Jones The Reaper

Interlude 15C – Finding A Reaper (Heretical Edge 2)

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The moon hung full and bright above the small park on the edge of a quiet town on the very southern edge of Idaho, barely a couple miles from the Utah border. It was a town of only ten thousand people. Within a stone’s throw of this small park, the town’s only elementary school stood. After classes, the children would often run to this park to play, far enough from the school to feel better about getting away from the place, while still technically within sight of adult supervision as various teachers and other faculty went about their end-of-day duties. 

And yet, this late at night, there were no children anywhere near the park. They were all at home, safely tucked into their beds. Instead, a single figure sat on the swing set, gently rocking back and forth as the chains creaked quietly. She was a young woman, or appeared to be young, in any case. Slender, with long brownish-blonde hair fashioned into a pair of tight braids. The tips of the braids were bright pink. Seemingly at odds with her casual, almost carefree swinging, she wore form-fitting armor that was black along the legs, boots, arms, and gauntlets (with a bit of blue running along the sides as an accent), while the armor covering her torso was dark blue, with a white emblem of a griffin in flight stretching across the front, from the waist to the right shoulder. 

After several more seconds of letting the swing gently creak back and forth, the sound of it filling the otherwise silent night air, Gwen spoke. “You should probably come out and talk. I don’t think he’s going to show up until we have it out.” 

Her words were met with another moment of silence before a smaller figure emerged from a tree on the edge of the playground. Chayyiel, dark hair cut short as she wore her standard military-like fatigues and body armor, came into view while speaking flatly. “He does seem to be the type to want us to talk things through without his direct intervention, doesn’t he?” 

Rather than answer immediately, Gwen watched the Seosten in silence for a few seconds. An assortment of conflicting thoughts ran through her head before she stopped the swing and stood. She did not move any closer, standing right where she was, arms folded tightly against her stomach as she stared that way. Her voice, when it came, was quiet. “He’s probably right. Better that we talk without his help.”

With a nod of agreement, Chayyiel simply replied, “We probably should have already. But I… ahh… was not exactly allowed to come back to Earth for quite awhile.”

Gwen, in turn, raised an eyebrow. “I guess I was unaware that anyone could tell you where you were allowed to go. What are they going to do, ground you? Imprison one of their most effective weapons against the Fomorians because you went out-of-bounds?” 

A slight chuckle escaped the visibly younger (yet actually much older) girl, as Chayyiel gave a short nod of acknowledgement. “It would be more about losing long-term political power, something I’ve come to find is quite important when it comes to making lasting changes. It doesn’t matter how easily I can beat someone in a fight, if I don’t have the power to make societal changes.” 

Tilting her head slightly, Gwen considered that before a very small smirk touched her face despite herself. “That sounds pretty similar to the conversation I had with Arthur before he became king. No matter how strong he was, he also needed to be a leader. He needed to inspire people, needed to… give them a banner of authority to act under.” 

Chayyiel hesitated, clearly unsure at that moment if she should say what came to mind. In the end, she straightened visibly before meeting the other woman’s gaze. “Yes, it was… it was our last moments together, feeling his skills of leadership and… inspiration, which convinced me of what my next path must be. Well, technically it was the moments after…” She trailed off. They both knew the words she wasn’t actually speaking. After Arthur had been taken away from both of them. 

“I blamed you for a very long time, you know.” Gwen’s voice was matter-of-fact. Not accusing, exactly. Simply stating the truth of the matter. Better to just get things right out in the open from the start. “He was only out there because of you. Whether you intended it or not, he was vulnerable because you asked him to meet you. And to be honest, there was a time when I was almost certain you did intend it, that your whole thing with him was an act. Because your people couldn’t be trusted. They were all manipulators, liars, monsters who puppet anyone they want. So why would you be any different?” She paused, offering a slight shrug. “I suppose I saw Nimue as the sole exception to that rule. Or maybe I was just looking for a reason to hate you.” 

