7 November, 1865
Anthony Stark, sometimes known as the Affectionate Devil, kept his hat low over his horns and wove through the crowds that filled Veilgarden. Though humans thronged the streets, most kept a careful arm's length from his person, giving him perhaps more space than was truly polite. He wouldn't have minded a bit of jostling, perhaps being crowded up against someone.
London had been fallen five years and most of the populace had settled into their new lives in the Neath. Sadly, there still existed a plenitude of those who yet viewed devils with disdain and fear, against all Anthony's efforts to win their favor. They would, he hoped, come about in time; four earlier cities had, after all. But the difficulty of Londoners was that they were stubborn. Already there were anarchist and revolutionary factions forming, bombs being made, proscribed materials changing hands. He didn't care to find himself in a situation where self-defense was necessary—violent death in the Neath may have been quite temporary, but it was also inconveniently messy.
In any case, there was no reason to linger. He'd paid homage to the Brass Embassy and then repaired to Veilgarden to discuss the provision of stockings with Mr. Wines and had been subjected to some truly horrific poetry readings in the process. After such a trying day, he cared only for retreating to his private rooms for a glass of mushroom wine and a fire-warmed soul to wrap himself in.
As he crossed Elderwick Street, someone brushed against his shoulder hard enough to make him stumble. Just as he turned to reprimand the wretch who'd dared bump him, the shivers wracked him, spreading up from his tail to the base of his neck and then everywhere else there was to go. It was like being dropped into a puddle of sunlight on the surface, warm and relaxing, bubbles of it curling across his skin. Had he needed air to breathe, he would have been in sore difficulty.
The human who'd jostled him whipped around, honest contrition writ across his face as he reached out to steady Anthony. "Are you okay?" he blurted out in a thick accent. "Here, let me help you."
With a devil's quickness, Anthony took in everything there was to see, from the paint lodged under otherwise scrubbed fingernails to the surface-sky blue eyes and the union cap. An American? In the Neath? A newcomer as well. There was no way he'd been down in London for very long and still had his reactions written all over his face. Well, not and survived, at least.
"I'm quite all right," Anthony smiled, flashing a bit of fang and pulling his arm gently away. Immediately the feeling of champagne and sunlight vanished, like a Nightmare done its duty. His tail curled around his knee, spaded tip flicking at his trousers unhappily from the loss.
He'd never felt anything like it in his eternity of existence. Humans were usually disappointingly meat and water, for the most part, their souls shining in their eyes. The occasional brilliant soul might give him a pleasant tingle, but they were rare, especially in the dank, dark Neath. This he wanted to wrap his hands around and rub against, to nibble at the edges and taste pure beauty on the tip of his forked tongue. By comparison, the little bottles of soul he had waiting at home seemed dull and common.
The American's eyes went wide and he stumbled back when he realized what he'd bumped into. To his credit, it seemed politeness had found a toehold on him regardless of his Americanity. "Sorry for— you know, I..."
"As I said, it's quite all right." Plans formed, with the sort of abruptness that happened occasionally when he prowled amongst the ensouled. Giving a calculated tilt of his hat, Anthony took a step back. "Good day, sir."
Not needing a second invitation, the American turned and fled. Anthony watched his back as it vanished into the crowd. He stood head and shoulders above the rest, but somehow was able to completely disappear before going a half a block, which was surprising at the least. With a soul like that, it was amazing he was able to walk through a crowd at all. Even humans should have been able to feel it shine.
It was, he thought, time to make another trip to the Brass Embassy. Surely there wouldn't be so very many American immigrants recently come. Surely.
When Anthony arrived at the Embassy, it was abuzz. Quite literally, as a matter of fact. The walls vibrated as if they were a tuning fork that had been struck, tickling the skin when he let himself get too close. Lower devils scurried to and fro, dignity forgotten as they carted stacks of records and boxes of items. He was certain he saw a relic from the third city being passed between worried-faced accountants, and at least three Masters were present, hunched and hulking as they presided over the chaos.
"Anthony!" James Rhodes grabbed Anthony's arm and pulled him to the side, away from the hurly burly. His dark eyes sparked with excitement and his tail lashed, slicing furrows through the air behind him. He was in such a tizzy that his cravat was loosened, and one of the nevercold brass medals had fallen out of line on his breast. "What have you done now?"
However his friend had received the moniker the Valiant Devil was a mystery to Anthony. It was more the Overly Protective Devil, or perhaps the Quite Rightly Suspicious Devil. Still, for once Anthony had no idea the cause of his concern. It was a novel experience, not unlike his first taste of surface wine. "Nothing!"
James, who had heard that precise word before (generally preceding an explanation of precisely what Anthony didn't do, in minute detail) waited.
Laying a palm to his breast, Anthony gave James his most wretched expression of heartbreak. Not that he expected it to work, but he felt it imperative that he keep in practice. "Whatever has happened, I've done naught to cause it. I've spent most of the day down in Veilgarden, on business."
