The word hung in the air between them. Reaper. Unfamiliar, ominous, strangely resonant. Roxie frowned.
“A Reaper? Black cloak, scythe, that whole business?”
“Is that what the Reaper who collected you looked like?” Rebecca asked, somewhat amused.
“What?” Roxie’s thoughts flashed back to Felix, the well-dressed man who’d chased her down the street. “Oh, right, that guy. Uh. No.”
“Reapers don’t have a set look,” Rebecca said, smirking.
Roxie sighed, turning the hilt over in her hands. She couldn’t help but to feel it looked slightly pathetic.
“Why would I want to be a Reaper? That sounds depressing as all Hell.”
Rebecca’s smirk grew wider.
“Well, they’re stronger than demons. And they spend most of their time anywhere but Hell.”
Roxie tilted her head. “Stronger than demons?”
“They’re the ones who keep stray demons in line. And they can’t be killed.”
“I guess that makes sense.” It was difficult to imagine anything that could kill something that was a part of the cycle of death. Plus, if her experience was anything to go by, you had to already be dead to be a Reaper.
“So?” Rebecca asked.
“I’m not really big on violence,” Roxie said, waving Rebecca off. “Or death.”
“Demons fight a lot more than Reapers do.”
That was an easy enough calculation, then.
“Looks like I’m gonna be a Reaper.”
“Thought so,” Rebecca said. “Let’s go.”
“Just like that?”
“You want more time to think about it?”
“No, I just…” She wasn’t quite sure how to finish that sentence. “I was expecting a slower process, I guess.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“No, no, let’s get on with it,” Roxie said. “Lead the way.”
Rebecca put her hand on the door, resting her palm against the wood. She held it there for several seconds before reaching down and pulling it open, revealing an entirely new area behind it.
Roxie followed her through door, into a warm, sunlight clearing surrounded by trees. She couldn’t help but smile to feel the sun on her skin. The breeze was sweetly scented, and she liked the way it tousled her hair.
All around the clearing appeared to be the ruins of a large stone building. At a guess, Roxie would’ve said it was a cathedral of some kind.
A familiar sight awaited her just behind one of the collapsed walls. Felix leant against it, arms folded, eyes closed.
“Hello again,” he said, without opening his eyes.
She didn’t really know what she was supposed to say to him. It was kind of his fault she was here, wasn’t it? She supposed he was only doing his job, but it was hard not to take it personally.
“I’m not at all surprised to see you here,” he said, opening his eyes and smiling at her.
“Well, that makes one of us.”
“Ha!” He grinned. “I do enjoy your fire.”
“I think you’ll make a fantastic Reaper.”
She looked around, trying to figure out exactly where they were. Presumably, some strange corner of Hell, but it seemed far too pleasant for that. A Reaper training ground? There wasn’t a lot around, and no other Reapers that she could see.
“What should I be expecting, here?”
“Heh,” was all Felix said.
“Don’t you ‘nothing’ me,” she said, feeling a lot like she wanted to punch him.
“You’ll see,” he said, grinning. “It’s quite the experience.”
“You-” she began, but she was cut off.
“Careful,” Rebecca said from behind her, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Where did you come from?” Roxie asked.
“Nowhere,” Rebecca replied.
“What’s the deal?”
“You’ve been assigned a mentor,” Rebecca said.
“Oh?” Felix said, bemused.
“Yep,” Rebecca confirmed. “Meet your mentor, Roxie.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Felix said, grinning.
“Kill me,” Roxie muttered. Felix laughed.
Rebecca left the two of them alone, chuckling to herself before vanishing into thin air. At least, Roxie assumed that there was air around them. She didn’t seem to be breathing, except maybe by force of habit.
“Would you like to learn, then?” Felix asked, extending a hand to her. Reluctantly, and a little unsure, she took it.
A very still, cold sense of calm washed over her, radiating from his touch. Her body felt distant, almost intangible, and at the centre of her, a warm, humming presence grew in size.
“Whoa,” she murmured.
“You feel it?”
“It’s warm. I like it.”
“That’s your core,” he explained. “That’s what you form into your blade. If it breaks, you break.”
“That seems risky,” she said.