“That is fair,” Chayyiel murmured. Continuing to remain where she stood, she added, “You are right. Whatever my intentions, Arthur was put in a position of vulnerability because of me. Because I trusted the wrong person. For whatever it may be worth, I will tell you now as I would have told you then, I never wanted that to happen. I was trying…” She trailed off, giving a low sigh. “I was trying to make things better for all of our people.”

Both went silent for a few seconds, considering their next words carefully. Each knew just how easily they could say the wrong thing, and how important it was that they not do so. For Gwen, as emotional as she was about the loss of her husband, his potential future depended on her not caving to those emotions and going for the momentary satisfaction. And for Chayyiel, as much as she wanted to make that situation right, pushing too hard, too quickly would do the opposite. 

Finally, Gwen spoke in a slow, careful voice. “I trust Michael. I trust him more than I trust anyone in the world, even myself. He says that you are being truthful when you say you had no part in the planning of… that. He says you knew nothing about it and that you would have stopped it or warned Arthur not to come if you did.” She paused briefly before continuing. “I believe him. Which means I believe you. And yet, while this may not be your direct fault, the fact remains that, as I said, he was there because of you. If you truly wish to make it right, I… I will welcome your aid.” The words came quietly, the importance and difficulty of them readily apparent. Gwen knew that her best chance of getting her husband back was with the aid of the person who had, albeit unwillingly, led to his death. It was a hard thing to accept, even now. Perhaps even harder in this moment, as she stood face to face with the girl for the first time. 

Still, she pushed all of those thoughts and emotions aside and focused on what was most important. “I… please… help me save Arthur.” 

Chayyiel gave a single nod. Her voice was soft. “That has been my intention from the start of my return to this planet. Even before. I have–” She stopped herself. Explanations didn’t matter, not right then. Instead, she simply finished with, “Between the two of us, I believe we can bring him back.”    

“It’s going to take more than the two of you.” Michael, striding into view from the far side of the playground where there had appeared to be no one up until that very second, announced. “Like I said to each of you before, if you’re going to wake Arthur up, you need very specific help.” 

“You mean besides the Merlin Key?” Gwen pressed. Even now, out here in the middle of nowhere, confident as she was that they weren’t being eavesdropped on, she didn’t say Aylen’s name aloud. Call it paranoia, but she had no desire to risk something that important. 

“Someone besides the Merlin Key, yes,” Michael confirmed. “Not that we have any idea how they’re supposed to help in this case, but even they will need something more. A Reaper.” 

Chayyiel arched an eyebrow at that. “I was under the impression that the Fusion school had made contact with a half-Reaper, at least. Bastet?” 

“Unfortunately, from the research I’ve done, you need a full Reaper for this,” Michael informed them, his gaze passing back and forth between the two. “One that is… shall we say, mobile.” 

“So having a discussion with Crossroads’ imprisoned Reaper is out of the question,” Chayyiel noted, voice turning quiet. “Though that is a situation which also needs to be resolved. Eventually.” 

“Eventually,” Gwen agreed, giving a quick, thoughtful glance that way before turning back to her adopted father. “I don’t know about you, but in my experience, Reapers aren’t exactly going around listing themselves on Google. And they don’t congregate anywhere. I’ve been alive over fifteen hundred years, and I think I’ve seen one of them… twice. Both times at a distance, and both times they left immediately. So unless you have one on speed dial…” 

“Not exactly,” Michael admitted. “But I do know where to find one who might be willing to stick around and talk. We just have to provide a little… incentive. A bribe, of sorts.” 

His words made both Chayyiel and Gwen blink almost in unison, the latter speaking first. “A bribe? What exactly are we supposed to bribe a Reaper with? You have a pile of fresh dead bodies in your–wait, don’t answer that.”

“I’m certain any full Reaper could provide all the fresh dead bodies they could ever want,” Chayyiel pointed out mildly, her eyes locked onto the older Seosten. “And yet, nor can I think of anything we could offer to a Reaper. I may have lived longer and been to more places, but my own experience is not much different than Guinevere’s. Reapers are quite self-sufficient, incredibly rare, and generally do not deign to speak with non-Reapers.” Pausing, she added, “Actually, I’m not entirely certain they even speak with one another. Even in the incredibly rare times I have seen more than one in the same place, they were not communicating.”