"I see." The iron edged out of James' shoulders, and his grip on Anthony's arm turned gentler. Together, they edged even farther away from the chaos of the main foyer, stealing down one of the many hallways. "My apologies, then. I only saw you back at the Embassy for the second time today and assumed the worst."
Anthony wondered if he should take offense at that, but he found himself reluctant to argue history with his friend. Most especially when he had a larger quest to follow. "What has happened, then? I've not seen the Embassy hustle so since the most recent Fall." His tail, ever with a mind of its own, curled up and around James' hips as they walked, wiggling into his trouser pocket and curling up in the warm.
James, used to the ramblings of Anthony's various appendages, didn't even bother to remove it. "You'll need to ask the Masters that. They've nearly taken over the embassy, searching records, finding and then misplacing items, making the accounted spin in circles."
Merchandise, then. With the Masters, it was always something that could be bought, sold or rented, and little else seemed to interest them. Maybe there'd been a successful smuggler that had slipped their radar, or a lost shipment of souls.
Whatever it might be, Anthony filed it away under Not His Concern.
"I'm sure they'll have it all sorted," he announced, pressing himself closer to his dear companion's side. They were nearing the records rooms, and Anthony took advantage of the moment to nudge them closer to the door he needed. Two sets of hands, he reasoned, would be better than a singular pair. "I have another, much more pressing matter at hand. I'm seeking the address of a certain immigrant."
A hint of fang peeked out as James frowned at him. "Do you?"
"I do." Reluctantly releasing James' arm, and his pocket, Anthony stepped up to the immense set of brass doors that guarded the archives. Scenes of devils at work and play had been etched onto it, the lines sharp enough to cut paper. It was, he feared, rather in bad taste. It made him long for the centuries of the Marble Embassy, when the building was awash with color, and the door had been covered by lovely spider silk draping.
He ran his gloved fingertips over the scene at eye-level of a rather fetching Deviless doing improbable things with a candle. One swift push nudged the doors open with an unholy shriek of pained hinges. Anthony winced and slipped inside before it could close again.
Modern architecture was so unfriendly.
Of course, James followed, muttering imprecations all the while. Behind him, the brass doors creaked closed again, locking them in with the shadows and parchment. Luminous beetles were reserved for lighting near so much paper, but they never provided nearly enough light, even for a devil's superior vision. In the darkness James all but vanished, his white shirt and gloves seeming to shine in comparison. "Who is it you're seeking?"
"An American. New-come, and terribly delicious. I could eat him up." Picking up a jar of beetles, Anthony started looking through cabinets. The wonder of the Embassy saw to it that the most recent were at the front, but that barely helped. Information was valuable, and the Embassy kept track of all of it. A single day of secrets could fill a room, and had.
"That certainly narrows the field," James sighed, but he did take up his own illumination and set about a hardy search. "The records do not mention flavors."
"Well, they should."
"Is he handsome?"
Anthony's tail curled around his knee coyly as he made to investigate a folder. "Whatever makes you ask such a thing?"
"I know you."
He hadn't, actually, noticed that much about the American. His soul was incredible, and wasn't that what mattered? Mortal churches were always on about that sort of thing, anyway. Still, a reputation was a reputation. "I'm sure I've no idea what you're referring to."
Their companionable bickering fell into silence as they sorted papers and rumors. Whoever was in charge of keeping things organized deserved a stern talking to, in Anthony's view. It took nearly fifteen minutes to find the listings of recent immigrants. Fortunately, Americans weren't common in London lately. They'd rather had their hands full with matters at home. There were only three Americans who had arrived in the past year, and two of them were women.
"Captain Steven Grant Rogers," James read, holding the papers close to his beetles. "Recently of the United States of America, honorably discharged from the Army. This is intriguing."
"What?" Shamelessly, Anthony pressed himself to James' back in order to better read over his shoulder. To his disgust, the beetles had grown lazy and were barely lighting the paper well enough for him to make out half of the page. Hell's fourth alphabet glowed with darklight, which Anthony could only assume it did to be spiteful.
"His rank is Captain," James said slowly, moving the jar in order to do battle with the wicked text, "but the receiving clerk noted that his epaulets bore two stars. Peculiar."
"An Americanism, no doubt. Does it list his address?" Bouncing on his toes did nothing to help see, but Anthony did it anyway. "Does it? Oh, never mind." Impatience and irreverence combined to make Anthony snatch the papers from James' hand. "I'll find it later. Thank you for your assistance. It was most kind."
James rolled his eyes, but didn't try to dissuade Anthony from stealing the records. "I'll be sure to claim a favor from you later. What do you intend to do with it?"
Grinning, Anthony rolled the papers up tightly and stuffed them inside his jacket. Hell's alphabet was uncommonly warm against his ribs, but nothing he couldn't stand. "I believe I shall write a letter."