'It's 1809, and Europe is in a state of revolt. Do you know where your battle is?'
The last straggling line of an interesting dream left Evita's head as she awoke on a lush red couch. It was most certainly not the cot she remembered sleeping in, causing her to wake more quickly. By the comfort of it, she half-thought about lugging it back to her campsite.
Her current place of rest was nestled in a small square room next to a desk and chair. Arching an eyebrow at this, she turned her stiff neck to look at the other items in the room. Against the opposite corner was an olive green cabinet and a freestanding hat rack. Upon this hat rack, Evita noticed with curiosity, was a black cap adorned with golden braid and a matching jacket with a decoration she was familiar with – Hungarian Knots.
The Spaniard reverted her attention to the desk as she sat up, her brown curls falling around her face and framing brown eyes. A brass plate, placed between a lamp and pen/pencil holder said Death. While she was still blinking at the uniform and nameplate, plus the outlandish office, a figure stood behind her, arms crossed, frown firmly in place.
"When you're done gawking, let me know."
Evita whipped around, and her face went white as a sheet. She was staring at a figure robed in a long black garment with a hood drawn to hide the face, and a scythe tucked in the crook of the figure's arm.
Actually, Death was more like thus; a peeved-looking man with uneven black hair, narrowed gray-blue eyes, and a thin, straight nose. He, unlike the office, actually looked to be from her time. He was wearing black trousers tucked around a white billowy shirt, and leather boots that hugged his calves. Evita's mouth twitched. Not many men could wear tight trousers, but he pulled it off like a particularly expensive courtesan.
"It was always my impression that the Spanish liked to talk. You either must be mute or the only shy Spaniard." He continued with a smirk. Evita glared at the man; you couldn't find a bolder woman.
"What do you want me to say?"
The man made to walk toward his desk, twisting the chair so he could sit upon it, then he swiveled around to face her, propping his feet on the desk.
"Actually, there's nothing you could say that I don't already know. Nothing important, anyway. Care for tea?"
Evita blinked again and opened her mouth to answer something snide like 'Do I look English?' but the man already yelled at his door.
"Kindness! Tea for the girl, if you please."
"Right away, Brigadier!" a voice answered through the wood. The man looked back to Evita expectantly.
"I don't suppose-"
"Who are you?" Evita interrupted, one eyebrow raised. "It's customary to introduce oneself at a first meeting."
It was the man's turn to blink again. After a few moments, he sighed and sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers, regarding her through hooded eyes. The room seemed to darken around her, and a chill ran up the Partisan leader's spine. The air seemed tangible enough to cut with a saber. Finally-
"I am Death. Brigadier Death of MOHL, Management Of Human Lives."
Evita opened her mouth to retort, but Death flicked his wrist in her direction, and the line of her mouth disappeared. The woman clawed at her chin in horror, and Death continued.
"You, Evita of the Partisans, are currently in my office at MOHL headquarters. Now, nod your head, please, if you remember your last battle at Bordeaux."
Evita stopped trying to find her mouth, narrowed her eyes, and wondered what he was getting at. She nodded her head, and Death mimicked the movement sagely.
"I suppose you recall that a cannonball nearly claimed your life. Instead, it bounced away to the left and harmed no one. Am I correct?"
Evita, too shocked, for once in her life, to do anything else, nodded, entranced. Death took on a very irate look.
"That cannonball was supposed to kill you. Somehow, you evaded your fate, and came home alive. You may speak."
Her mouth reappeared, and Evita immediately stood up, slamming her fists down on Death's desk, making him draw his feet back in surprise.
"I want out of this nut house. D'Almidon put you up to this, right? I'm going to carve him into shape, I will…"
"Your tea, Briggy Death." said a voice. Evita whipped around to see a woman with floor-length curly golden hair, smiling sweetly and holding a tray with a teapot and two cups. She was wearing a white skirt suit that accented her crystal blue eyes, and a calming radiance came off of her. The woman crossed the small room in two steps and scooted past the Partisan leader to set the tray on the desk.
"My my, Briggy Death. What are you doing to the poor girl?"
Death frowned and replaced his feet on the desk.
"Colonel, cut the act. We both know you are Kindness in little more than name."
The sweet smile faded from the woman's face, and she sat on a corner of the now crowded tiny desk, flipping her hair from her face and looking Evita up and down. She switched her gaze to Death.
"Well, thank God you let me be mean, Briggy. What's going on, anyway? I thought it was against regulation for a human to come to MOHL."
Death sighed again and waved at the air above him, looking intently at the ceiling.
"Oh, not much, Colonel Kindness," he started, with only a hint of sarcasm. Kindness caught it and scowled. "Evita here – one of the Partisans – somehow escaped her fate."
"She escaped you, did she?" the colonel said with a smirk, which soon changed to a face like that of a mother speaking like her child. "Is poor widdle Death sad? It might be beddy time-"
Kindness blinked once or twice, replaced her sweet smile and swept from the room, carrying the untouched tea with her. The door slammed behind her loud enough to jolt the two occupants back to movement.
"I must apologize," Death stated, removing his feet from the desk and sitting forward. "She seems to have taken our tea."
Evita shook her head in disbelief and sat back down upon the couch gingerly, as if not wanting to disturb something. What was going on? There was this Colonel Kindness that really wasn't, and then this lunatic calling himself Death! This all had to be a bad dream. Yeah. Making her mouth disappear like that marked it as one of the bad dreams.