With a very slight smirk that betrayed his amusement for reasons the two didn’t yet understand, Michael simply replied, “Let’s just say this one is different. Now come, I asked you both to meet me here for a reason. We have to pick up that bribe I was talking about.” 

While the other two glanced at one another again, even more confused now about what this small town could possibly have to offer that would convince a full Reaper to give them anything (or even speak with them, come to think of it), Michael turned and strode away. His lanky form faded quickly into the shadows, before Chayyiel and Gwen moved to catch up, striding along on either side of the man. 

“Are you going to ask?” The faint amusement Michael’s voice betrayed how much he was enjoying this entire situation, as they reached the edge of the park and continued across the street, passing the elementary school on the left. 

“Will you give a straight answer if we do?” Gwen retorted doubtfully. 

He, in turn, smiled. “It’s more fun if I don’t.” 

“Then no, I’m not going to ask.” With that, Gwen shot a glance past the man toward Chayyiel. “He has far too much fun keeping secrets.” 

“It’s more about seeing your looks when the secrets come out,” Michael corrected. “And for that, they have to come at the right time.” He pivoted, watching the two while walking backward down the sidewalk. “Trust me, you two, this will be much better if you just experience it without any advance warning.” Belatedly, he added, “And when we’re done, who knows, maybe you’ll have a new friend.” 

The idea of any Reaper being a friend, given how mysterious, standoffish, and… alien they tended to be was just confusing and intriguing enough to make Chayyiel and Gwen exchange glances once more. Neither were thinking about their differences and problems at that moment. Which, of course, both knew was at least a major reason behind Michael teasing them. But it still worked. Silently, they exchanged nods of agreement. Even knowing that he was playing them (and getting an awful lot of amusement out of it), they were still too curious about this entire situation not to go along with it.

Leading them through several dark streets, Michael eventually came to a stop in front of a small, one-story house with an attached garage. Unlike most of the houses on the street (and everywhere else they had passed on the way here), there were lights on inside. Michael gestured for the other two to follow him, then walked to the front door and pressed the buzzer once. 

“It’s one in the morning,” Gwen pointed out in a soft voice. “Are you sure–” 

Before she could get the rest of the question out, the door was opened a crack, as a woman they couldn’t see much of stood there, hissing, “You have it? Cash only, remember. And I’m counting it before you get anything.” 

“Indeed,” Michael agreed cheerfully. From one pocket of his sports coat, he produced a thick wad of Bystander money and passed it over. 

For her part, the mostly-hidden woman checked the cash, counting her way through it before appearing to be satisfied. “Boxes are right at the front. Don’t go digging in anything else or I’ll call the cops.” With that, she stuck her hand out through the crack, a remote grasped in it. As she thumbed its single button, the nearby garage door began to lift with a low rumble. And with no further words, the woman shut her own door, locking it immediately. 

“She seems friendly,” Gwen noted brightly, before focusing on her father. “Boxes?” 

Rather than explain anything (because what fun would that be), Michael casually strode back along the path to the garage. The other two followed, finding the space in question quite filled with various boxes. As promised, there were several at the front, clearly separate from the others. It looked as though they had been recently cut open and then resealed. 

“Both of you grab one.” With that simple instruction, the Seosten man bent to pick up a box of his own, waved to the nearby security camera that was clearly focused on them, and turned to walk out once more. 

Again, the two girls looked to one another. Gwen was the first to move, reaching down to pick up the next box. “You sure you don’t want to check inside these…” Pausing as she listened to whatever it was shifting around inside, she tilted her head and started to focus on one of her acquired vision gifts. 

“Don’t you do it, young lady!” Michael called back without even looking. “This is a surprise.” 

With the somewhat guiltily flushed look of a child caught trying to inspect Christmas presents early, the woman quickly moved to follow, with Chayyiel taking the last box and trotting along after. 

