Location: Aboard the Brimstone
Time: Shortly after Beside a Black Tarn
While nudity appears to be the imp uniform de rigueur in the palaces of Hell, some sources indicate that favored imps are allowed tail ornaments. Several instances of bell jewelry and tail bangles are mentioned in Schneider's All Hell's Parties, and one mention of tail piercing appears in the descriptions of the entourage of Prince Vissago.
Mac sipped his whiskey as he read to the end of the entry. There wasn't much more except to say that imps were numerous and short-lived, in relative demon terms.
"Not being a lot of help, all you high-minded scholars," he muttered to his reader.
Heckle was out at another party with the captain. Not that Mac was jealous. "Out with the captain" meant out on a job, which eventually meant cash for the upkeep of the ship. Early on, Mac had worried that Captain Shax was taking advantage, using Heckle as Fagan used the kids in Oliver Twist. He shouldn't have gotten his knickers twisted. Heckle knew what he was doing on these nights out, knew he was an accomplice to theft. He thought it was fun.
But now that there were nights here and there when he knew Heckle wouldn't be onboard for a few hours, Mac had time for some clandestine research. Sure. He could've just asked the resident demons about imps, but demons were a lot like Australians in that regard. They liked to mess with you if you weren't a local and were likely to hand you a steaming pile of bullshit with a smile instead of real information. Just for fun.
Problem was, even after the Big Reveal when the forces of both Heaven and Hell decided humans should know they were physical realities, imps were still something of a mystery. They rarely left Hell at all and if they did, it was as some high muckity-demon's property. None of the research ever mentioned an independent imp, for all the gods' sakes.
He could always ask Heck questions, but he hated bringing up his years as a sex slave. It wasn't even that he had to know anything.
"Just want to understand him better," Mac murmured as he started searching again. He'd turned off the voice assistant on his reader long ago because of his tendency to mutter at it.
IMP: A Study in Scarlet turned out to be erotic fetish fiction. The Secret Life of Imps read like a handbook of lies demons had told some poor human researcher. The part where they could absorb iron to become magnetic kind of gave it away.
Lesser Denizens: Trolls, Goblins and Imps looked better researched, though again imps only got a thin chapter.
Two major sub-species of imp inhabit the precincts of Hell: the common or pit imp and the more sought-after and carefully bred palace imp. Pit imp physiology tends toward skeletally thin, with larger claws and teeth than the palace imp. Additionally, they generally lack wings and have been observed with solid earth tone and piebald coloring. The palace imp is a more refined creature and can be said to be more classically handsome by demon standards. Coloration ranges from dusky rose to brilliant scarlet and breeders prefer those with matching horn, hoof and wing coloration…
"They're not prize piglets, you jerk," Mac growled at the writing. Though, yeah, the researcher probably got his information from higher level demons who did see imps that way.
There was a section on proper care and housing, including hoof and horn care, a brief section on the reproductive cycle (nothing Mac didn't already know – yes, imps were hatched), and a section on dietary needs. Mac felt guilty reading such a racist piece that talked about all this under the heading of husbandry, but it was more information than in any of the other research he'd found.
Imps are omnivorous by necessity. They can, and do, eat anything and gravitate toward sweets whenever possible. But keep firmly in mind that imps are obligate carnivores and require a certain percentage of meat in their diets…
"Huh. I didn't know that." It explained why Heckle went on weird meat binges some days, though. He really needed to keep a better eye on that.
Mac took his whiskey and his reader and left the galley to head to their cabin. Since he was sipping and reading as he walked, he smacked right into Verin as they both turned a corner.
"Hey, sorry Ver. My fault."
Verin snorted at him and was about to walk off when Mac caught his arm. "What the fuck, Big Mac?"
"Quick question. You ever have this?" He turned the screen to show Verin the advertisement he'd pulled up.
Verin eyed him suspiciously, steam rising from his nostrils. "Yeah. Why?"
"Did you like it? Do all demons like it?"
"Ha. His royal pain in the ass hates the stuff." Verin shrugged. "I like it sometimes. The little twerps, you know, all the damn goblins and imps and shit, they go fucking nuts for it."
Mac patted Verin's shoulder absently as he let him go. "Thanks."
