Forty-Minute Story: Death Princess

He’d seen dead bodies before, but this was the first time he’d seen one standing up.

He knew right away she was dead. Her skin, the color of milk, glowed faintly in the moonless midnight. Though the air was still, her long gunmetal hair and ragged white dress swayed like cobwebs in a breeze. As he approached, picking his way over the rubble of the ancient castle, he made out the gray-green glimmer of her unblinking eyes.

A voice in his head told him to run, but years of practice had taught him to ignore it. What kind of treasure hunter was he, if he ran away from surprises?

He climbed over a heap of crumbling granite and stood in the ruins of a courtyard, face to face with the dead girl. She cocked her head to the side as she watched him, like a curious dog. His hands were sweating, but he ignored that too. He’d thought she might smell like rotting flesh up close, but the air was clean.

She was holding something, and as she offered it to him, he saw what it was: a bundle of lilacs. He took them cautiously without knowing why.

“Thanks,” he said. The word sounded heavy in the still dark. “Are we trading? Do you want something?” He fished around in his bag and drew out a cheap pendant, plastered with gaudy fake jewels. He wouldn’t have gotten much for it at the market anyway. “This?” He held it out.

She wasn’t even looking. Her eyes were on the flowers, which he still clutched in his left hand.

“Oh, these? You want them back?” He held them out again, but still no answer. “What do you want?”

It wasn’t until he held them up to his nose, inhaling the lilac scent, that a small smile crossed her lips.

She had gotten the treasure she was hunting.

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