Flash Fiction: Barbaries (452 words)

Emmany shoved Ryane out the back door. It was such a weak shove, Ryane could have just planted a heel, let her shoulder roll forward, and stayed inside. If had been anyone else, she would have. Since it was Emmany, she took the stumbling step forward into the empty back alley, gulped in the cold night air and breathed it out as a stream of smoke before she turned back to look at her.

“You could lose this for us,” Emmany said. Each word was carefully layered back against each other, gracefully laid, even while they snapped out of her mouth. She glared at Ryane, shoulders back, neck long, tall, and so proper Ryane wanted to knock her down.

“Or I could be the one to get it for you,” Ryane returned. She didn’t really believe it. She’d gone too far: slamming her hand down flat on the table in front of Lord Deirn, burning that perfect handprint into the table in front of him. She was absurdly proud of the trick and the wide eyes the precision and force earned, but she wasn’t supposed to play tricks that like that anymore. She could still smell the burnt wood, feel the heat against her palm. It itched, like the seams on a shirt she’d outgrown. And she hated it, because it should have still fit.

“There’s an art to this,” Emmany told her. “You follow the niceties, the polite little turns and play their games.”

“There’s nothing polite about asking them to join a rebellion,” Ryane said.

Emmany shook her head. “No. That’s why you’re polite as possible at every other word. So, they don’t feel just how far you’re trying to turn the world. They have to feel stable. You can’t be a barbarian about everything.”

“Where do you think your polite things come from?” Ryane asked. “Your little hand shakes? Those were barbarians proving their weapon hands were empty and they weren’t about to slice out each others’ guts. That cute little clink of the glass when you make a toast? Barbarians, slamming their cups together and trading drink to prove they hadn’t poisoned each other.”

“Hmm,” Emmany said. She gave Ryane a thin smile. “Telling each other that they don’t intend to murder them. That sounds terribly polite to me.”

Ryane caught her tongue between her teeth before she replied.

“And what’s the barbarian meaning behind setting the furniture on fire?” Emmany asked.

Ryane looked away. “I could burn you to ash, but I thought I’d warn you by starting on the table?” She turned back, just in time to catch Emmany shake her head once.

“Rude,” Emmany said. Turning, she opened the door to go back inside. “Come back when you’re a polite barbarian again.”

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