Time: After Beside A Black Tarn
Place: Planet Elistrus, Thinis
"It's a simple commission," the angel sniffed in a superior way. "One even a nephilim can manage."
Mac was already regretting answering the hail from this piece of arrogance with pewter silver wings. He'd been curious about what the wing color meant since he'd never seen it on any other angel. But this one was more of an ass than some were and he was scaring Heckle, who'd plastered himself against Mac's side.
"Not something in my usual line of work, Mr.—?" Mac let the question hang between them like a rotten apple neither of them would want.
"Azrael." The angel—Azrael—sniffed again. "If you refuse the job, I'll call your whereabouts in to the Host. They'll be very interested in you and your crew. Whereas, if you complete it, the payment's more than fair."
His back teeth grinding together, Mac glared for a long, tense moment. Accept the job or put all of his friends and his beloved Heckle at risk. "Fine. We'll do it. But only the bringing part. Afterward, we've got nothing to do with it."
Azrael inclined his head regally. "Of course."
There might have been an angry stomp in Mac's stride as they left the café, but he soon reined in his temper to check on Heckle. "You okay, little bit?"
"Yeah." Heckle blew out a hard breath. "He didn't seem very, you know, angelic."
"He really didn't." Mac took his hand and gave a little squeeze. "Sorry about getting you mixed up in this. My size—"
Heckle tugged hard on his hand. "Don't, Mac. Don't apologize for being you. And it's not a dangerous thing that we're doing." Heckle little nose wrinkled as he thought about that. "Probably."
They reached the shop Azrael had mentioned—it was only two blocks over from the café where he'd been sitting—and Mac ducked under the doorframe, trying not to take up too much space amid the delicate china towers and glass cases. The woman—long black hair and amber skin just as Azrael had described—behind the counter looked up with a smile.
"Can I help you gentlemen?"
Mac cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Normally, Ms. Cleo, I'd just be here for pastries. But you're to come with us, please. Azrael sent us."
Her smile evaporated in an exasperated sigh and a dark frown. "Bribes or threats?"
"Both, ma'am." Heckle peeked out from behind Mac. "Though…I know Mac doesn't care about the bribe part. And…and I don't know why he didn't just come see you?"
Something in her expression softened, probably because of the earnest expression on Heckle's adorable face. "I see. Well. He can't come see me because I filed a restraining order with the city. Let me put some things away and I'll be right with you."
She vanished into the back room, followed by rummaging sounds, and the clack and snick of cabinets and compartments opening and closing. When she reappeared, she had on a sensible jacket and floppy hat and a square carrying case slung over one arm. "All right, gentlemen. I'm ready and I recognize that this isn't your fault. Lead on."
Head held high, spine steel straight, she marched beside Mac with an expression made of stone. She's going to war. No idea what's going on here, but I think Azrael's going to regret this.
When they reached the café, Azrael stood and offered what he probably thought was a charming smile. To Mac, it looked like a predator baring his teeth. "Cleo! My muse returns to me! I knew you couldn't stay away."
Not shockingly, Cleo didn't return his smile. "Now you listen to me, you slimy, misbegotten, smarmy waste of space. You have no business threatening dear little imps into doing your nasty work. Also, I wouldn't come back to you if you were the last being, of any species, in the galaxy."
She unzipped her case, reached inside and pulled out a pie. Azrael backed a step.
His protests came too late. She'd already hurled the pie accurately and precisely at his face. It hit with a wet splut. Cream pie, then. Good choice. Heckle snorted, probably trying to stifle a giggle.
"If you ever try to contact me again, through any means, I'm just going to call enforcement and let them sort it out." She zipped her case back up, readjusted her hat, and turned to go.
Azrael had plunked back onto his chair, his pie-covered face managing still to convey disbelief. "Cleo! Where are you going?"
"To file a restraining order with Interplanetary Enforcement, since the city one wasn't enough for you. Goodbye, you mangy jackass."
Mac waited until she had marched off before he said, "You probably deserved that."
"More than likely," Pie-Covered Azrael sighed.
"You're not an angel at all, are you?"
"Fallen, some years back."
That explained the odd colored wings. "Payment?"
"Oh. Yes." Azrael tapped on his comm to transfer the funds to Mac. His tongue snuck out and licked some of the cream from his lips.
Heckle rocked back and forth on his hooves. "Good pie?"
"You know…" Azrael swiped a bit off his cheek and sucked the cream off his fingers. "It's not bad. Not bad at all."
Time: Shortly after Shax's War
Place: Aboard the Brimstone, in transit
"Were there more?" Leopold asked as he polished an emerald. "More apprentices, Papa? Maybe long ago?"
