Author's Note: This week's writeblr-monthly homework was very easy. It was "write a character having a conversation with Death", so the obvious thing to do was write another D&E side-story.
At the minute this is a non-canonical "what if?", but some elements of it might end up in D&E's sequel :)
A Deal With Death
When you can flatten entire cities at a whim, a tendency towards quiet reflection and seeing-things-from-the-other-fellow's-point-of-view is seldom necessary. – Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
As a general rule Qihadal avoided Death. But a curious sentence in a history book had given her an idea, and it wouldn't leave her alone. So she was now in the odd situation of asking Tinuviel to ask Death to visit her.
Tinuviel stared at her as if she'd gone crazy. Perhaps she had.
"You want to see her?" he asked.
Qihadal nodded. "There's something I want to ask her."
She had expected Death would appear at night. That was the sort of overly-dramatic thing she would find amusing. But instead Death appeared in the afternoon, in Qihadal's sitting-room, as the Empress was reading the day's correspondence.
"What do you want to shout at me for now?" Death asked in a thoroughly bored tone. She sat down in the chair opposite Qihadal without waiting for an invitation.
Qihadal only just stopped herself from giving an undignified startled yelp. She sat up straight and looked as regal as she could. "I wish to..." The words left a bitter taste in her mouth, "...to make a deal with you."
Death raised an eyebrow. "Really. What sort of deal?"
Qihadal gritted her teeth. She had to swallow her pride just to make this request. It would have been slightly less galling if Death had looked surprised, or shown any emotion other than indifference. "This morning one of my ladies-in-waiting told me that her young son had died. I read yesterday in a history book of a princess who offered you the lives of every criminal in the empire in exchange for her child's life. The book said you accepted the bargain. I want to make a similar one."
Death nodded slowly. She never took her eyes off Qihadal. The empress tried to return her stare without flinching.
"What are the terms of your bargain? Do you want me to bring your lady-in-waiting's son back to life? That require a greater sacrifice than the lives of criminals." Death spoke as if she was reciting a list of facts, and yet there was a hint of amusement in her voice.
Qihadal had considered it at first. But now she had a different idea. "No. I don't want to bring anyone back from the dead. But I want you – I ask you – to spare the lives of children who would otherwise die. And in exchange I give you the souls of every murderer and rapist in Carann."
"One soul is not equal to another," Death said, idly tapping her finger against the arm of her chair. "The souls of all those murderers and rapists are so tarnished and filthy that put together they would only buy the life of ten children. Oh, and Fate has decreed all those children will die. Attempting to cheat Her on such a large scale will go… badly."
Qihadal clenched and unclenched her fists. She had gone to all this trouble, lowered herself to bargaining with this thing, and it turned her away? "Then what if I gave you the souls of all the criminals in Malish as well?"
Death laughed. "You can only offer me something you have some claim to. You don't rule Malish."
A grim silence fell over the room. Qihadal glared at Death. Death returned her glare with a bored, uninterested look.
"Ten children," Qihadal repeated. "And how many die every day?"
Death shrugged. "It depends on many things. But the average is sixteen."
Finally, she had a chance to get part of what she wanted. "Then spare the lives of ten of those sixteen. Every day there are more murders and rapes, so you will always have some recompense."
Death looked at her with an unreadable expression. "Why are you willing to go to such lengths for people you don't even know?"
That was probably the first question Death had ever asked her that had an easy answer. "Because I saw how her son's death has devastated Lady Junruwen. Because I want to spare other women that pain."
She almost imagined Death looked at her with something like respect. "And how long do you intend this bargain to last?"
Qihadal hadn't thought of that before. "As long as I live."
Death's smile was far too wide for comfort. "Done."