“So, now where are we going?” Gwen asked, once they were away from the house. 

“We’re going to the only place the person we’re taking these boxes to could possibly live,” came the mysterious reply. 

“The New York City sewers.” 

*******

“I thought you were making a joke about the sewer thing.” 

As Chayyiel spoke those words, the three of them were standing above a manhole in an alley deep in the heart of the Manhattan borough of New York. The manhole itself was at the end of an innocuous-looking dead end alley, surrounded on all sides by tall buildings. There seemed to be nothing of note in this relatively small space other than the manhole. There were no back doors into the buildings, no way out of the alley save for going right back out the way they had come in, and there were no trash cans or dumpster. It was, or appeared to be, entirely useless space. 

“The best jokes, my dear,” Michael reminded her, “are the ones that are completely true.” With that, he set the box he was carrying down and leaned over to knock on the manhole cover itself. 

For almost twenty seconds, there was no response or reaction at all. Yet Michael didn’t move other than to straighten and pick up the box once more. 

“He’s enjoying this so much,” Gwen flatly informed the Seosten girl nearby, well-aware that a large part of Michael’s entire purpose behind this game had been to not-so-subtly put the two of them on one side together and himself on the other. Even if it was in something as simple as him knowing what was going on and them wanting to know, he had essentially paired them into a team with a single goal.

Chayyiel, who was equally aware of what was going on, gave a single nod as a very slight smirk touched her face. “He is.” 

They knew he could hear them. That was part of the game too. 

Abruptly and without warning, the manhole cover rose up on what appeared to be a mechanical arm, sliding out of the way to reveal a ladder leading downward. And without a moment of hesitation, Michael set his box next to the opening, climbed down, and called for them to drop the boxes through before they followed. 

They did so, eventually descending into…a wide-open, circular underground chamber, about a hundred feet across. The floor was concrete, the walls brick. Posters of cartoon characters, movies, video games, and more lined those walls. Dozens of boxes were scattered everywhere, while a sleeping bag on an air mattress had been haphazardly shoved to one side, away from a folding table that was piled high with pizza boxes and soda bottles. 

“Well,” Gwen announced as her gaze passed over the space. “This is not what I expected.” 

“Sorry!” The sudden apology came as a figure appeared out of nowhere. Literally, as the space next to the table had appeared to be completely empty until that very moment. Which, to make these three specific people, with their assorted gifts and ongoing magic, believe that there was nothing in that space took some doing. 

“I haven’t finished unpacking yet,” the figure continued to explain. She appeared to be a young woman in her late teens, with incredibly pale skin and bright pink hair with black highlights. Her clothes consisted of a pair of ratty old pink jeans with several holes through the legs, black combat boots with pink laces, and a long-sleeved black shirt with a large neon pink skull taking up most of the front. Beneath that were the words ‘One Of A Kind.’ 

“See,” she continued, “I had this apartment but there was this Heretic guy and I let him go so I just had to move and I decided it was time to go for my dream place, which is turning out just fantastic, but I haven’t really gotten everything set up yet.” 

Chayyiel’s mouth opened, before she paused and let her head tilt slightly. “… Ahh, why did an encyclopedic knowledge of every episode and comic issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suddenly jump into my head?” 

“What?” Gwen asked with a blink. “You didn’t already have that?” No sooner had she said those words, than her eyes widened slightly. “Oh, crap! Wait, is that completely up-to-date? Don’t tell me what happened in the Battle Lines arc. I’ve only read up to issue eighty-six and I don’t want spoilers. Hope they finished off that xenophobic piece of shit Bishop though. That guy wants to wipe out everyone who isn’t human and–you know, I just figured out why I might dislike him so much.” 

“Aww man!” the newcomer abruptly blurted, “if you haven’t read the–oh.” Quickly, she drew two fingers across her lips. “You can find out on your own.” That said, she focused on Michael. “You came back.” 