"Oh, certainly." Shax paused in examining a charming kangaroo-shaped flaw in one of his newly acquired diamonds. Loose stones, but there were some valuable pieces among them and Leopold was helping him sort them for sale. "Ver, do you remember Jay?"
"I'm not the one with Swiss cheese for brains, dumbass," Verin grumbled from his spot at the galley table where he was sorting opals. "'Course I remember Jay. They were with us, what? Thirty fucking years?"
Leopold placed the emerald in its velvet pouch with a pat of his pink paw. "Is that a long time? To stay on as apprentice? It seems long to me."
"Mmm. I suppose it would've been." Shax put down the loupe and stretched. "Certainly a long time for a human to stay with us in any capacity. Though I suppose Jay was more partner than apprentice toward the end."
Ness turned from where he was putting dishes away. "What happened to Jay in the end?"
"We took their soul, killed them and ate them." Verin let out a satisfied growl. "Fucker was delicious."
"No you didn't." Ness gave him a hard squint, a long way from the Ness who first came aboard the Brimstone and would have taken Ver's statement at horrified face value.
Shax chuckled. "We didn't. Jay would've made a stringy meal, in any event. We met them, oh, let me think…around the turn of the twentieth century, I believe. We were at Hyde Park on the Hudson, the old Vanderbilt estate in New York— What in blazes are those wavy lines, Ms. Ivana?"
"Those silly things?" Ms. Ivana tsked over ship's comm. "Those are just flashback thingies, sweetie."
"Ah, that's all right, then. So. Hyde Park…"
Shax had decided to hit the mansion in September. The Vanderbilts were on a weeklong sojourn with friends and only a handful of staff remained on the property. This created the perfect time for a little second story work with the perfect intersection of fewer people to interfere and just enough of Mrs. Vanderbilt's jewelry left safely behind. The warm weather persisted. Upstairs windows stood open. Getting in wasn't even a challenge.
They already knew the house well since Shax had attended parties there under the guise of Hungarian nobility. Americans had a raging fascination for European royalty and they couldn't tell a Hungarian accent from an Italian one. That too had been easy.
It stood to reason then that something would go wrong.
"Found it," Verin whispered from across Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom. He had a portrait lifted away from the wall.
"Ah, I do love the classics." Shax trotted over to him and let out a contented sigh. "Safe behind painting and it's a Rosengren, too. So nice to see a familiar face, er, tumbler lock sometimes."
"You gonna crack it or marry it, idiot?" Verin stepped back to give Shax room and padded to the doorway to listen for any movement in the house.
Ear to the safe door, Shax's demon hearing and nimble fingers made short work of the combination. He had the safe open and was piling jewelry boxes and velvet bags into his carry sack, when a tinkling crash came from nearby. His perfect, quiet job in danger of being ruined, he closed to safe with a huff and joined Verin by the bedroom door.
"Where?" he mouthed to Verin.
Ver tipped his horned head to the left, down the darkened hallway. Since it was always better to know the exact location of possible issues, such as a maid or valet not abed, they crept down the hall to the next massive bedchamber, that of Mr. Vanderbilt. Shax handed the sack to Verin, dropped to his knees and crawled to keep himself well below furniture height, hidden in the deep shadows cast by the unreliable sliver of moon that night.
A definite scent of frightened human permeated the air. Shax crawled around a side table and spotted his quarry by the far wall—a slender human crouched frozen in the shadows, obviously listening hard for any sounds of the household stirring.
Ah. Not staff, then. Shax rose and dusted off his knees with an exasperated sigh. "Well, duckling, what have you gotten yourself into here and why are you disturbing my perfectly lovely burglaring?"
The human stifled a startled gasp and whirled to face him. "I wasn't—"
"Mm-hmm. Yes, yes. The Vanderbilt's guests always prance about the house dressed and gloved in black and look like frightened mice when they knock over a crystal vase. No need to dissemble, my dear. Not with me. But what on earth were you trying to steal in here?"
The human straightened, squinting. "Who are you?"
"Not the most polite way to ask. However…" Shax swept a courtly bow. "I am Shax, the demon Prince of Thieves."
"D—demon? You're here for my soul?"
Verin snorted. "Stupid humans. Souls don't do us any fucking good."
"Dear me, no." Shax shot Ver a quelling look. "We came for the jewelry. And I repeat my query—what are you trying to accomplish here?"
The human of indeterminate gender pulled themself straight. "I'm stealing art."
"Truly? The Delacroix?" Shax stepped closer and made a show of examining the painting above the dresser. "There are so many reasons not to."