When he got to his cabin, he closed the door. "Ms. Ivana? I'd like to order a couple of cases of something. My private account, not the ship's. Can we do that without it showing up in ship's inventory?"
"Oh, honey, of course we can. You think Captain Cute Buns has his private liquor reserves listed where everyone can see?"
"Perfect. I'd like to order two cases of Silas Orange's Candied Beef Jerky, please."
Location: Venice, Italy
Time: 19th Century Earth
It was snowing. It wasn't supposed to be fucking snowing. Come to sunny Venice, Shaxy had written to him. It's beautiful and warm.
After a brutal autumn in Siberia scouting for gems in the Urals, Verin had been so ready for warm. And it was fucking snowing. Of course it was.
Shax was inside the palace, playing the visiting nobleman, stuffing his face and drinking good wine while he schmoozed with the rich ladies and gentlemen in their nice warm velvets and furs. And Verin? He was out on the damn canal with the rowboat they'd use to slide away in once his snooty precious highness had what he wanted. Verin pulled his hood up farther to shield his nose from the swirling flakes. The heavy wool primarily hid his great curling horns, but he was grateful for it as more than camouflage now.
This is troll shit. I'm so fucking tired of being cold. Demons from his neighborhood of Hell weren't designed for it. He pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around his shins, puffing steam into the little cave made by his cloak. Even the bats roosting under the bridge looked miserable. They should've been flying around hunting but they huddled together jostling for space and squeaking. C'mon, Shaxy, hurry up, steal the shit, and get out here.
A splash of oars rounded the bend behind him accompanied by the sound of the drunken shouts and terrible singing of several plastered young Venetians.
"Hey, old man! You can't block the steps from the palazzo like that! Move along and find a doorway!"
He'd thought he was under the bridge far enough, hidden in the deep shadows by the steps. Maybe the steam had given him away.
"Come on, you old fart! Maybe some whore'll take pity on you and take you in!"
"Why doesn't he move? Is he dead?"
"Nah. You can see the steam of his breath."
"You poke him."
Oh, for the love of hell's fucking pointy gates…
They'd steered their boat too close from the sound of things. This could only end in tears. Theirs, of course. Verin let the oar poke him before he seized it with a snarl, lifting his head so the drunken morons would see his blazing eyes and the sparks snorting from his nostrils.
Bad thing was he'd underestimated his own shock value. The five boys in the other boat shrieked and scrambled over each other to try to get away, even though they were in a fucking boat. The poker dropped his oar, lost his balance and tumbled into Verin's rowboat just as their boat capsized. The splash, the sudden weight on his starboard side and Verin's own shock tipped his rowboat far enough to dump him in the canal.
The frigid water shocked the fight out of him and he came up spluttering, ignoring the human kids and their caterwauling as they tried to right their boat and haul each other out. Verin swam to the steps and climbed out. Because he wasn't an idiot. His boat was still upright and had both its oars, unlike some people. He huddled on the lowest step above the water 'cause now he was fucking wet and fucking freezing.
The idiot drunk boys managed to get themselves together and paddle away with their remaining oar. Verin, shivering and swearing, took small comfort in the fact that at least two of them were crying. Stupid little rat-bastards. Maybe they'd learn something from it but he doubted it.
The cathedral bells chimed the hour twice more before Shax finally showed up, swaggering down the steps like he owned the damn city.
"Ver? Why aren't you in the boat?"
"Don't wanna hear it, bonehead. Did you get what you wanted or not?"
"I did. Oh, I did. We'd best retreat with all possible speed. The marchesa will be missing her emeralds soon enough." Shax stopped on the step above him, his boots polished, perfect and dry. "Why are you wet?"
"Cause I went for a fucking swim in the freezing fucking water in fucking January in a snowstorm. Why do you think?"
"A little flurry is hardly a snowstorm and if you're so cold, that wasn't a terribly good idea."
The urge to toss his irritating highness in the canal, velvet brocade and all, was strong. Verin managed to grind his teeth and puff a huge cloud of smoke instead. "Get in the damn boat."
Shax did and actually peered at him with concern as Verin made his stiff, shaking way to his seat. "You want me to row, Ver? You really don't look so good."