Clearing her throat, Chayyiel spoke then. “You’ve spoken before, then? To this… ahh, apologies, you are a… Reaper?” 

“Oh, I’m sorry, how rude of me.” Shaking her head, the woman looked toward Chayyiel and Gwen. “Allow me to introduce myself.” 

And so she did, in the way of her own people. Within the span of less than a second, a full and complete knowledge of not only her chosen name of Jones, but also everything that had led to her separation from the rest of her people, filled their minds. Everything of note from the moment the feedback from the Heretic woman being yanked across the universe by the Seosten she was connected to while accessing that particular Reaper Archive had fundamentally changed something within Jones, through her foundation-laying interaction with the young Casey girl and how the other Reapers reacted afterward, was included within that burst of information. 

Needless to say, Gwen staggered a bit from the overload. Even Chayyiel, accustomed as she was to absorbing large amounts of information quickly, was visibly affected as she had to shake her head several times to clear it. 

Looking abashed, Jones apologized, “Sorry. I always forget other species don’t really deal with our downloads that well. You okay?” 

“Just… just peachy,” Gwen managed, blinking rapidly to make her eyes focus. “Jones. You’re Jones.” 

“That’s me,” the Reaper agreed, before gesturing toward Michael. “And to answer the question from before, we haven’t really spoken, or met. He came and knocked on my… front door up there, and told me he was going to bring a couple important people to meet me. I guess that’s you. And that he’d bring something to trade for a few minutes of my time. I guess that’s what’s in the boxes. May I see?”

“You don’t know what’s in them already?” Chayyiel asked curiously. 

Jones, in turn, scoffed. “Of course not. They’re a surprise. You don’t ruin the surprise ahead of time. That’s the best part.” 

“I like her,” Michael announced, setting his box down before gesturing for the other two to do the same. With a short gesture, the thick tape sealing all three boxes was cut by several four-inch-long energy blades, which briefly appeared and gave a series of quick slashes before disappearing. Then he gave the first box a push that way, with an air similar to a drug dealer sending his latest bulk shipment over to be inspected and purchased. 

Opening the box the rest of the way, along with the two that the others sent over, Jones revealed… toys. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys, all of them still within their respective boxes and other packaging. There was a wide assortment, from every continuity of the animated series, movies, and comic books stretching all the way back to that first, groundbreaking cartoon in the late 80’s, to the most recent reimagining. All were represented. 

“All of them in mint condition,” Michael noted. “Thousands of dollars worth. The man who owned the collection before… passed away. His wife is selling all of it. Some of those are pretty rare, only a few still unopened.” 

“Radical,” Jones replied, before abruptly holding her hand out. A long, black scythe with a dark blue blade appeared there. At the same time, a dark hood that had been sewn to the collar of her shirt rose up to cover her head. Grasping the weapon, she gave a sharp gesture with it. As she did so, dozens of small glowing portals appeared along the walls. At the same time, several glowing hands made of energy manifested next to the boxes and immediately began to grab random toy packages before tossing them through the various portals. 

“What–where are you sending them?” Gwen quickly asked, looking back and forth between the boxes of toys and the portals they were all being unceremoniously hurled through. 

With a smile of satisfaction, Jones answered simply. “To a lot of kids who need them. Toys are meant to be played with, not sealed up in a box for money.” She stood there watching until all three boxes were entirely emptied and dismissed the portals with a gesture before turning to face the three. “Now then. 

“What exactly can I do for two Seosten and King Arthur’s wife?” 

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Commissioned Interlude 16 – Reapers (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – This is NOT the Monday’s regular chapter, it is an extra commissioned interlude. The regular chapter will be out around midnight mountain time/7 am GMT as usual.

About Eight Years Ago

“Hi!” a young girl, perhaps five years old, chirped up from where she was sitting in a sandbox behind her family’s suburban house somewhere in southern California. The girl had short blonde hair, and a bright, smiling face that was covered in dirt. She raised one equally dirty hand to wave at the figure who stood next to the sandbox. “I’m playing wif sand, you wanna play?” 

