Part 46: Zenobia's Preparation

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"It happened, however, that the King appointed a festival which was to last three days, and to which all the beautiful young girls in the country were invited, in order that his son might choose himself a bride. (Cinderella, Brothers Grimm)

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-Zenobia-


"Hello, Death."

I greet the tall, wispy figure that emerges from the shadows with a stiff curtsy and a bow of my head. Anxiety causes my fingers to quiver as they grasp onto the folds of my dark dress.

I am happy to see Death, more so than I thought I would be. But an important question lingers in my head, an unmistakable wedge between myself and true happiness. Why is Death here, in the Living world? His trips here are rare and never without reason. For him to come here and find me, the reason must be important indeed.

I feel Death's hard fingers press against the delicate skin beneath my chin. Two fingers raise my head up, forcing me to look into the depths of the dark holes where eyes might have been, once upon a time.

A cracking noise emanates from Death's rusting jaw when he smiles. He twists my head to the right and then to the left.

"You've changed, Zenobia," he notes. A hint of approval is twisted round his rasping words. "My, what a pretty shade of brown your skin's become."

"The sun's very gracious," I agree. "I've enjoyed it."

Death's grin falters. "Have you now?" he murmurs. He taps my chin twice then allows his fingers to fall away from my chin and go back to his side. I see his other hand tighten around the black pole of his gigantic scythe.

"You don't seem too pleased to see your guardian, Zenobia," Death observes.

I flinch and look down. I was once so capable of keeping my emotions hidden around Death. What's happened to me?

"I.... I am pleased," I reply honestly. "Very pleased. I'm just confused to why you're here."

Death's chilling smirk and silence adds another lump of anxiety to my stomach, where a small pile has already accumulated.

I knew it. He's here to take me back to the Underworld. The silence says it all. He's had enough time to mull over his decision of sending me to marry Prince Charming and has decided against it. I'm doomed to return to the Underworld to continue training in the ever-present shadows until the day I succeed Death and take his place.

Another cracking grin. "Why do you think I'm here, Zenobia?" Death asks, as though he read my mind.

My lips tremble. "I don't know," I whisper. I can feel my only chance of staying in this world slipping away from me. Panicked, I clutch my dress tighter and face Death with squared shoulders.

"I like it here," I proclaim loudly. When Death says nothing, I hurry to say what's on my mind. "I like it here very much. I've made many new friends and I've been to so many different places. And look!" I pause and allow my fumbling hands to pull my sketchbook from its satchel. "I've drawn, just as you asked me to."

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