Chapter 1:

One stone

The Girl of Death

Middle of the night. Middle of nowhere.

A dark cloak traversed the maze-like woods, swiftly avoiding the identical, bare beech trees while rustling the withered leaves beneath them.

With the forest thinning out, an unobstructed view of the daunting snow-capped peaks was made apparent, and amidst the mist, an enigmatic girl sat at the edge of the nearby steep cliff, her legs dangling back and forth as she contemplated the waning gibbous Moon.

Appearing from underneath the worn mantle, a spectral hand held a pristine silver pocket watch by its fob. It ticked, and it tocked. Two times. Until it lifted on its own in her direction.

It was that girl’s time.

Certain deaths required certain circumstances, and as fate would have it, that onerous task was entrusted to this occult entity.

After returning the pocket watch inside the cloak, the ghostly hand emerged once more. It materialized a scythe out of thin air, and while swaying it, a sinister enchantment was murmured endlessly into the frigid darkness.

To take lives, this being is compelled to play a despicable game with its victims, assuming the form of what is most precious to them. This time, so the story goes, he couldn’t.

He relentlessly repeated the ritual until he had to admit something was amiss. It had never happened before, so he was manifestly appalled. Even more than that, he was intrigued.

Discarding God’s unbreakable rules, he impulsively approached the girl, standing behind her and menacingly presenting himself as the almighty God of Death. His terrifying presence would have sent chills down the spine of even the bravest of men.

Yet, the girl showed no concern whatsoever. She might not even have heard his words as she took a coin from her pocket and gave it to him, mistaking him for a beggar and hoping he would leave her alone.

This was the proud spirit’s most embarrassing moment in all his eternal life. Infuriated beyond belief, he still put away the coin inside his mantle.

“Are you not afraid of me? Not even the tiniest bit?”

She quickly shrugged her shoulders, still staring into the distance.

Nevertheless, this was the first time he talked to a human being in his true form, and since this opportunity presented itself, he wanted to make the most of it while it lasted. Telling her one of his best stories would make up for an excellent first impression. Meanwhile, he could try to decipher her genuine emotions.

He told her the story of Hayato and Fukurou, two brothers, inseparable since birth. It was well-known around their village that if you found one, you would soon bump into the other.

But two cruel fates were bestowed upon them.

Enjoying doing everything together, they shared the exact same tastes, so inevitably, they fell in love with the exact same girl.

The other one was that their time had come.

The girl they had fallen for was ideal for Death’s deeds. A gracefulness that would entrap any creature. Her neutral expression worked as a blank canvas. He could effortlessly manipulate it to manifest anything he wanted.

While briefly impersonating her, he promised to marry whoever brought him the largest and most beautiful emerald.

They knew precisely what gem he spoke of. Inside the village’s shrine, on the stone altar, laid this sacred jewel, the size of an egg, no one dared to touch.

Simultaneously, both rushed to it. However, Hayato, always the fastest of the two, arrived first. Fukurou found him seconds later and, in his madness, lost control of himself.

After regaining his senses, he realized what he had done to his dear brother and closest friend. The only way to save him was if he could turn back time. Facing this impossibility, he swallowed the emerald, knowing that he would never breathe again.

It was one of his finest works yet. He called it: One stone, two birds.

As he finished, he burst into laughter.

She didn’t.

A tough crowd. Death was all he knew and was ever so amusing to him. How could she not find it humorous, especially this particular story?

“You must have felt a similar powerful desire during your life, have you not?”

On the contrary, the story did not evoke any feelings in her. She was numb. For most of her life, emptiness consumed her heart.

The girl stood up. With both hands, she shook off the dirt from the back of her skirt. In the same place, she lifted a foot from the ground and spun around until she stared Death in the eye.

Death stared back at her. At her midnight eyes. In that instant, he saw it all, every single tick of her past.

Her name was Ruri. After stumbling upon them, a disorderly stream of signals flooded through the nerves of her body. A primal instinct left her breathless, and her heart beat faster than doomed hunted prey. Her eyes were prisoners of that scene, unable to look away until the shivers dwindled. That was it, what she thought was missing in her. Yet, it hadn’t been enough to satisfy her thirst. She needed to experience it again.

She decided to try it out for herself. Again and again. However, the intensity of that feeling diminished each time. Eventually, she took them all. The parents, the siblings, the friends, the neighbors, the strangers, the whole village by her soft hands. When she finished, she returned to her numbing existence.

He never knew what his actions had urged since he never wondered about what was not fated to be. This unscrupulous and emotionless being, a work of art in his eyes, had crossed paths with his mundane work and extended it. Among his bewilderment, fear also crept stronger.

“Mr. Death. Since you’re so into it, do you want to find out… If those birds can kill a stone?”

She smiled for the first time while she stepped back and let herself fall into the abyss.

With no delay, as a professional should, he took out his watch, and with a single mutter, time stopped. Afterward, with a flick of his thumb, he flipped the coin she had given him earlier. As it went up and evaporated mid-air, the watch ticked, then it tocked.

One time. Two seconds went back.

The girl rewinded to the top of the cliff, standing face-to-face with him again.

And thus the God of Death spoke:

“I could have easily reverted our meeting, made it seem like it never happened, and pretended I had adhered to the rules. But there are things not even time can hide, and the other Gods already registered my intentions and actions. So my punishment has already been decided, and I must take my leave now.

Still, do not misunderstand my words. I may have broken one rule, but I shall not break another. You are not allowed to die until I deem it so. You may not feel much now, but in the next couple of centuries, you will eventually find someone who brings out those emotions you so much desire.

When that time comes, you will wish I had let you fall here and now. I shall return and take everything from you. The happiness you do not know of yet. Until then, you will take my place. I have a hunch you will be better at it than me.”

The cloak now covered the girl, and inside it, the watch resumed ticking.

One stone, two hundred birds.

And counting.

The Girl of Death

The Girl of Death

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