Alicia inhaled, turning over in bed and stretching against the soft linens. Every muscle in her body was singing with pleasure. It felt like it had the time she and her sisters had been taken to the spa by Aunt Maggie, where she’d forsaken the hot baths and the steam for four straight hours of massage.
As a matter of fact, she was having a hard time even moving.
Alicia’s eyes flew open and she inhaled, adrenaline kick-starting her muscles, allowing her to sit up, albeit shakily.
She should still be in the alley. Alleys don’t have beds. If she wasn’t there, where the hell was she, and why did she feel so good?
Around her was a sparse wooden room without any decorations. there was a small cabinet against the wall and a table in the corner.
Right in front of her, Thomas continued to breathe quietly, his small frame only taking up a small amount of the rather generous bed.
Alicia pushed herself to her feet, arms shaking and head fuzzy. Her stomach cried out in protest, and her gaze settled on the table, where someone had carefully arranged a cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables alongside a wooden bowl filled to the brim with a noxious looking green paste beside a plate of extremely thin looking…crackers? - that seemed to be sprinkled with salt.
She stumbled forward on shaky legs and collapsed into the chair in front of the table. directly in front of her was the safehouse envelope, with a note scrawled on its back.
-In case you get the munchies.
Alicia read and re-read the note, wondering where the hell this John fellow had gotten foods that were completely out of season.
It was spring.
Mystery for another time. Right now I need to eat and relocate before Marcus tells my family where I am.
Alicia grabbed a fistful of broccoli and started eating. As she wolfed down the food, a waft of savory smell drifted over from the poisonous looking green goop.
She leaned in close and smelled it. Yes, that was where it was coming from. Hesitantly, The noble heiress dipped the broccoli in the green paste and tried a bit.
“Oh, gods,” she moaned and started shoveling the stuff into her mouth.
“Okay, so today we’re going to take a field trip to the Bergstrom Estate.” Garth said, tapping his sheaf of incriminating evidence against the desk before packaging it securely.
“What’s a field trip?” Cole, the big bruiser he was taking with him asked. Why did tough guys always shave their heads?
“You should be able to figure it out from the context, Cole.”
“Oh, okay…What’s context?”
Garth eyed the man towering over him then shook his head. “You see Cole, this is why I need a sidekick from the twenty-first century to toss witty banter back and forth.”
“It’s only the ninth century, though?” Cole said. “Eight forty-three, A.S.”
“Never change, Cole.” Garth said, heading for the door.
The Bergstroms, from what Garth had been able to gather, controlled a large portion of all the land to the west, bridging the gap between outpost 3502 and L.A. They were nominally in control of the Green Hell and the adamantium mine to the northeast of it, however, they were unable to afford to hire adventurers powerful enough to delve beyond the first floor of the dungeon.
No Adamantium income means no adamantium to spend on equipping adventurers with the tools they need to kill mutated monsters with extra-tough skin. It was a vicious cycle.
The taxes they earned from the property barely covered its maintenance, and from what Garth had seen, The Dentons had been making the money that the Bergstroms should have been making.
The Bergstroms were weak. Politically, financially, and successor..ily. The aged patriarch of the Bergstrom family had been kicked in the balls one too many times as an adult, and his last son had died last year in a bar fight defending his mother’s honor…against a Denton.
There was a river of bad blood there for Garth to swim in.
The two of them arrived at the front gate, where Garth was surprised to note that the family didn’t even have the money to hire a guard. The latch on the heavy wrought iron gate was about as long as Garth’s arm and in plain view.
“Guess it’s self service.” Garth said. “Cole, wait here and try not to look…threatening.”
Cole nodded, then sat down and watched the birds in the trees with a slack jaw and glazed eyes. Maybe the guy was smarter than I gave him credit for. Or maybe he just likes birds.
Garth lifted the latch and walked through the terrace, admiring the poorly kept garden as he approached the large double doors of the mansion.