"It's worth a lot of money," the would-be art thief protested. "A lot. And I know where to sell it and everything."
"I see. Certainly, it's valuable. But it's also huge. How would you even get it down from the wall on your own? Even assuming you were going to cut it from its frame, which would be a terrible shame. It's lovely. I don't see how you would carry that canvas without damaging it."
"I was… I have…" The human sighed. "I didn't think it would be so big."
"Ah, to be young again." Shax draped an arm around the young person's shoulders. "Do you have a name, duckling?"
"Jay," the human said with a mix of reluctance and bravado.
"Excellent. I hear the household stirring so we must away. If you like, you may come with us and learn what it is to be a proper gentleman, er, gentleperson thief." Shax turned his head. "You don't object if Jay joins us, do you, Ver?"
"Like it makes a fuckload of difference if I did," Verin grumbled. "Nah. It's fine. The kid can come."
"I'm not a kid!"
"Yeah, you are." Ver stabbed a finger at Jay's chest. "Two things. Don't steal my cigars and don't touch the horns. Got it?"
Jay swallowed hard and squeaked out, "Got it."
"Let's be on our way, then." Shax steered them back toward Mrs. Vanderbilt's room where egress would be eased by the oak outside her window. "I haven't had a duckling to teach in some time. This will be such fun."
"I'm not a duckling, either."
Verin snorted. "Don't mind his idiotic highness. He's annoying as fuck, but you'll get used to him."
Lights came on and the alarm was raised well after the three of them had escaped across the broad expanse of lawn outside. Not that they were likely to find anything missing for some time. Shax doubted any of the staff had the ability to check the relocked safe.
"So what did happen to Jay in the end? After those thirty years?"" Ness asked as Shax's story wound to a close. "Did they meet some terrible, violent end during a break-in?"
Shax smiled, still caught in reminiscing. "Well, no. Jay got a little old for climbing in and out of windows and scurrying over rooftops. They retired and bought a farm."
"Oh. That sounds nice." The furrows in Ness's forehead eased. "What sort of farm?"
"Ferrets." Shax tapped his loupe on the table with a laugh as he came to a realization. "Clever things, ferrets. So in the end, maybe Jay didn't retire after all."
Time: Shortly after Shax's War
Place: Helike, Planet Elistrus
Corny reckoned that a lot of his life had been taken up by waiting around. Not that this was a bad thing necessarily, and he'd usually had things to keep him busy in the meanwhile. Today's waiting was for Ver to get back from whatever shopping he'd wanted to do alone, and that wasn't any hardship either. It was a beautiful spring day in Helike and he'd found a good spot on a park bench in the shade.
He had a bag of some kind of dried fruit from a vendor a few streets over. The day was bright and just warm enough. Corny stretched his legs out in front of him, flexing his feet inside his boots, just enjoying the quiet.
"Excuse me, sir?"
Glancing left, right and behind him, Corny finally found the owner of the voice at his feet. A silver and steel squirrel, a might larger than life-sized, rolled around his boots on well-oiled silver wheels. "Aww, ain't you just the cutest little—"
The squirrel chirped sharply, cutting him off. "Have you been touched by the glory of our Nutness, the Great Pecan?"
Corny blinked at the little robot. "Have I what now?"
He didn't get any farther, interrupted by a tug on his pants leg. "Pardon me, sir? Have you been saved?"
What in thundering blazes? He leaned forward and found a mouse made of copper wire, roughly the size of the squirrel, with a hand on his leg. "Saved from what?"
"Saved by our merciful Lord Cheese."
"Of course. What else?" he muttered as he tried to free his pants from the grip of a wire paw.
Again, he didn't get time to go into detail about the mercy of Lord Cheese since someone tugged on his sleeve. He startled when he found a large brass porcupine sitting on the bench with him. It made an odd muttering sound before it began to speak, "Good morning to you, sir. Have you heard the news about our savior, Pine Nut?"
A whirring from his left had him jerking his head back in that direction in time to see a silver beaver robot rolling up to him. "Excuse me, sir? Do you have a moment to talk about the miracle of The Great Tree?"
But Corny never had a chance to get a word in edgewise. Every time he turned to address one little preacher robot, another rolled up to interrupt about savior carrots and cabbages and whatnot. He was dizzy from it by the time Ver showed up, and then he couldn't even get free of the mob of rodents—guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, chinchillas, various kinds of mice and squirrels and one capybara the size of a small pony.
"Ver," he called out, trying not to sound frantic. "Help?"
Verin regarded him with narrowed eyes, huffed a cloud of steam and stomped off, leaving Corny to gape after him. What in tarnation did I do to deserve that?
