tagSci-Fi & FantasyScoundrel's Answer Ch. 01

Scoundrel's Answer Ch. 01


The carriage couldn't wind its way through the crowded streets fast enough for Alan Tinsley, Sir Alan Tinsley now, leading his anxious eyes to stare out at the people scurrying to and fro as they sought shelter. The rain had come suddenly, and the downpour cut his own errands short. Now, Alan could hardly wait to get home to Elizabeth. The very anticipation of seeing her radiant smile brought a pleasant upturn to his own lips.

'Lightning' Alan Tinsley, smoothest operator in any of the Free Cities, had faced righteous knights and angry wizards in his day. The master thief had tricked his way into dragon's lairs and even broken into the King's Vault, for a good reason of course. For all his bravery and will, for all of his experience and worldliness, one look from his young wife could stop him in his tracks. True love had just been a foolish fantasy of bard's tales and storybooks, that is until that fateful night at the home of his friend Lord Varonne.

It was a party the likes of which hadn't been seen in years, celebrating their merry band's triumph over the usurper Jaron Daar. All of the nobility attended, as well as many much less noble, so long as they had a hand in the dark sorcerer's downfall. At the time, Alan was amongst the latter. For all his wondrous deeds, all the aging thief thought of was how much he would profit when his friends helped put the rightful heir on the throne. An idle glance over a crowd of revelry to ascertain the source of a particular high and musical peal of laughter changed his thinking and his life in one moment.

Elizabeth was exquisite in a way that defied explanation. Young and fair, she was beautiful without being unearthly. Noble without being detached. Alan had seen enchantresses and vampires, sirens and succubi who had her beat in spades in terms of raw beauty, and yet they had all been unnatural. Something predatory, or something artificial. The way Elizabeth smiled, her full lips, her sparkling emerald eyes, the way her blonde curls danced about her face with every movement. It was enchanting in its reality. Her clothing and bearing marked her amongst the aristocracy, but she was laughing at the jest of one of Alan's own men, a scruffy, simple fellow named Henri. The giant of a man was imposing, rough looking, and bore the scars of many fights, and yet this woman seemed at ease around him, enough to see the gentle, childlike nature within.

Alan had approached that night with the intention of sweeping her off her feet with his practiced charm and poise. Although he was more than twice her age, he still considered himself handsome. Fit and lean, with roguish features and short cropped gray hair. A neatly trimmed beard complimented his jawline well, and he knew his own smile had captured the attentions of many a noble lady in his time. While not a noble himself, he was a man of wealth and fair taste, an adventurer who had seen the world, and thanks to the actions his friends had pressed upon him during the usurpation crisis, now a hero of the realm. But when he finally managed to speak with Elizabeth, all of his suave sophistication and ready wit fled from him as an ice wall melting in the hot summer sun.

That night, Alan had simply spoken with her for hours. When his lieutenant Devron greeted him on the way out, the boy had ribbed him unmercifully. And while Alan bore the teasing in good grace, the next day he resigned from the thieves' guild and started on his path to legitimacy. In one night, a single girl had done what foes of the realm had tried to do for years: remove Lightning Alan from the workings of the underworld.

Alan's little trip down memory lane was interrupted by a knock on the carriage door. The rogue's steely eyes snapped to focus, and there amidst the rain, his manor loomed large. The land he'd been granted with his knighthood for service to the realm was nothing special. No vast agricultural or mineral resources lurked within its bounds, but as far as he was concerned, it held the grandest treasure in the kingdom.

"We are home, Sir," the footman bowed deeply as he held open the door.

Alan stepped out, drawing his cloak about his frame to stave off the still pouring rain. "So I see," and with those words, he hurried up toward the safe and dry confines of the house.

Within the rich interior, it didn't take long for one of the maids to hurry to help him out of his wet cloak, and usher him into the sitting room before the great hearth.

"Where's Lizzy?"

"Oh, she left for a walk shortly after you stepped out, Sir," The maid cast over her shoulder as she spread the cloak out to dry before the flames.

"What?! In this weather? And it's been hours..." Alan's voice bore perhaps a little more desperation than he had meant, for his tone brought a chuckle from the maid.

"My lord, it wasn't raining when she left. And Henri is with her, she'll be alright. They probably just stopped somewhere to get out of the rain."