“I’ve yet to encounter a single force that could break a Reaper’s blade,” he said. “We’re the embodiment of Death itself. Nothing is exempt from that. Nothing can change that.”
She closed her eyes, focusing on the core. She felt the energy pulse and ripple, settling into a comfortable throbbing. Slowly, she let it spread out and fill her, channelling it down her arm, feeling it in her fingers, holding it in her hand. She opened her eyes, let go of Felix’s hand, and felt the energy solidify.
In her hand, she held a messy lump of jagged metal, twisted in on itself. Felix appraised it, his expression bemused.
“Ugly?” she asked, sighing. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Shape it,” he said.
“Hmm…” He took a step back from her, his hand flicking to the side. In an instant, he was holding his rapier, which he immediately pointed at her. “Defend yourself.”
“What-” she began, but he was already attacking. He moved quickly, and she struggled to fend off his blows with her unwieldy scrap-heap of a weapon.
She was pleased to find how easily her body moved. It felt just like it always had, only with all physical restrictions removed. There was no sense of fatigue, or lack of strength, or poor balance. Everything just worked the way it was supposed to, the way she wanted it to.
Felix was relentless, though. She reflected attack after attack, unsure of what would happen if anything actually hit her. Her instincts told her it wasn’t worth finding out, as difficult as it was to protect herself. Her weapon stubbornly retained its shape, though she was at least relieved to find she couldn’t feel the impacts of his blade connecting roughly with it.
“Is something supposed to be happening?” she asked, not the least bit out of breath despite how hard she was pushing herself. That was going to take some getting used to.
“It will when I stop going easy on you,” he said, grinning. His movements grew faster, less predictable. Within seconds, a strike got past her defences, his blade coming within an inch of slicing her open. It was knocked back at the last second by a long, wickedly-curved edge.
Her weapon had changed. No longer a warped mess of misshapen metal, she was holding a long, straight staff, the end of which held a curved blade with a sharp point.
“A scythe?” she said, staring at it with her mouth agape. “A fucking scythe?”
“Evidently so,” Felix said, his rapier disappearing.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Something wrong?” he asked, clearly holding back laughter.
“I am not going to be a fuckin’ cliché,” she snapped. “Next thing you know I’ll be wearing a black cloak and a skull mask.”
She let go of the scythe, feeling the energy of it flow back into her, its familiar warmth filling her chest. Felix just smiled, adopting a more relaxed pose.
“Fine, so I’m stuck with a scythe. What’s next?” she asked, folding her arms.
“The rest is mostly academic,” he said. “Since you’re such a quick study, I’m sure the rest will be just as painless.”
“Wait, seriously? That’s it?”
“Well, that part usually takes longer, but yes,” he told her. “But if you’d like to spend longer on it, we can delay the lessons on time manipulation?”
If not for the dead seriousness of his tone, she would have assumed he was joking. There was life after death, there was work after death, now there was literal time travel? It was all too much for one day.
“It’s not quite as complicated as it sounds,” he said. “Then again, depending on your perspective, it might be more complicated.”
“Has anyone ever told you how bad you are at explaining things?” she asked.
“Only people too impatient to listen to the explanations,” he retorted.
“Fine. Explain whatever weird time bullshit I need to know.”
“Envision this,” he said, drawing a line in the dirt between them. “This is time, in the world you know.”
He drew a second line, parallel to the first.
“This is time, in another world,” he said.
“The world you know is only one of several. Each of them has its own timeline. Though they all mostly match up, they are independent, and not perfectly in synch.”
He drew more lines in the dirt, all parallel. Then he drew two more, running perpendicular, across the top and bottom of the others.
“Hell, or whatever else you want to call it, exists independently of time. We exist independently of even Hell’s time stream, so we tend to come and go in the other worlds in a somewhat non-linear fashion.”
“So, we can time travel?” she asked, struggling to keep up with his explanation.
“Not intentionally,” he replied patiently. “We just go where, and when, we’re sent. It just doesn’t always happen in order.”
“That makes no fuckin’ sense,” she complained. “But sure. Fine. What’s next?”
“Next? Well, I suppose we can teach you the rest on the job,” he said. “Would you like to harvest your first soul?”
“Can you make it sound a little less creepy?”
“Nope,” he said, grinning.
Next Week: Bring Out Your Dead