Flash Fiction: Better Than a Threat (434 words)

Zar leaned heavily on the bar and let an edge creep into his smile. The innkeeper hesitated on the other side, almost pulled back.

“I said, my friend forgot to leave me a key,” Zar said. He liked to play with mixing boredom and threat in his tone, and he thought he’d found a potent balance today. “And I need to get into my rooms. Do I look like the kind of man who needs to ask twice?”

He waited while the innkeeper looked over his finely stitched coat, the rings on his fingers, the sheen on his shirt where it was dragged out through the intricate cuts on his sleeves. They fit like a second skin, despite being stolen. Zar did his job well.

The innkeeper did allow himself to hesitate again. He pulled an extra key from his own pocket, and slid it over to him. “I’m sorry, milord.”

“Thank you,” Zar said crisply. He clicked the key against the bar as he picked it up, then strode toward the stairs.

Aundee followed him wordlessly. Climbing the first flight of stairs, he could feel her silence crowding the stair behind him. At the landing, he glanced back before taking the next few steps.

“What?” he asked, quiet. No one was following, and he couldn’t hear anyone else on the staircase above them.

She waited four steady steps before she answered. “That was sloppy,” she murmured.

Eyebrows raised, he looked back at her. “I think we’re a little too busy for critiques, just now.”

“You asked,” Aundee returned, her attention still on the staircase, listening.

“And nothing has dropped out of your vocabulary?” he asked.

Her eyebrows pulled together a little. Otherwise she ignored the comment.

“You could have saved it for later,” Zar continued.

She shook her head a little. “All I meant to say, was that worried me. And I don’t like to be worried on a job.”

“Then why aren’t you leaving?” Zar asked.

Another pause. Maybe a small laugh. Zar looked at her quickly, came to a quick stop.

She was still smiling as she halted as well, though it barely stretched her lips. “You’re right,” she said. “I meant to say that you’re good. I trust you to get this done. Please. Don’t let me down.”

Zar watched her pass him, trying to decide if it was his lungs or his mind that was having trouble taking in the next breath.

“That’s terrifying,” he told her back.

She shot him a look over her shoulder. “It’s the truth. And I thought it might work better than a threat.”

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