After a moment regarding the woman's words, Alan finally nodded, and slumped back into his chair. She was right of course, but he couldn't help but feel something was amiss. Something in his gut felt ill at ease, and he'd lived decades by going with his gut's reactions.

"Let me get you some tea to help you relax, Sir. I'll let you know as soon as she shows up."

Alan nodded numbly, realizing he had grown chilled even from that short walk, "Of course, of course, and thank you, Marcy."

The maid simply nodded and smiled, and left him to his peace.

It was hours later when Alan finally awoke. That much he could tell by the lack of light shining through the windows. Someone had tucked a blanket about him, and tended the fire while he was at rest. He simply assumed Elizabeth had decided to let him sleep through on her return. It seemed the rain had stopped, at least. Alan rose stiffly, stretching and rubbing at his joints. The weather inflamed old scars, and he'd spent a lifetime collecting them. A casual step took him toward the great windows looking out over the rear of the estate.

A grand porch lay just beyond those windowed doors, with steps leading down toward the gardens. Most of the flowers had been Elizabeth's idea, but he couldn't deny she had taste. There was a pond which sometimes housed ducks, and as the moon broke the still thick clouds, it shined down on the white gazebo where his wife so enjoyed sitting during pleasant days. A path of white gravel lead out toward the wooded surroundings, a path Alan had built to make the walk to the cliff-side overlook where he'd proposed to her that much easier.

And there, struggling to crawl along the path, trailing a glistening, dark red streak behind him, was a hulk of a man that could only be Henri.

Lightning Alan had never been quicker on his feet than in that instant. He didn't even remember opening the door, just the pump of his legs and the hammering of his heart as he crossed the porch, the steps, and the gardens toward Henri. A hand strayed instinctively to his side, years of danger had told him what to expect. But Alan had long since stopped carrying a weapon in his own home. He was respectable now, after all.

"Boss," the big man's wheezing didn't bode well, but Alan could already tell that Henri's wounds were serious from halfway across the grounds, "They took her."

"Hush boy," Alan knelt by Henri, and his eyes cast over the wounds. The big man was lucky to be alive that long, and who knew how long that could last. He needed to keep Henri from panicking, and yet get what information he could. Ice already gripped Alan's heart as he tore off his coat, and began to tear the lining into suitable bandages, "MARCY!" He called toward the house, then addressed Henri again, "Where were you, boy?"

"At the overlook. She wanted... she wanted to see if she could see you coming. I... I'm so sorry boss."

"Hush, hush, just answer what I ask, don't waste your breath on apologies. You did good, Henri, to bring me these words. Who was it? Do we know who took her?" Alan began to bind Henri's wounds as best he could, then called to the house again, "MARCY! Bring me a healing potion NOW!" He was certain she could hear him, he had a commanding voice in times of trouble.

"No boss, I never seen 'em before. Maybe a new gang, I dunno. There were six of 'em. They knocked me out, it's been a long time."

"They did more than knock you out, boy..." Alan sighed heavily as he put on a brave face. With hours' lead they could be anywhere by now. As the maid hustled down the path in her robes, her cry brought Alan's attention to her. "Come now, give me the potion."

"Henri, oh Henri what happened?" The frightened woman began to chatter, moving to cradle Henri's head to her ample breasts. As she knelt on the white gravel, her robes parted to reveal a hint of her smooth thighs beneath, and more of that expansive cleavage. "My poor, poor boy."

Her actions lead Alan to wonder about the two. Marcy wasn't unattractive, far from it, but she wasn't beautiful either. Her features were lined with worry, her own dark hair was beginning to shoot through with gray, but she had a kind face, and a figure that could merit a second or even third look when she presented it. And the way the big man looked up to her in his hour of need, the boy had done well.

"Drink up," Alan offered, and uncorked that potion's vial. The mystic contents glimmered in the moonlight, and he tilted it slowly, watching as Marcy carefully held Henri's head up. It wouldn't work miracles, but it did stop the worst of the bleeding. Those wounds seemed to pucker in upon themselves before their very eyes. Sword wounds. Alan knew what that looked like.

"It tastes bad," Henri complained. His complaints were drowned out by a soft, nervous laugh from Marcy, before she dotted his face with kisses.

"If you've got enough strength to complain about the taste, you've got enough to live through this," despite Marcy's bravado, tears still streamed down her face.

