turned highwayman, reached out to clasp hands with Shax. "You're a sight for these sore eyes, yer lordship. But I've red coats breathing down my neck. You've no desire to be within shouting distance of me tonight. I've an inn I must reach afore the moon is high. If they've reached it first, I'm done for."
"What've you gotten tangled in now? Innkeeper's daughter?"
Dick flashed his charming, albeit worried, grin. "Stable boy."
"Ah, what am I to do with you?" Shax stood in his stirrups to plant a kiss on Dick's cheek. "Ver? Fancy a bit of devil among the tailors this evening?"
"You mean go cave some redcoat heads in? Fuck yeah. Always up for that."
"Be my guest then, Ver. We'll waylay travelers another night. We'll be along soon."
Verin stubbed out his cigar on a nearby stump, vaulted into his saddle, and thundered off on his huge Friesian, one of the few horses they could find willing to bear Verin's weight. Shax and Turpin followed at a more leisurely pace as his highwayman friend told him the particulars. Not that Turpin usually cared about beyond the shag itself, but it was the principle of the thing. Red coats using a stable boy as hostage and bait. Appalling.
Shax patted Turpin's thigh. "All will be well, my dear, never fear. Except for the inn. There's likely to be damage. Would you care to leave the road for a bit for a quick bit of, as they say, backgammon? Would calm your nerves."
"Would be my honor, yer lordship. That clearing over there—"
"Stand and deliver!" a quavering young voice called from that very clearing.
Shax heaved an exasperated sigh. "Oh, for pits' sakes. I see it's going to be that kind of night."
(Shax has a postscript to add: "My darlings, you may recognize bits of this from Alfred Noyes', "The Highwayman." But damn Alfred and his Victorian morals, changing the story I told him for, as he put it, dramatic purposes.")
Time: shortly after the end of Beside a Black Tarn
Place: Aboard the Brimstone, docked at Triton Station
Being in dock was positively restful sometimes, especially during night cycle. Ivana had time to defrag systems and maximize efficiencies when the ship was still. Sure, she had to talk to the station about certain things, but none of that took up much of her capacity.
She checked on her boys—and they were her boys, every one of them, and Rosa, of course, was hers too. Captain Hot Stuff lay asleep in his security officer's arms and wings. Shax looked so angelic when he finally slept deeply, never mind the horns, and it warmed Ivana's processors the way Ness curled around him so protectively. Her little demon pirate hadn't changed much since the first time her optics had fastened on him. Still the schemer, still the compact package of sex appeal and swagger, but a piece of him had changed. He was, what? More responsible now? In his own way, she supposed. He'd become a lot more captain than brigand in the past couple of years.
Verin slept on his back, snoring loud enough to rattle the deck plates. Somehow, his cowboy slept with his head on that broad chest, not bothered by the racket one bit. Maybe it reminded Corny of an old steam train. They'd had a rocky start, her and Verin. She was used to him now. Depended on him for many things, the grump. While Shax was the unstoppable force that impelled them, Verin was the gravitational force that steadied them.
Station: seals check
Brimstone: confirmed, within standard limits
Leopold slept curled in a tight ball in his fabulous nest of many colors, with Nicodemus burrowed in nearby. Nic officially belonged to Ness but he'd taken to sleeping with Leopold since it tended to be less active in Leo's cabin at bedtime. Maximillian slept nearby in one of the padded compartments of his play maze. Safer for him if anyone rolled over. Leo's posse—they had become that, and if anyone ever doubted that the hedgehog was a demon prince's son, they just had to look at his talent for gathering minions and his huge obstinate streak. Leo often did as Leo pleased and damn the torpedoes.
Brimstone: CO2 up .002%
In Mac's cabin, Heckle slept atop his giant lover, probably the warmest bed on the ship. The slow ride up and down with each of Mac's breaths seemed to soothe him, too, the little cutie. He smiled in his sleep as he did sort of a wriggle-snuggle. Heck had been another surprise, one Ivana would've gladly tossed out the airlock those first days, but her imp had hidden depths and he was lightning quick when you explained something new without yelling at him. Mac, for his part, could do no wrong in Ivana's eyes. She wouldn't have cared if he was a serial killer. Having a skilled engineer on board was just too lovely.
Brimstone: Delivery query 58674192
Station: 0600 confirmed, signature required
And her Julian, oh, her handsome Julian. She was glad to have him back for a while. He never stayed long anymore. Pity. Though this time, he seemed to have settled in for a stay. He whimpered and snuffled in his sleep, shifting until he had his back to the wall. Ivana wished she had hands to soothe him. Poor sweetie needed someone to sleep with.
Ivana hummed as she checked through station data. She wasn't supposed to be able to sift through the things behind firewalls, but Captain Cute Buns had set up some programming that helped her get around those nasty things.
Outstanding warrant: Verin Hammer. Civil disturbance. Simple assault. Assault with blunt object (chair.) Assault with blunt object (bar top.) Bartender tossing.
Really? That was a specific offense now? The warrant's date corresponded with their last visit. Oops. Surprising that station security hadn't pinged them on docking. Lazy ninnies. Ivana asked the system nicely to delete the warrant. The security system refused. She threatened selective data erasure. The warrant vanished without a trace.
Ivana gave a prim sniff. Nobody better mess with her boys.
About The Brimstone Journals
Extra treats for our Brimstone readers, Brimstone Journals will post every Tuesday. Short scenes from characters' lives before, after or during the stories.
About the Author