"As I was saying…" Death continued, clearing his throat as if her outburst had not happened, "I'll make a deal with you. I'll not touch your soul, but you have to pay for it."
Evita looked up, eyes hollow. This guy was unbelievable. She was Evita, Partisan leader and killer of the French. She wasn't one of the idiot farm girls he was probably used to conning. Of course, where he thought up the style – or technology – to create the place, she didn't know.
"Personally, I'd love to take your soul. Missing one gives me a black mark on my record, see."
Death looked up from a paper at Evita. Her eyes were hooded, and she sounded tired.
"Excuse me?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.
"I'll do it. Work here, I mean."
She raised her eyes and looked Death square in the eye. Needless to say, this didn't happen often, and he flinched.
"I have to see my men. That, and you have to tell me what's going on here. I don't believe this MOHL crap."
Death stood up and went over to the green cabinet. He opened one of the drawers and withdrew what looked like a mirror. He handed it to Evita, tapped it twice with his index finger, and went over to the door. He didn't open it, he just looked at the woman as if bored.
Evita took the cool glass object in her hand and looked at the picture swirling into sight. She saw the encampment that she must have gone to sleep in, and the men she commanded milling about as if in a trance. They still didn't know that she was gone. She didn't bother wondering about how a mirror could do such a thing as create a scene. She was too absorbed in the magic of it.
"There. You've seen them. Now, if you don't mind, we have work to do."
Evita's head snapped up, and the mirror cleared.
"I don't think so. I want to see them in person. And you still haven't explained what all this really is."
Death rolled his eyes and opened the door, his free hand beckoning her toward it.
"Come here, if you please. I'll show you that this is all real."
Evita, still untrusting, stood up. For the first time during the whole encounter, she noticed that she was still in her nightshirt. She stood stock-still and glared at Death.
"I'd like some real clothes before we go anywhere."
Death took on a blank expression, snapped his fingers, and the nightshirt was gone. Evita found herself in the clothes that she would wear on campaign. Her own white shirt, trousers, and boots. Armed with her clothing, she was ready to face whatever came.
Death walked through the door and Evita followed, unprepared for what came next. There were people bustling about, carrying papers, yelling across the room, and occasionally bumping into each other. The room was very large and square-ish, with many doors leading to rooms away from the main chamber. People would rush in and out of these side-doors, sometimes carrying stacks of paper, sometimes just a clipboard, or even nothing. All of them looked busy, tired, and annoyed.
"Brigadier! Brigadier Death! A moment, please."
The pair turned to see a breathless young man stagger up. He wore a bright smile, black slacks, a white button-up shirt with rolled up sleeved, and a blood-red tie. His eyes were green, fitting well with his fire-red hair and lightly tanned skin. He held forth a paper, which Death took, and looked it over with a frown. The man's smile faded as he looked at Evita, but it quickly returned.
"Who's your friend, Brigadier?" he asked brightly. Death looked up for a moment.
"Evita. Colonel, what's this about?"
The man looked serious for a moment.
"Oh, one of the French generals is close to, well, you. Orders are for you to go collect him. Easy job."
Death chuckled hollowly. "It never is, Colonel."
The man looked put out. "What, oh come on, Brigadier! I'm Truth. I know what all jobs are like."
Evita cocked an eyebrow. "You mean to say the name counts to what you're like?"
Colonel Truth turned his attention to the woman with a grin. "Yep. You know, you look like you'd be a good Sel-"
"No more." Death grated quickly, giving Truth a curdling glare. The man visibly wilted, bobbed his head at Evita, and shrunk away.
"So, there are more of you weirdly-named people?" Evita said hesitantly. Death nodded irately. He was bothered by what Truth said, since the man couldn't speak anything but.
"Yes, there are. Twenty of us altogether, to be exact. This way, now."
He led her to another office filled to the ceiling with overflowing cabinets, cursed under his breath, and then plowed through the piles of paper on the floor. Evita followed, stepping gingerly on the small patches of maroon rug visible. Death stumbled only once before reaching the wall, and he kicked the drawer before pulling it open. He withdrew a paper, turned around, and started back, grumbling darkly. Evita let him pass and followed him back through the hectic main room, and back into his office. She was expecting some other weird person to run up and demand Death's attention, but it never happened. They returned to his cramped little office with little effort.
"So, what's this say?" Evita asked, looking over the paper with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh, it's a contract. Give me a minute, and you'll have a pen." came the reply.
Evita sourly pulled the document towards her and glanced over it demurely. She heard Death ruffling through his drawers looking for the pen, but her eyes were fixed on the paper. It declared that she came under the command of Death, was to follow every order he gave, help collect souls, and whatever else he told her to do. Basically, she was a slave, and this did not enamor her to the contract.
"Here. Sign your name at the bottom."
She looked up and saw Death holding out an old a nearly dry ball point pen.. She took the document grudgingly and uncorked the ink, yet she stopped, looking up.
"What will happen when I sign this? It says I have to do whatever you tell me. How do I know you won't take advantage?"
At Death's expression, she figured that she was safe.
"Don't get your hopes up. No one, not even Lust can feel that. Now, please, sign the form before I change my mind."
Evita sighed and took the pen in her hand, the tip poised above the paper. Death looked as if he were literally waiting with baited breath. The Partisan leader gracefully scrawled her name on the appropriate line, dropped the pen, and crossed her arms.
"All right, I signed. What do I do first?"