September 10, 1898
The dream had slipped away as soon as he’d woken up, as dreams tended to, but even as he made his way from his tiny rented room towards the docks he found himself remembering flashes from it. The woman with the cold, dark eyes and hair made of mist and smoke. The blade that looked suspiciously like the one he currently had tucked in his jacket pocket being dropped into his hand. He shook his head as he approached the docks. He needed to focus now, not be thinking about pointless dreams. A gust of wind shoved a discarded newspaper up against his feet. He bent down and picked it up, flipping it open as he found a good place to loiter. His initial target wouldn’t be coming, but that bitch-empress from Austria was, and as far as he was concerned, one imperialist dog was as good as another.
There was far less fanfare when she arrived than he would have expected, and if he hadn’t been paying attention he would have missed her. But there she was, with only a single servant. This was going to be easier than he thought. He charged forward with a shout, pulling the sharpened file out of his pocket as he did so. As he’d expected, his sudden rush caught everyone by surprise, and before they could stop him, he’d crashed into the Empress and plunged the file into her. He yanked the blade back, but it spun out of his hand so he abandoned it, turning to run. Not that he intended to totally evade capture, of course. No, he’d lead the police on a merry little chase, just enough to make the story more interesting when it showed up in the papers. That, after all was his goal – to make his mark in imperial blood, large enough to ensure his own immortality in all the papers.
He ducked and wove through the growing crowd, darting towards the waiting gangplank of the ship, prepared to switch directions again before he got too close. But his eyes locked with someone else’s, a pair of cold, dark, glittering eyes. The ones from his dream. But what was some strange dream doing here? It brought him up short, and he blinked in confusion.
“Thank you,” the woman said with a too-knowing smile, and turned to head up the gangplank on to the ship. Before he could even process anything, the police were on him, several of them grabbing him and pulling him away. The damned Empress was getting up though. Had he missed all the vital organs in his rush to stab her? He broke away from the police, charging toward the woman, even as he realized he no longer had a weapon. Before he’d gotten even half a dozen steps, however, they were on him again, dragging him down and away from the docks. He fought and spat curses, but to no effect. Nothing he could do but make the best of what he had accomplished. Even an attempted assassination should make the papers, right?
October 19, 1910
“Give those back!” he shouted, banging on the bars of his cell. “I’m entitled to write my memoirs!”
The guard laughed and shook the stack of papers at him. “Murderers like you ain’t entitled to nothing. Chief says you can’t have these, so you can’t.”
“I’ve been working ten years on that!” He continued to bang his fist against the bars, but the guard just laughed and walked away, down the hall.
“Shut up, Lucheni,” came a voice from one of the other cells. “Some of us are trying to sleep.” There was a chorus of agreement from up and down the row. He shoved off the cell door and stalked back to his bunk. All those fools were just common criminals, without any sense of vision or purpose for their crimes. But he was different; he’d had a purpose! He had to write his memoirs to let the world see that. At least he’d succeeded in making all the papers, especially when the Empress had indeed died of the wound he’d inflicted. But without his memoirs, his own words to justify his actions he’d just get forgotten as another random crazy.
“Do you want to be remembered?” The voice was smooth and lilting, entirely unlike the rough speech of most of the prison’s inmates, and most surprisingly, female. He looked up to see a strange woman in a low cut black dress standing just outside his cell. She had pale, pale skin and a dangerously beautiful face, but what captivated his attention was her eyes, dark, and cold. He remembered those eyes. The ones from his dream. The woman on the gangplank.
“Who are you?” he asked, standing up.
“You know,” she said, a small smile playing on her lips.
With a start, he realized he did. “Am I going to die?” he whispered.
“That depends,” the woman who was Death said.
“No!” he said. He couldn’t die yet! They’d taken his writing, but he could start again. Hide it better this time, so no one found it until he was done.
“They will always find your writings,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “And probably burn them.”
“No!” he said again, banging a fist against the bars, drawing another round of complaints from the other cells. The woman was unperturbed however, and reached through the bars to lay cold, cold fingers against his cheek.
“I can keep that from happening,” she said, her dark gaze catching and holding his. “But I will need something from you.”
He took a step back, shaking his head. This was just too bizarre. He had to be dreaming, or hallucinating, or something. But he couldn’t seem to look away from those glittering cold eyes. “What do you want?” he managed to croak out.
“There is a story that needs to be told, and I need you to tell it,” the woman said, stepping through the cell door as if the bars weren’t even there. “But to do so you will have to die.”
“So you’re going to kill me?”
She shook her head, “I only take the lives given to me. I cannot kill.”
“What if I don’t want to die?”
“You want to sit in prison for the next twenty to thirty years?”
He had to admit she had a point there. “What do I get out of this?”
Her smile widened. “I can make sure your manuscript isn’t burned. That it is published, even. That you will be immortalized.”
“You can do that but you can’t kill?” he asked with a derisive snort. “Tell me another one.”
The woman shrugged. “I do not lie.” And in that moment he knew she didn’t. If it meant getting his words out there….
“Why do I have to be dead to tell a story?”
“Because your audience is Judgment, and they only listen to the dead.”
He fell silent at that, considering. Death did not lie, but there really was some sort of Judgment like the priests and all spoke of? But it all came back to that promise of being immortalized. “Not saying I’m going to do it, but if you can’t kill me, how am I supposed to get dead?”
The woman smiled slightly and glanced down at his belt, and then up to the exposed pipe that ran the length of the cell. He followed her gaze and sighed. “Figures. But it would beat rotting away here.” He removed his belt as he climbed up on his bunk and slipped one end through the buckle. He tied the free end around the pipe and slipped the loop around his neck. “This had better be worth it,” he said.
“Move it out a bit more,” the woman said. “Otherwise you won’t snap your neck, and will have to hang there until you suffocate. Which would just be tiresome for both of us.”
“You are a cold bitch,” he said, but he shoved the knot end out further.
“So I have been told.”
He sighed and shook his head. “For immortality.” And he jumped.
There was a moment of searing pain, and then all was black. When he could see again, he was surrounded by mist. The woman who was Death was there, and she stepped close to him, covering his mouth with her own in a deep kiss that sent shivers through his entire body.
“Welcome to the lands of the dead,” she said, the mists ebbing and flowing with her voice.
“Well that hurt,” he said, rubbing his throat. “You said you had a story you wanted me to tell?”
Death smiled and nodded. “It begins with a fourteen year-old girl.…”