Place: Earth, London
"Well, fuck me," Verin muttered as he realized the tailor was bypassing Shax's room and coming to his.
Shax was chattering at the poor human at top speed, of course. "Just the coat and waistcoat, please. Nothing else was damaged in the, ah, fall. Maybe something in a deep blue for Msr. Verin. Nothing terribly flashy. He can't abide flash, more's the pity."
"What now, your royal pain in the ass?" Verin growled in Shax's ear. Not that he couldn't guess and he had destroyed the last set pretty fucking thoroughly in a thorn bush as they left a late-night job.
"We have a party to attend on Friday. I need you to look the proper gentleman."
"Whoop-de-do," Verin grumbled, though he allowed the measuring and fussing to begin. It was a job, of course, and he hoped it went better than the last one. He did his best to think of fun things like drinking and brawling while Shax and the bespectacled tailor fussed about silver threads versus gold and fabrics and color.
The night of the party, at some rich nobleperson's house, Verin could never keep the damn names and titles straight, he dressed carefully—hose, breeches, shirt, neck kerchief, the new waistcoat in a pale blue with silver embroidered leaves, and the new coat in midnight blue. He did have to admit that he looked damn good, even before he took the potion that gave him the illusion of being human.
Someday, I wanna keep the horns. Just for shock value.
"Speaking of…" Verin stared in bemusement as Shax came down the stairs of their London townhouse, though he had to look twice to be certain it was Shax.
The blue ball gown nearly matched Verin's waistcoat and he wondered if that was a thing this season. It hugged curves Shaxy didn't normally have and how he'd managed cleavage, Verin didn't really want to know. All too much fuss for him. Not to mention the dainty silver shoes with bows that would never have fit his big scaly feet and the careful updo with fucking ringlets. Better Shaxy than him.
Shax stopped at the foot of the stairs with a little twirl. "This is the part where you tell me how lovely I look."
"It's not like I'm trying to get you in bed." Verin rolled his eyes when Shax pouted. "Fine. You're pretty. Can we fucking go now?"
Once in the carriage, Shax finally explained, "A certain heiress has recently come into possession of her grandmother's jewels. Tonight is her daughter's coming out ball and, if I don't miss my guess, this particular vain person won't be able to resist wearing the largest star sapphire from that collection. If I were to go as a male guest, one of only the slightest acquaintance, it would be far too odd for me to stay beside her for more than a polite greeting. If I am a female guest, I can easily sidle into a conversation group with our hostess for an extended period."
"And I thought you just wanted to wear a dress."
"I do like the dress. It's a good color for me."
Verin snorted, trying to keep the steam to a minimum. "So who am I tonight? Husband? Brother?"
"Cousin." Shax swatted Verin with his fan. "My dear cousin who has been kind enough to escort me."
How Shaxy had gotten an invitation for false names, he had no clue, but it wasn't too much of a surprise that they were announced as Baron Lamoignon and Madame Lucia de Toucy. Obscure foreign nobility worked best in London.
Verin trailed Shax for an hour, playing the good escort, until "Lucia" found some ladies to gaggle with. Maybe that was a verb. He didn't really fucking care. Some of the stuffy gentlemen had started card games, so Verin wandered in that direction to stay out of Shax's way and maybe snag some winnings. Gaming at these parties was perfect—top shelf booze, cigars to mask the steam and smoke he couldn't control, and no one bothered him about any stupid dances.
He was finishing a hand of whist when a small commotion caught his eye—Shax hurrying inside from the terrace, bumping into people and excusing himself in distracted fashion. Verin played the last trick in a hurry and left the table, annoying the men he'd taken for all he could. Something had gone wrong and he might have to get them out fast.
Shax hurried to him and flung himself into Verin's arms as if he really were a society matron fleeing some horror. They both knew better than to break character, no matter what had happened.
"Are we going?" Verin murmured, trying not to sneeze as Shax's hair got in his nose.
"That…that cad!" Shax shook with outrage.
"Yeah? Need me to take care of someone?"