It took almost five minutes to get Henri inside with Marcy's help, and then send for a healer. By all rights, Alan should have stayed by him, but Marcy would do just as fine a job at keeping the fellow calm. Something dark was stirring in Alan's soul. Something he hadn't felt since meeting Elizabeth. He would find who had done this, he would get his wife back, and he would torture the ones who took her from him until they couldn't remember their own name. When he was with the guild, he'd dealt with foes aplenty, but few had been so brazen as to attack him on his own ground. This couldn't have been a random attack, out here on his own estate. Someone had to have targeted his wife specifically.

Alan was no sorcerer, no wizard, but in times like this magic was often the best solution. He needed to find Elizabeth, and quickly, and aside from spells, only a trained tracker could uncover what had happened. He wasn't a tracker either, and the only one in his old merry band who could do so was a full day's travel away. It would take a day to alert her, then a day for her to arrive, time Alan simply did not have. What he did have, though, was goods and trinkets gleaned from over three and a half decades of thievery. His private stash, collected from all the corners of the known world. The master thief unlocked the vault deep beneath his manor house, and began searching through things. He knew exactly what he needed, and in short order he had them out.

The reflection in the silver mirror almost shocked Alan. It shouldn't have. There was something murderous in his steely gaze, something he hadn't seen on his own features in a long time. Even the usurper's crisis hadn't made him feel the anger swelling within him that this action had. But he had to calm himself. One dextrous hand slipped forth to grip the side of the mirror, and the gray haired rogue took a few deep breaths. His broad chest heaved as he tried to calm his nerves, and once he was cold as ice again, he proceeded.

The scroll in hand wasn't particularly ancient. It had been penned maybe months before he had claimed it from the wizard's tower. And then it sat in a box for a decade, untouched, unused. But Alan knew what it would do. With steady hands he unscrolled the parchment, revealing the eldritch diagrams and words scribed upon it. The ink shimmered glistening black by the light of the lone lamp set on the table nearest. A wizard wrote such scrolls to invoke their power as needed, or to teach the contents to another lesser sorcerer. Like many items of enchantment, each scroll, each potion was imbued with a bit of their creator's essence. The healing potion from before had been granted to Alan by a friend. This scroll was much more powerful, and had been taken by force of arms. He had to be careful, as there would be only one chance. Slowly, cautiously he began to intone the words upon the scroll, relying on the power therein rather than any particular magic of his own.

As the arcane, difficult to pronounce syllables left his lips, magic hung heavy on the air. The diagrams seemed to burn themselves into his retinas, and then occasionally one would literally leap from the scroll's surface, only to flow toward the mirror before him. Each line of strange black lettering or drawing read from the page disappeared from it, leaving a somewhat charred discoloration in its wake. The surface of the mirror began to shift, began to cloud. When the last of the scroll was read, the air hung heavy and silent. For a long moment, it seemed nothing had happened.

After almost a full minute, the fog cleared from the mirror, but Alan was no longer looking at his own reflection. Rather the image within the polished silver depicted a dark chamber, lit by flickering candles, shining dancing shadows up along fine wood paneled walls. It was an upscale building, to be sure, with thick burgundy curtains drawn close. A gilded chandelier with crystal decor hung above, but what captured his attention were a delicate pair of feet.

The stockings were of fine ivory silk, of a sort that Elizabeth favored, and though one foot was still clad in a black suede shoe he'd bought her not more than two months past, the other was bared. Well kept toes curled within the silk, painted a soft red color that showed even through the otherwise opaque stocking. The stocking of that bared foot had a hole, torn just from the ankle upward, exposing a glimpse of her elegantly boned ankle, and her pale skin beneath. Those feet were in the air, toes pointed toward the ceiling, just as they bobbed back and forth at a frenetic pace. Back and forth, back and forth, parted at about a shoulder's width, those lovely feet continued to move, and the toes of the shoeless one alternately stretched and curled, clenching in counterpoint to that bobbing rhythm.

It didn't take a genius to guess what was happening, but what clues were visible in the mirror as to her surroundings were vague at best. An upscale building, perhaps a house? The curtains could be visible from the street, but weren't a common color. As distracting as the image before him was, Alan's mind set to work effectively examining the room to determine where it was. He had to be cold, ice cold, but he had to get more information as well. A moment of focusing on that mirror, and the image began to shift.