His confusion didn't last long, though. Verin returned within moments, something shiny tucked under his right arm. He waded partway into the robotic horde and dropped his bundle, which unwound to reveal itself as a brushed steel cat. The rodents shrieked and scattered on whirring metal wheels and rubberized treads. The cat hissed, shook itself and sat down in a patch of sunlight to clean a metal paw with a metal tongue.
Verin snorted a few sparks and pointed behind Corny. "You gotta read the fucking signs in these parks, cowboy. Save yourself a lot of trouble."
Nailed to the tree behind Corny's bench, the sign read Beware Of Proselytizing Rodents.
"Course it does," Corny grumbled and accepted a hand up. "I'll do my level best to remember that next time." He pondered for a moment, then asked, "Why didn't you just kick 'em out of your way?"
"You saying I'm predictable?" Verin asked in mock outrage while pointing again.
Fine For Damaging Robot Rodents – 100 cred per violation
"Good thing one of us fuckers is a law abiding citizen."
Corny gave him a playful shove for that as they walked away together, doing his best not to think about why in all the wide universe either of those signs had needed to be posted in the first place. And Helike had seemed such a nice, normal town, too.
Time: Shortly after Beside A Black Tarn
Place: Aboard the Brimstone, in transit
Ness retreated to the safety of the cabin he shared with Shax. Sometimes in moments of confusion, this was the safest and least humiliating option. Shax and Verin had been chatting and laughing about orgies over the centuries, the sort of conversation that brought all sorts of feelings bubbling to the surface.
This time, there wasn't the horrible flare of jealous rage Ness still suffered from when someone mentioned Shax and other people. A bit of bitter regret lodged under his heart, certainly, for all the years Verin and Shax had together, for all the years Ness had missed. But that was a small thing that never exploded into anything larger.
No, the reason for his escape this time had been simple embarrassment. He'd started thinking too hard about orgies, had realized he really had no idea how they worked, and had left before he could ask ridiculous questions.
He didn't need to ask those any longer. That's what the nets were for.
Orgies. The first few vids he tried were badly lit and therefore entirely too confusing, limbs and heads everywhere, everything moving as if of independent origin.
"Tsk. This will never do," Ness muttered, shaking his head as he refined his search to uncover quality orgies. He was beginning to think it might be a contradiction in terms.
After a bit more frustrated searching, he found one that wasn't grainy and half in the dark. The scene was pleasing enough in an aesthetic sense—a sea of bodies undulating in localized storms. Several genders, a multitude of skin tones and a variety of activity certainly made a fascinating scene. But there seemed little focus in much of the activity since the participants often distracted each other with new impalements, touches and toys. There seemed to be climaxing going on? All rather chaotic and messy, though.
Interesting to watch, but Ness didn't think he'd want to try one. The search suggested he try ménage next. Since he was already looking at vids, why not?
"Oh, a threesome. They could've said so." Ness huffed and flipped his wings to settle them better as he leaned in to observe.
Easier to follow with three instead of however many the roiling masses of flesh in the orgy vids had been and Ness found it rather sweet that a sandwich effect prevailed. No matter the grouping—all males, all females, various genders—someone appeared to be the focus of attention more often than not. A lot of attention in some cases.
"Oh, that's…goodness. I didn't think that was possible." Ness turned the holo view to a different angle and yes, both of those were penetrating the same orifice. Some humans were apparently as flexible as demons.
The door whooshed open and Shax sailed in to plant a kiss atop Ness' forehead. "What are you up to, sweetheart?" He stopped and leaned in. "Ah. Research."
"No need to mollycoddle me," Ness murmured. "I know it's porn by now."
Shax settled beside him to lean his horned head on Ness' shoulder. "It can be research, too. Sometimes even I find something new. What's happening here?"
Ness tilted his head at the image. "I'm not certain. Do you think the screen turned itself upside-down?"
"It's not a tablet, my dear." Still, Shax leaned forward and tapped the console up on his desk from whence the holo projection came. "No, seems to be…ah. They've lowered the gravity, you see. That's how they've managed such very interesting positions." He leaned back against Ness, claws drumming on his thighs.
Ness waved a hand toward the vid. "Is this something you would…want?"
"All things considered, more showy than practical. Difficult to get things to work properly in low G." Shax turned far enough to plant a soft kiss on his lips. "But you're sweet to offer, cupcake."
"Good. Plenty of other things to do." Ness wrapped arms and wings around Shax and held him tight. He hadn't been talking about the low gravity part, but it seemed terribly awkward to say that now. Maybe some other time.
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