The split second Code X cracked open the thin book, a fiery red explosion lit up the room. The initially tiny sparks of fire engulfed everything in their paths until the entire palace became consumed in flames. Screams of pain and fear became the silent night's only melody, and the Empress was awakened from her peaceful slumber to find all that she loved go up in ashes. But she had little time to lament before she too burned into cinders.
Well no, much to Code X's disappointment, none of that had actually happened.
In fact, nothing happened at all.
She simply turned the first page of parchment to find the familiar list of names.
Ling Yue - 4 years
Mi Rongliang - 6 years
Su Huan - 12 years
Pu Liu - 14 years
A'shina Qi - 16 years
And that was that. Thumbing through the rest of the pages, she let out an exasperated sigh. No descriptions of the world. No summary of her mission. No portraits nor biographies of her targets.
The pages were simply blank, almost for show or to make the phamplet appear thicker than it actually needed to be.
She shook the pages, desperately hoping that there would be something — a loose scrap of paper or a secret fold. But no, apart from the pages after pages of blank parchment, there was nothing.
Cursing, she slammed her hands against the bed, only to find that it was rock solid. Her arms trembled from the impact, the bruises from earlier flaring in pain once more.
Mentally, she cursed Death once more, tossing whatever insults and horrible names she had at him.
A hand snaked around her shoulders, and she jumped up in surprise.
"Did you really miss me that much?" There, right behind her, sat a familiar figure. Complete with his trademark silly sunglasses and lop-sided smile, Death leaned against the mud-baked walls, itching his nose. With his dark modern hood and his obscured facial features, he stuck out from the rest of the shack like a sore thumb. "I could hear all your nice thoughts about me from a mile away."
Seeing him, Code X scowled, and she tightened her hands, feeling her short fingernails dig deep into her skin. Shakily, she raised her wrinkled fist to his face.
"This is what you meant by another chance?" She barked, gesturing to herself and then the rest of the room. "This?"
He only shrugged. "This is punishment after all. And what can I say, it was all a part of the original contract."
With a flick of his wrist, the parchment she had signed materialized in thin air, and he pointed to the ant-sized font at the bottom left corner.
She lunged for the paper, but with a single snap o this fingers, it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
"You rat! You scoundrel! You pig! You fool!" Unleashing the entire torrent of thought and curses she previously gathered in her mind, temporarily, she allowed herself to forget all she had learned from the agency about holding her tongue.
It was almost as if releasing all her pent-up anger and frustration had helped clear her mind, and she suddenly remembered what she needed to do to get out of here. How could she have let these thoughts slip from her mind?
Plastering on a stone-cold poker face, one she had trained years to perfect, she declared, "I want a list of who these people are in their past lives, completed with their portraits and basic biographies. Not to mention, I need you to help me escape from the Empress's guards tomorrow."
"Who do you think you are to command me?" Death let out a low chuckle. "Remember, this is all a part of your own punishment, and you're but a mere mortal here only thanks to my kindness."
Code X continued to stare, careful not to let any expression form on her face. "But I must be important. I don't know why yet, but this 'mere mortal' must be important enough to bring you here personally."
Seeing his smile tighten into a straight line, she continued. "You do not need to tell me why I'm so important to you, but if you want this job done, you will have to do it my way."
There was a moment of silence, but he soon broke out into hearty laughter.
"I see why your agency wanted to dispose of you." He straightened his posture. "Here, I'll let you in on a tiny secret."
Motioning for her to approach him, he whispered. "Do you remember how you asked me about the ages?" He took of his sunglasses, revealing two fiery red orbs in the place of regular eyes. "Well, for every year that you stole from those people, that time got added onto your current body. So instead of cursing me for my…what did you call it? 'Foolish incompetence,' was it? Blame yourself for bringing this punishment onto you."
Tiny flames danced dangerously in his eyes, and he pulled back to meet Code X's unwavering gaze.
"But I must admit, I've taken a liking to you. So how about this, I'll make you a special offer." He waved his hands, and a mirror materialized in front of Code X. In the dim room, it radiated a faint light, immediately attracting her eyes.
More than ever before, she saw her current face clearly. She had sunken eyes with red blood vessels branched out within them, so extensively that the red dominated over the whites of the eyes. There was no ounce of meat on her cheeks, and her skin sagged down towards her short chin. Dark spots speckled her face, and a singular large mole rested at the corner of her lips.
Death put his hands on her back. "Close your eyes," he whispered, his voice alarmingly soft.
Unwillingly, Code X obliged, her eyelids drooping as if guided by an invisible force.
Opening them once more, she gasped at the sight before her.
The woman in the mirror had cherry red lips and a natural blush. Her chocolate-colored eyes were bright, and there was no hint of blemish on her flawless skin. It was the face she had known for 23 years. It was the face she had last seen as a jumble of melted flesh. It was the face she never thought she would see again.
"So about those years. If you give them back to the people you took them from, I'll also return those years back to you."
She felt the strength of her tensing muscles. And looking down, her former body was indeed back as well. With her old body back, secretly, she wondered if she could strangle Death and flee. But could Death die?
"But that is only if you complete the mission."
In a single moment, she withered like a flower without water, and she could feel her muscles shrivel as her skin loosened from her bones.
Glancing in the mirror again, her face was ashen, the 74 years of age catching up to her again in the span of a single moment.
"I have a real special present for you. But that will be for tomorrow. Bring the Empress's guards to the corner store of the west market, and meet me in the alley behind the red lanterns."
Code X turned to ask him about his exact plans, but he was already gone.
Well at least, he left the mirror behind.
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