Ashessa was seething as they stepped into the parlor, away from the watchful eyes of the staff and Naomi’s blasted kameira. Fortunately, Ashessa was old enough to be comfortable in most of the rooms of the manor of the main family, the parlors themselves places of intrigue from conspiracies past. But she was seething. She wouldn’t allow Naomi to just sully the names of her son and his wife.
As soon as the doors were closed, she glared at Naomi, “Now, what is the real reason you’ve summoned me, Steward?”
“Auntie… this fighting between us needs to stop.”
Ashessa scoffed, anger beginning to boil at Naomi’s disposition and countenance, “Don’t you dare call me ‘Auntie.’ I tolerated it when that commoner was here, but I will not tolerate it in private.”
She took a seat on one of the cushioned chairs, the fur coat still upon her, concealing the layers of dark, mourning colors. It had not even been two months since Orion’s death–a death that Naomi had essentially admitted to perpetrating. The whore’s spawn was growing ever more confident, consolidating power at the expense of the family, all without Reginald or Katerina’s knowledge.
“Madam Ashessa,” Naomi said, her voice dripping with the sarcasm with which only the nobility were familiar, “I want the fighting to end.”
You mean you want us to stop defending ourselves.
“Then hand my granddaughter back over to me!” Ashessa almost bellowed, her temper beginning to break under the constant strain of Naomi’s taunts, a temper weakened by mourning and grief.
“Orion made Rebecca my charge once his wife passed…” Naomi said quietly, the thinnest smile on her lips.
“You mean when you poisoned her?” Ashessa raised her voice.
“I didn’t poison her,” Naomi shook her head softly, her bangs swaying like wisps against her forehead.
“Oh I’m sure,” Ashessa threw her hands up in disbelief, “I should certainly believe what a whore’s spawn says at any rate.”
Naomi grit her teeth, “I wish you wouldn’t call me that, Madam Ashessa.”
“Ha! I’ve been in this family longer than your whore mother lived her entire life,” Ashessa countered, her voice filled with daggers.
Naomi took a breath, “Auntie, this fighting needs to end.”
That was a joke. Naomi was the one on the offensive, the family merely protecting themselves from her far-reaching kameiras and cabal. Ashessa merely shook her head, “As I understand, you are the aggressor.”
“Your DENT operatives…” Naomi began.
Ashessa cut her off, “My DENT operatives? You’re clearly insane! When in your whore’s spawn brain did you manage to cook that one up?”
DENT was entirely the purview of her great-nephew Reginald. No one in the family would claim ownership of them, a secret police force as terrifying as it was silently efficient.
“So you deny it?” Naomi asked.
“Deny what?” Ashessa replied, beginning to feel the edges of a noose begin to close around the parlor.
“Order the attempt on my life.”
Ashessa paused, and in that moment, felt she heard a voice somewhere in the parlor. It was ephemeral, lasting scarcely the length of a moment before disappearing again. Most of the loyalists in the family knew that DENT would never be so overt with their action–they would never target Naomi directly, never outright.
Ashessa responded with a dry life, saying sarcastically, “Oh yes, and I’ve also ordered an assassin into your bedchamber armed with a retractable toe.”
The voice again. She turned, “What was that?”
“Auntie,” Naomi interjected before Ashessa could investigate further, “No more people need to be hurt.”
“Call me that, again,” Ashessa seethed, “I dare.”
She may have been old, but her influence in the family was still strong. If Naomi wanted a war, she would have one–the Holding set alight in a matter of hours. Already she began plotting, the colonels of the local reserves, police commissioners, and even the laity that remembered her great-grandfather’s rule. They would all rise up against Naomi and her kameiras.
Ashessa cleared her throat, sure of herself after Naomi fell silent, “My granddaughter,” She demanded, “And you stop trying to become Holder. you’re leaving a mountain of corpses in your wake.”
Naomi burst out in anger, startling Ashessa, “I only have her because she protects me! And you would have killed her anyway if I hadn’t been rescued by Alexa!”
Ashessa matched the name to a description, “Alexa? Oh. That Brutor girl you’ve been sleeping with.”
“S-she’s more than that!” Naomi wailed back.
“I’m not surprised you know, what with that whore’s blood pumping through your filthy veins.”
“No, I love her. More than anything I’ve ever loved in my entire life. I won’t let you talk about her… about us like that!”
Ashessa nearly spat in disgust, “You don’t know what love is.”
“Stop this fighting, Auntie,” Naomi said, her voice returning to the soft pleading tone of before.
“The day you give me Rebecca, I’ll treat you with the deference you so crave. But until then, I vow to make your life so utterly miserable you’ll wish you were whoring yourself in the undercity of Dam-Torsad!”
Naomi took a deep breath, “So you won’t stop this fighting?”
“Get out of my way,” Ashessa yelled, slapping Naomi across her voice with all her strength, giving into every desire for catharsis–for her son, for his wife, for their daughter.
Suddenly, loud voices emanated from the outside of the parlor, “That’s the signal!”
At first, Ashessa thought that it was her life they were after, but then she saw their weapons were trained on Naomi. Loyalists? They must have been, for almost instantaneously a 6′ 4″ kameira burst out of an alcove, throwing a knife at one of the gunmen. Ashessa recognized her immediately as Alexa de’Crux. So someone had been waiting, most likely to assassinate her. She allowed herself to smirk as she watched Naomi’s plan start to become undone.
One of the men pointed their pistol at Alexa while the other aimed his squarely at Naomi’s head.
“No, not her! Leave her be!” Naomi exclaimed, on the verge of execution.
One of the gunmen fired a round at Alexa, though it seemed to miss as the kameira ducked and rolled. She grabbed a paperweight off of one of the writing-desks and flung it with a sniper’s precision at the head of her attacker. He fell back, discharging his weapon uselessly into the air.
Ashessa could barely keep up–kameira were legendary for their battlefield prowess, but she hadn’t expected a performance like that. She found herself snarling, “What in Divinty’s Edge are you?”
Alexa, not missing a beat and ignoring Ashessa simply yelled at Naomi to duck, then crashed into the man holding Naomi at gunpoint. In that second, Naomi picked up the fallen man’s pistol and planted a round squarely into him before he could recover from the paperweight. She stoop up shakily, waiting for Alexa to be clear before firing at the second assailant. She dropped the weapons to the ground, her face betraying how alien they felt to her.
Useless buffoons. Ashessa reached for the pistol, then trained it directly onto Naomi. Alexa placed her form between the matriarch and the steward, a look of caution veiling a sense of protective fury.
“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I will have no part of it. The sanctity of this family will be preserved,” She checked the pistol expertly, her old life of intrigue serving her well, “I should’ve done this a long time ago.”
“You don’t want to do this,” Alexa started to say before scooping up her knife with one foot, tossing it into her hand, and flinging to underhand at Ashessa.
Ashessa barely managed to dodge the knife, kneeling to steady her aim before firing two rounds in practiced succession at Naomi and Alexa. Naomi screamed as the round hit her, clutching to her side as blood spilled between her fingers. To Ashessa’s horror, Alexa was unfazed–the kameira pushed Naomi out of harm’s way then grabbed the other discarded weapon, firing two rounds into the old woman.
Impressive. Center-mass. That was all Ashessa could think as her body began to crumple to the floor. In death, she began to understand. It had been staged like a play. Those had been Naomi’s men.
Damn it all.