Another soon formed, the same room, but from a different angle. This one included a gilded headboard, and to those bars a pair of hands were cuffed. There was no sign of the long sleeves Elizabeth favored, but the glint of gold rings on one hand confirmed the owner of those hands. The wedding ring itself was distinct, gold serpents twined together, with a diamond shining between their coils. Her long nails had been chipped, and at last one was broken, signs that she had put up a fight. The cuffs about her delicate wrists were thick, leather reinforced with metal, and with heavy locks. There was red chafing about her wrists already. Those slender fingers laced together, both hands gripped one of the bars of the headboard, a white knuckled grasp for dear life. And then there was a glimpse of the floor beyond, hard wood without carpeting. Something began to nag at Alan's mind. Something familiar.

The next image was of her torso, bared, with no sign of her blouse or corset. Her slender back was perfectly arched, her flat belly taut. A man's hands were settled there just at the small of her back, forcing her upward, gripping her hard enough to leave marks where his fingers and thumbs pressed against her skin. Those ripe, full breasts he so adored quaked and jiggled with the shock of rhythmic impacts, even as they rose and fell with gasped breaths. It was the same rhythm those feet had been moving in before, a sharp upward sway, then a jiggle as they settled back into place, only to be rocketed upward again. That soft, pale flesh was marked with hand prints, as if someone had targeted those lovely swells with sharp slaps. Rosy, expressive nipples stood at full attention, peaked, though whether it was from desire or torment one could hardly tell.

Her pale skin was dusted with a sheen of perspiration, but more unwholesomely, a drying whitish residue was spattered across her belly and across her cleavage, the slowly dripping spend of men before her, giving hint to how long the scene had been going on. As distressing as the old thief found the image, the most shocking part had nothing to do with the sight of his wife's body, shifting on those crimson sheets, held in such a delicious arch. No, it had to do with what he saw beyond. A fireplace, a mantle, and above that a strange portrait mounted just in view.

Even though only the lower half could be seen in the mirror, it was distinct enough that Alan knew, without a doubt, what it depicted. A black rat wearing a crown, overseeing a court of rats dressed in finery, like some mockery of a royal retinue. It was a painting hung in his old guild-house, a mansion on the south side of town. Rage began to boil through his veins, and Alan turned from the image. How dare they, those men he'd raised from rags to wealth, and Devron especially, whom he'd granted leadership of the guild to on his retirement. The betrayal hit him almost as hard as seeing his wife so abused. Alan began to rummage through the chests and stands within the vault. He would kill them all for this.

The gray haired rogue ransacked his own vault, picking up items, trinkets he thought he might need in the upcoming conflict. So preoccupied was he that he hadn't noticed the final change in the image, not until it was almost too late. With weapons in hand, he was moving for the sleek black leather armor he once wore, dark as night and twice as sinister. And then he caught sight of the mirror and what it displayed. It brought him to a sudden halt.

Her blonde curls were laid about the pillow, radiant as a halo in the dim light of the room. Her beautiful green eyes were wide with rage, pain, and glimmered with tears. Her features, so used to displaying a ready smile and an easy laugh were instead twisted with rage. The little makeup Elizabeth wore ran in dark rivulets, from her own tears and the drying, dripping white ooze that coated much of her face. Her jaws were held open by a peculiar metal gag, forcing her teeth to part and her lips wide. Those lips were red and swollen, bruised and kept apart in a constant 'o'. Even as Alan watched, her neck arched as she shuddered in unwilling climax. The constant stimulation was taking its toll on her will. Still, her eyes only hardened thereafter, gazing up at the man above her with murderous intent.

He didn't recognize the man, but it was clear that some faces would have changed in the years since he retired. Alan didn't have to recognize him to see what he was doing, however. Hands gripped smooth, supple thighs that had once been his alone, and those stockinged legs were forced over his shoulders, feet left to point at the ceiling. He was clearly buried to the hilt within her, but that bouncing of her feet, the rippling of her breasts had stopped. Slowly, the man in the mirror pulled out of Elizabeth, leaving her gaping in his wake. Alan could tell the man had been far from the first to claim her, and her overfilled body oozed onto those fine sheets. Another pair of hands grasped her stockinged legs, holding them up, keeping them parted, and as the next fellow positioned himself between Elizabeth's thighs, the mirror went dark, showing only Alan's own deadly features in dim reflection. The magic of the scroll had expired.

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