The subject she was addressing stood silently for a moment. She appeared to be another girl, one somewhat older than the one in the sandbox. An unknowing person would place her age in her late teens. Unlike the very human child she was watching, however, the figure standing silently nearby was far older than she appeared. Her skin was very pale, almost to the point of being paper-white. Her hair, worn all the way to the middle of her back, was very bright pink, with black highlights. Her eyes were red. And she wore very simple clothes. Black jeans, black shoes, and a black tee shirt. No frills, no design.  

After those few seconds of simply watching the younger child, the girl took a seat on the grass next to the sandbox. She had yet to speak, simply reaching out to brush one pale hand through the sand before finding an action figure half-buried there. Plucking it free, she examined the toy with a look of curiosity, fingers running over the points of articulation. 

“His name’s Casey Jones,” the sandbox girl informed her. “He helps the Ninja Turtles.” Pointing at herself then, she added, “My name’s Casey too. That’s why he’s my favorite. What’s your name?” Even as she asked the question, the girl was already plucking a Leonardo toy out of the sand and waving him around, making noises as though he was fighting legions of Foot soldiers.

In answer to the question, the pale figure tilted her head as though considering for several long moments before finally declaring, “Casey.” She pointed to herself. 

With a laugh, the younger girl shook her head. “That’s not your name, silly, it’s my name!” 

“I like Casey Jones,” the other informed her in a very simple, matter-of-fact tone. 

“Okay,” the little girl declared, “I’ll be Casey, and you can be Jones. Together we can be Casey Jones!” She giggled then, like it was a fun game they were playing. “How are you today, Jones?” 

Seeming to consider the question far more thoroughly than most would, the newly-dubbed Jones finally replied, “I’m hungry.” 

“Oh, my mama will bring us a snack,” Casey quickly informed her. “D’ya want me to go ask? Maybe we can have cookies, if it’s not too close to dinner. Do you like cookies?” 

“I don’t know,” Jones answered in a soft, curious tone. “I’ve never had them.”

With a scandalized gasp, the younger girl demanded, “How could you never have cookies? Everybody has cookies. You want me to go get some?” 

“It’s okay,” came the soft response. “I’ll eat soon.” Without a moment’s pause, she immediately asked, “What is a ninja turtle?” 

Casey, of course, was just as scandalized to hear that question as she had been the one about cookies. Immediately, she dug through the sand to find the rest of her related action figures and begin to explain the entire story behind the mutant brothers, their rat father-figure, and all of their assorted friends and enemies. She went on rather excitedly and at length, often doubling back on herself to explain something else she had forgotten before jumping forward once more. And throughout it all, she waved the toys around wildly, often smacking them together while making sound effects for the respective battles she was detailing. 

Jones watched intently through the whole story, never blinking. She sat completely motionless beside the sandbox, crimson eyes fixated on the human girl while she went on about the Ninja Turtles. To any who might have been observing, it would have been equally clear that this girl truly had never heard anything about the combative mutant reptiles and that she was completely fascinated by the explanation. 

Finally, the young girl finished with, “And April and Casey Jones got married but that’s dumb cuz I wanna marry Casey Jones. Then we can be Casey Jones and Casey Jones.” She laughed as though that was the funniest joke that had ever been made, falling backward into the sand. Then she popped up. “Oh! I gotta tell you ‘bout Baxter Stockman.” 

Thus, over the next twenty minutes, the two spoke extensively about those fictional turtles and everything surrounding them. Casey possessed an extensive collection of toys, and showed all of them off while telling her new friend all about them, while the other girl sat enraptured by the story, occasionally asking questions. Some of the questions were quite understandable and specific to the Ninja Turtles franchise itself, while others would have raised eyebrows. Such as what pizza was, or what the ‘hockey’ in Casey Jones’ hockey stick and mask meant, or even what sewers were. They were the sort of questions that would have raised a few alarms in the mind of someone older. But Casey simply thought it was curious, and eagerly explained everything. The more her new friend questioned, the happier the younger girl was about telling the story. 

