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."
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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