Ashes to Ashes (fiction)

This is a scene from a tabletop game we play every Thursday. This not how it played out at the time, but the characters in it are similar to those in the game. This was inspired by my warped little Muse who snickered at how the original confrontation happened at the table.

———————————-

Ash crossed his arms and scowled at the young woman. She had not yet given Ash a reason to trust her and, in fact, had discouraged it at every turn.

“I cannot say why,” Cassandra said. “But I know without a doubt that Marcus will betray us.”

“Will he? I happen to like the man,” Ash said. He made a performance of his disgust, gesturing with both hands before letting them land again, this time in his back pockets.

She said nothing, but she also did not waiver under his sneer.

“If I am under orders to kill this man, I will,” Ash said. Picture of casual defiance, he watched Cassandra’s reactions like a hawk as he spoke. “But you tell me you suspect something with no reason as to why and expect me to back you on this? For all I know Marcus is the Baron’s favorite and you intend to disgrace me in his eyes.”

She paled momentarily but quickly recovered. Smoothing her hands over her skirts, Cassandra held her head high and met Ash’s eyes when she spoke. “The Baron has given me leave to deal with Marcus as I see fit. I, for one, would not want to fall into the hands of the authorities after what has been discussed here.”

With a smirk, Ash relaxed, dropping into a chair. They all had reason to be wary of each other. The Baron wished them to work against the Coven, the alien nation governing their planet through agents of their own kind. Any one in that room could be a Coven operative and any one in that room could make a fortune turning the Baron and the others over to them. The rewards the Baron offered, however, would be well worth the risk.

“Then deal with him, Cassie,” Ash said matter-of-factly. “Why involve me?”

Her eyes dropped to the gun strapped to Ash’s thigh. “I suspect you have a bit more experience in these matters.”

Ash rubbed the corner of his eyes, feigning pensiveness. His actions were deliberate and careful not to smudge the kohl darkening his gaze to a smoldering enigma.

“I have experience you would know nothing about,” he said. “So tell me why I should trust that you speak for the Baron and I will shoot anyone you name. For you, pretty one, I’ll take my time if you request it, make him suffer at your will, but don’t speak with his authority without proof.”

Cassie sighed. She picked up her forgotten wine glass and threw back the last few drops staining the fine crystal. “I just know,” she said.

“How?”

“I…”

“I believe her,” rumbled a deep, demanding voice.

Ash rose slowly to his feet and turned to face the Baron. Rotund in body and powerful in presence, the man filled the doorway. Ash nodded, deferring to the big man as he passed through the room with a grace that belayed his size. The Baron paused, studying Ash as if he was a delicate porcelain egg housed under glass and bright lights perched upon the richest velvet.

“Why the subterfuge?” Ash asked. He held his chin up and met the Baron’s eyes with boldness.

“It is not for me to share secrets of others. Wouldn’t you agree, Ashley?”

Ash snorted. “I’m not asking for secrets. If you wish to hire me and then expect me to follow orders from another, is it not too much to ask you to tell me so?”

“I trust Cassandra’s … instincts on such matters. I would not expect you to do the same until you have decided she is worthy of your trust.” He smiled briefly and then folded his hands behind his back and paced to the door. He paused before leaving the room. “You must make your own decisions about each other, of course. Secrets are only for their owners to share.”

Once he disappeared into the bowels of his expansive home, Cassandra arched an eyebrow.

“Good enough for me,” Ash said. He tugged his cloak around his body and tested the weight of his weapon in its holster.

“Ashley?”

Ash lifted his chin and smirked. “You keep your secrets and I’ll keep mine. I will remind you that trust is to be earned. Work on that.”

Disappointment clouded her expression though Cassandra tried to hide it. “I’ll tell you how I know about Marcus in exchange for a secret of yours. Mutual trust, if you will?”

“I will not,” he said coolly. “I have no reason to trust you with any so-called secrets I may or may not have.”

“And our betrayer?”

“I understand what is expected of me now.”

“What about Marcus?”

“What about Marcus?” Taller than both of them, Marcus strode into the room to tower over their discussion. He frowned at each in turn, settling on Cassandra with his gaze as dark as a twilight rain. “If you have a problem with me, then tell me, not him.”

Cassandra stood her ground. “I don’t trust you,” she said, her voice full of cockiness she couldn’t back up.

“Stuff it,” Ash hissed at her. He elbowed Marcus as men are wont to do when familiar with each other. “Let’s go smoke. Damn women think they understand men based on how much we talk or how little we check them out.”

Marcus laughed. He looked Cassie up and down with a leer and then grinned at Ash. “Yeah, sure, friend. I don’t mix business with pleasure anyway.” He spun on his heel and strode towards the door.

Ash drew his gun. Marcus froze, ears tuned to sounds of treachery. Even as he turned, his fingers closed on his weapon.

With a crack that echoed off the stone walls, Marcus stumbled back and then fell.

“Well, damn,” Ash muttered. “I blew a hole in my favorite cloak.” He stuck his fingers through the smoldering fabric and then spat on the floor beside Marcus.

To Cassandra, Ash said, “I took care of what you could not, so you can take care of the body.”

He crouched down to pluck a purple gem from around Marcus’s neck, and then he pried the pistol from his fingers. “Nor do I, friend,” he said, stressing the final word.

He left without looking back at the proper young woman who insisted on the death that now clouded her beauty.

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