"Yeah. Think you better. Don't think I can hold the oars." Verin curled in on himself as Shax got them moving down the canal. "You should've seen the other guys, though. So scared they'll be shitting bricks for days."
"Good then." Shax patted Verin's knee and had to adjust his velvet hat over his own little horns. "So long as you had fun."
"Promise me we're gonna stay in bed and eat like fire trolls. Any more damn fun might just kill me right now."
"But there's a masquera—"
Shax tilted his head in that way he did when he considered. "All right. Sleeping and gorging it is." He rowed for a few minutes in silence. Then, "Maybe we should go to America. It has warm spots."
"Nah. Too far. Let's just go to Morocco."
"Oh, yes. Good choice. Much better food than America."
By the time they reached their rented townhouse, where the servants had left fires banked and food in the larder, where a soft down bed with thick blankets waited for him, he almost felt grateful for Shaxy helping him up the steps. Tossing the little twerp in the canal could wait another day.
Location: Amnesia Orbiting Station
Time: 2 years after Potato Surprise
There were far too many reasons why using a public communications kiosk to write his own mother irritated Shax, not the least of which was the sticky control pad where some inconsiderate plebe had spilled…something.
"I shouldn't have to deal with things like this." Shax muttered and cussed under his breath as he wiped down the pad with the disinfectant supplied on the kiosk wall. Still sticky, but maybe some germs had been slaughtered.
He'd only rented the kiosk for half an hour, so the time wasted rankled as much as the mess itself.
Two letters to his mother had gone unanswered. Not shocking, considering the circumstances. Her staff would be refusing his communiques until she said otherwise out of self-preservation. It was only smart, of course, for Shax's relatives to distance themselves from him, even renounce him, but nearly two years had gone by. Some word from home, any word--
HRH Princess Ashtaroth
Ebon Palace, Fifth Level of Hell
How are things at the palace? I hope you and the minions are well. We hear precious little from home out here and are always grateful for news.
Again, my apologies for my precipitous departure since I am uncertain if my previous missives reached you. Upon considering all the variables in play, I had no other option. It is my hope that my actions have not inconvenienced you too severely and that enough time has passed for the situation to normalize.
I do realize that communication between us must be limited and that my standing in Hell's court is less than nothing now, but I had hoped to hear something about what transpired —to my holdings, specifically.
Know that I am at your disposal, of course, if you require me to act as your agent out here in any regard. Monetary or other compensation negotiable.
Love, your little boy,
He stared at the emotional blackmail in the sign-off, changed it three times, changed it back, and hit send. Either she'd send an answer to his personal messaging or she wouldn't. He glanced up at the countdown on his rental time and sighed. Two minutes to spare. Not enough time to compose a postscript. The letter would have to do.
When he returned to the Brimstone, Verin glanced up from whatever he was watching on the comm screen in the galley. "You all right, bonehead?"
"Mostly." Shax flung himself down on the bench and laid his head in his arms. "Sent off another letter to my mother."
"Don't know why you bother," Verin muttered. "Hell's got nothing to do with us anymore."
"I know." But it didn't help to know. It really didn't.
Nearly two weeks later, Shax was in his cabin vetting possible freight jobs.
"Hey, Hot Stuff?" Ms. Ivana sounded concerned. Never a good thing.
"Yes, ma'am? What can I do for you?"
"A message just came in from Earth. Did you want me to screen it for you?"
Shax scrubbed both hands over his face. "No, sweetie. It's quite all right. I'm not that fragile. Go ahead and put it on my comm here."
"Yes, Captain." Ivana hesitated in that completely un-AI way of hers. "I'm here if you need me."
"Thank you, Ms. Ivana. I'm glad of that every day."
Shax had the oddest urge to change out of his ratty sweater before opening the message, but it would be text only, not face-to-face communication. With a deep breath as if he were about to step out into a blizzard, he opened the message.
HRH Prince Shax
Location unspecified, aboard the ship, Brimstone
All right. The use of his title was encouraging.
Message requesting information received. Please be advised of the following:
Peculation Palace: demolished and razed, scorched earth
Court Status: Pariah, First Order
Familial Status: Disinherited, familial stipends forfeit
Legal Status: Expatriate convicted traitor in absentia, detain/ execute on sight upon return to Hell
HRH Princess Ashtaroth refuses direct contact for the foreseeable future. At such time that these circumstances might change, or at such time when your services might be required, this office will be in contact.