Garth strolled up the marble steps and tugged on the rope that rang an enormous silver bell placed above him.
Garth stood there for a minute before a frantic scrabbling sounded from behind the door and it opened quickly, revealing a young girl of maybe fifteen.
“Franco, you can’t be here right now, my Father is…” She frowned. “Who are you?”
“My name is John smith, and I’ve come to talk to your father about high-stakes blackmail, would you mind showing me to him?”
“He’s not here.” She said.
“Oh,” Garth said. “Well, then my name’s actually Franco and I’m here to Marbles n’ chill. Or whatever us medieval kids are calling it these days.”
She frowned more, then glanced around behind him, spotting Cole leaning up against the wrought iron gate.
“You can talk to the First Chair.” She said, stepping away from the door and motioning him to come in.
Garth considered for a moment. Whats a First Chair? Like, in music they’re the bees knees, but in nobility…Never heard of em.
Well, it sounded important. More important than a fifteen year old girl expecting some nookie on the side.
“Alright.” Garth said. “I’m sure I can convince him.”
The girl gave him an odd look and closed the door behind him before guiding him deeper into the mansion.
The inside was dim, lit by candles and lamps. In the absence of magic or electricity, shadows pooled in the unused corners, and soot from the light sources pooled on the ceiling.
Damn. Garth glanced around idly as he walked through the halls. At least everything looked like it was in better repair than the garden.
They took some stairs up to the second floor and followed a long hall to the side of the mansion, where She opened a door to a little sitting room. She laboriously lit an oil lamp the old fashioned way and put it on the table. between the chairs.
“Sit here,” She said, pointing at the comfy upholstered chair facing the door, appeasing his gunslinger instincts. “I’ll bring the First Chair shortly.” Garth put the papers on the desk, unloaded his backpack on the floor, and sat down.
Hmmm…. Garth tapped his toes as she waited, wondering about all the different ways this could turn out terribly. If they were trying to ambush him, Garth’s preferred method would have been to pump carbon monoxide into a death room.
Garth glanced around, then stood and checked the window. Not sealed shut, actually existed, probably not a gas chamber. Garth opened the window and kept waiting. Never know when he might have to jump out of it.
His second choice was ninjas.
Sitting there, Garth realized that the light from the lamp was obscuring his sight of the door, and shifted it to the side.
He kept waiting.
A few minutes later, the door opened, and an arm with a healthy tan came through the doorway, followed by shoulders that supported generous breasts, blonde hair done up in a ponytail.
“Sandi!?” Garth blurted.
No, wait. A succubus. A big, maneating succubus just entered the room with me. Chances of this being a trap had ticked up.
The Lure giggled. “I’m sorry, people often confuse me for someone else.” She sat down in front of Garth and held out her hand. “I’m the First Chair.”
Ah, so they at least want her to hear what I have to say before I get killed and eaten. Cool. Maybe I can talk my way out of here.
“I’m sure they do, miss…?
“Brenda Bergstrom, first chair of the Bergstrom family.”
My ass, Garth thought as he leaned back in his chair with a shit-eating grin, trying to feel where in the room the Succubus was. Garth’s senses weren’t high enough to directly see a Succubi’s active camo yet, but he could feel the air shift behind him and to the right.
Garth motionlessly cast Barkskin. Might stop him from being split in half. Maybe.
“I’m John Smith, Unemployed.”
“I believe you told Melinda that you came to blackmail us?” She said sweetly.
“No, no, she got the wrong impression,” Garth said, launching into his salesman spiel. Better practice on the Succubi who looked like his dead wife before he closed the deal with the actual Bergstroms.
“I’m here about high stakes blackmail, specifically, of the Dentons,” Garth said, sliding the enormous stack of paper out of the leather binder and placing it in front of her.
“This details every criminal thing the Dentons have received payment for in the last twelve years.” Garth said. “You should be totally qualified to read it, being the First Chair and all.”