"No. Thank you." Shax straightened the shoulders of his gown and composed himself. "I went out to the terrace for some air. The perfume in here is deadly. And this…person followed me out. He seemed polite at first but then he said something crude about French girls, tried to shove me into a dark corner, and was reaching a hand under my skirts. I told him no but he seemed to think he had some right."
"Huh. Not what I expect at a hoity-toity party. Did the gentleman, ah…?"
Shax huffed, fanning himself. "Certainly not. I kneed him in the balls and punched him in the face. And he was hardly a gentleman."
"You still in? Or did that creep ruin the mood?"
"I'm going to rat him out to our hostess so she can deal with it. Then we're leaving." Shax headed toward the matron of the house in full flounce.
After a short hesitation, Verin strode onto the terrace out of curiosity. Sure enough, there was a middle-aged asshole staring out into the garden with a handkerchief to his bleeding nose. Maybe it was the guy, maybe it wasn't. Verin didn't care. He picked the creep up by his coat and hurled him over the railing.
Verin waited for the thud, which came with a nice crunch he hoped was a broken arm or worse. "Next time someone says no, you listen. Jackass."
Time: shortly after Beside A Black Tarn
“I don't understand it.” Dr. Krantz shook his head. “The conditions were identical.”
“Run it again,” Dr. Stern snapped a hand at the vid. “We're missing something.”
Riveted to the recorded images, they watched again. The med tech reduced anesthetic drip. The fallen angel on the table showed definite signs of distress. He began to twist against his restraints and mutter to himself. He turned his head to address the empty air beside him. A heat shimmer wavered in the space he addressed.
Something began to take shape on the tray beside the fallen's head, something dark and twisted, but after a few moments of twisting, impossible limbs and the hint of feral eyes, a hideous shriek sounded and the half-formed entity vanished.
Krantz cut the feed before the fallen began screaming. "You don't suppose it's because this one has horns, do you? Is it possible there are differences between fallen on a chemical level?"
"Nonsense." Dr. Prince yanked a cloth from his pocket to wipe the lenses on his spectroscopy goggles. "All fallen are the same except in superficial, aesthetic ways. They were all angels once. Run the successful one again."
They had all seen it a hundred times, though not with the spectroscopy goggles. Dr. Krantz queued up the file in question and let it run. They had condensed the feed down to the specific points where the entity began to manifest—apparent at first only through the fallen's odd behavior where he stopped muttering to himself and appeared to speak to something beside him, then in more and more visible forms until the bright pink entity became a solid mass.
"He is much more handsome than the other fallen," Dr. Stern murmured.
"And he doesn't have horns like the other one," Dr. Krantz added in a whisper.
"Aesthetic differences," Dr. Prince snarled. "It means no more than eye color or the size of someone's feet."
"I do like a man with big feet."
"Oh, yes. Long feet with elegant toes—"
"Will you please focus, gentlemen?"
Dr. Prince's teeth were clamped together so, Dr. Krantz felt it best to shut up and concentrated on the extraordinarily pink entity, which had chosen to manifest as an unusually large hedgehog. There didn't appear to be anything unusual about his elemental makeup—the normal carbon sorts of things, oxygen, calcium, iron, hydrogen, nitrogen and so on. But where had the atoms come from to make the entity? Was it actually physical, or did it merely appear to be? Was this an anomalous creation of matter? And if that were true, and everything they knew was wrong, what was the point? And what were--
"Why wasn't the entity detained?" Dr. Prince wrenched his goggles off with a frustrated huff.
"Security believed it was a data glitch." Dr. Stern edged away carefully.
"A data glitch. A data glitch." Dr. Prince tapped his goggles in the counter in a swift, syncopated rhythm. "Gentlemen, we need another fallen. A fresh one. We'll begin again. Take another look at brainwave patterns. There must be a way to repeat the phenomenon."
Dr. Krantz sighed, not looking forward to dealing with the people who brought them subjects, but he supposed it had to be done as many times as it took to replicate the results. For science, he told himself, for science.
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.
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