Gorkan, Senior Administrator of Hellish Accounts, Ebon Palace
"Jerk," Shax muttered, though he really couldn't blame old Gorkan. Demon accountants had to do their jobs like everyone else. Part of him wanted to crawl back to bed. Another part wanted to grab Verin and go out to the station bars to get stupidly drunk. But once started down that road, it was difficult to stop. Just look at old Captain Iggy Schmeer who once occupied this very chair.
No. He had a ship to look after and Verin depended on him. Mother hadn't said never. She had said not now. Someday, things would be right again. Normal again. For now, he would keep on and do the things he did best, so he turned back to the contract cargo listings.
"Hmm. Rare mineral shipment. Highly unstable. Offering hazard pay. That looks interesting."
He tapped the listing to connect, humming to himself. It would take time, but everything was going to be all right.
Location: Earth, Manhattan hotel room
Time: October 3, 2000
Shax reclined on the bed, sipping the cabernet he'd ordered from room service. Not bad. Verin sat at the desk by the window, rewiring a timer that they would need for the bank job the next day as they both watched some human power struggle play out on television.
Two gentlemen in suits, Shax hadn't bothered to learn their names, stood on stage and pontificated when a third human asked them questions. "What do you think of all this, Ver?"
"All what?" Verin grunted on a cloud of steam and put the timer aside. "We got any more roast beef or did you scarf it like a fucking troll pup?"
"Plenty more under the cover, Ver. Though I did finish the cheese. Very good cheese." Shax sipped and watched as the darker haired man threw serious shade at the lighter haired one. "This election business. What do you make of it?"
"I dunno. Humans are weird." Verin squinted at the screen. "They're supposed to pick one of those rat bastards? I could take both of them together."
"I don't think they're supposed to engage in battle, Ver. It's not like picking a captain of the guard back home."
"Oh, fuck you. You know what I mean. They're supposed to pick one. I guess by what they say." Verin got up and pointed a claw at the dark one on screen. "That one looks like he's all full of himself. Throwing shit cans of shade at the other guy." The claw moved to the light one. "That one looks like he doesn't have two brain halves to rub together."
"Surely it can't be as bad as all that. They must have some qualities humans like, don't you think?"
Verin took the entire plate of roast beef back to the desk and began devouring slices in rapid succession. He still ate as if someone would take the food away at any moment. "Maybe. They both got nice suits. Guess they have money. I just don't get the whole fucking thing."
"Hmm?" Shax took another sip and decided he was still hungry. "Toss me a roll, would you?" He snagged the roll that Verin whipped at him, a bit too hard he thought. "What part of the whole thing?"
"Well, look. I don't think either one of those guys would eat his opponent. Hell's gates, they're probably too soft for even getting minions to do it. I bet there's no torture involved in getting where they are. No threatening opponents with being thrown into tooth worm pits. If they're not gonna fight each other and they don't claw their way up to power, why would the humans wanna pick between them?"
"Humans have different priorities. They'll want the most charismatic one, I'd expect."
"What's the point if they can't respect and fear the one they choose? I wouldn't follow someone I didn't respect."
That gave Shax pause. They'd certainly been together long enough to know each other well. Very well. They bantered, snarked, and fought sometimes. Hurled insults at each other and occasionally lied to each other. But… "Ver? Are you saying you respect me?"
"What? Mother of demons, no." Verin chewed thoughtfully a moment. "Maybe. Kinda. You are a hell of a lot smarter than most demon royalty. I mean, I don't respect respect you, but… you know." Verin waved his fork around in a vague way.
Shax hid a smile in a sip of wine, watching the lighter candidate smile and look as affable and harmless as possible as he answered a question. That one will win. He's not smarter but he will. "Thanks, Ver. Our sort-of-mutual-almost respect works, I think."
"Just don't get cocky, bonehead, and we'll be all right."
Silence settled between them as Verin devoured and Shax got down to serious drinking. He really didn't care about the outcome of any election. Humans didn't understand real power. They never would. But as long as humans had pretties to steal, they could play whatever games they pleased. Shax had an eternity on Earth to watch and be amused by them.
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