Her smile faltered.
“You came to us with blackmail…for the Dentons?”
Garth sighed and scratched his head. Looking at Sandi was getting under his skin. “Could I talk to an adult, someone who actually knows the score? This is demeaning.”
A real noble would understand he was looking to trade.
“How dare you speak like that to-“
“Look, you’re obviously a succubi, and I’m sure you’re a nice girl, but they would never make a succubi first chair of anything.”
She frowned, and her mouth opened uncertainly before glancing at the door.
A moment later, the door opened again, and a thin woman of maybe fifty years strolled into the room like she owned it.
“Brenda Bergstrom, I presume.”
“You’ll speak when spoken to.” She snapped, taking the seat the succubus hastily vacated, barely ahead of the woman’s brisk pace.
She gave him a glare, and Garth broke out into full blown laughter.
“You’ll speak when spoken to? My god, I haven’t heard than in…ever. Hah hahahaha…” He held his palm over his chest, stifling his laughter. “No, I’m sorry. Your house, your rules. Go ahead…I’ll allow it.” Garth devolved into another gale of laughter.
“If you think I’ll tolerate this!” Brenda said, standing, her face murderous.
“I think you will!” Garth shouted back, matching her expression. “Your house is falling apart, You’ve got no money, no successor, and you’re this close to being kicked off the city council.” He held up his thumb and forefinger.
“The last thing you want to do is disrespect me.”
Now to scare the shit out of her.
Garth glanced down at himself. “Ah, crap, I’m not acting like a fifteen-year-old again.” He put his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat.
“Oh Ms. Bergstrom, I’m so intimidated by your displeasure, I’ll just shut up and sit here acting small while you take what you want.” Garth said in singsong. “Better?”
“What is wrong with you?” She breathed.
“I just got a little emotional when I saw your pet.” Garth nodded at the imposter. “Long story.”
“Aanyway,” Garth said, rubbing his hands together before putting his fingers on the stack of paper. “I have here, the written accounts of every illegal activity the Dentons have been doing for twelve years.”
He leaned to grab the heavy backpack and hauled it onto the table.
Everyone in the room tensed, and Garth swore he could feel something sharp pressing against his back as he undid the drawstrings.
“I have here, five million credits minus a couple hundred thousand for personal needs.” Garth said, pulling the sides of the backpack down to reveal the gold.
“And here,” he pointed at himself. “I have control of the Denton’s former operation, looking to sell it to the highest bidder. It’s quite profitable.”
Brenda Bergstrom collapsed into her chair, and began silently reading through the papers, her hands shaking.
The woman’s face paled as she read.
“Those bastards!” She snarled, clutching one piece of paper tightly in her gnarled fist.
“Ooh, something strike a nerve?” Garth asked.
“Nnnoo.” Garth said before glancing around the room. “Do you need some water or something?”
Brenda Bergstrom sighed and put the paper down, fastidiously smoothing out the wrinkles before looking up at Garth.
“Who are you and what do you want? You’re obviously not a commoner, and you’re obviously not a noble. I don’t know what you are.” She glanced at the pile of gold. “And you obviously don’t want money.”
“My name is John Smith, and all I’ve ever wanted…is to have a dad.”
“In exchange for everything you see here, as well as my services, I would like to be adopted as the sole heir of the Bergstrom family. You can say I was some undiscovered bastard child if it makes you feel better.”
It was either this or marry the queen, Garth thought.
It was Brenda’s turn to laugh, with an aristocratic, studied sneer.
“Oh my, you think far too highly of yourself, bringing these things to us and demanding ownership of the family. You do not have a deal Mr. Smith. One flaw in your manic thinking is that we can simply take what you’ve brought.”
Her eyes flickered to the empty space over Garth’s shoulder and she nodded.
There was a slight disturbance of wind behind him and a pinch of pain glided across his throat from ear to ear as a razor sharp blade sank into it.