Eventually, she stopped to ask, “How come you don’t know anyfin about this stuff?” 

“I am very new here,” came the response. 

“Oh!” the little girl tilted her head curiously. “Are you from Europe? They don’t have cookies there?” 

“I am not from Europe,” the older figure informed her. “I am a Reaper.” 

The little girl stared at her with wide eyes. “Reaper? Nuh uh, you don’t have a big hood or a scyfe or anything. You’re s’posed to have a big scyfe, like the cartoons. And how come you’re h–” With a start, Casey looked to the house. “Oh, I gotta go ask Mama for the cookies!” 

“You should stay here,” the other girl solemnly informed her. “It’s bad in there.” 

Frowning with obvious confusion, the little girl asked, “Huh? What’s that s’posed to mean?” 

“You should stay here,” Jones replied, her tone just as flat and matter-of-fact, though there was a very faint hint of something more. “The bad man hasn’t left yet. Like Shredder.”

“What?” Staring blankly at her, the younger girl slowly asked, “What do you mean, bad man? There’s a bad man?” She turned then, looking at her house. “There’s a bad man… Mama?” She bolted to her feet, sprinting toward the backdoor. “Mama! Mama, there’s a bad man! Mama!” As her small figure disappeared through the door, there was a brief pause, followed by a soul-shattering scream that echoed through the backyard and surrounding neighborhood. It was the scream of a child who had seen something she truly shouldn’t have, something that would haunt her thoughts and memories for the rest of her life. 

Rising from where she had been perched in the grass, Jones strode toward the house. She walked at a calm, casual pace, unhurried despite the situation. Reaching the door, she paused briefly to glance at a nearby flower, extending a hand to gently brush over the colorful petals before disappearing into the building. 

Several long seconds passed, before the momentary silence was shattered once more. This time, the air was filled with the sound of breaking glass, as a man’s form came flying out through the window. He landed heavily in the grass, bleeding profusely. His face was badly burned, to the point that he would have been nearly unrecognizable to anyone who knew him. 

He pushed himself up and began to crawl frantically away, but Jones appeared next to him with a simple flash of light. Her foot came down on the back of his neck to knock him against the grass. One of her arms was covered in blood. His blood. Her shoes and the bottom of her jeans were also drenched in blood that was not his. 

“That was very bad,” she informed him.

“Wha-what?!” the man blubbered, his voice panicked. “I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kill her! I swear, I just wanted to have some fun. But she wouldn’t stop fighting, I had to hit her. I had to hit her. I wasn’t gonna hurt the kid!” 

“Yes,” came the flat response. “You were. You would have hurt her. You would have killed her. Just like her mother. You are bad. You are not a ninja turtle,” she informed him. “You are a Shredder.” 

“A wha-what?” he stammered. “Look, just–” 

Without another word, the pink-haired figure pointed her hand down at him. A blue-white flame erupted forth, and with a momentary panicked scream, the man and everything he wore was turned to ash. In an instant, he had been entirely disintegrated. 

“Cowabunga,” Jones announced, in a flat, monotone voice. 

Pivoting on her heel, she walked slowly back into the house. A few long seconds of silence passed before she came back through the door, carrying the young Casey over her shoulder. Without a word, she walked the little girl back to the sandbox and set her down in it. The remains of a bit of the child’s previous meal were visible across her shirt, where she had thrown up. 

As she sat there, Casey stared ahead, seeing nothing save for the traumatic memory of what she had witnessed in the house, of what the man had done to her mother. A low, somewhat-keening whimpering sound escaped her after a moment, when she found some measure of her voice. “Mama.” That single word came in a plaintive, desperate tone. It was the voice of a girl who, despite her tender age, knew that her mother would never answer. 

For a few seconds, the older figure stood looking down at her silently. Then she sat beside the sandbox once more. Her voice was simple. “Your mother is gone. But so is the man who took her.” 

Trembling, the little girl looked to her and hesitantly managed a weak, barely audible, “But… what if he comes back?”  

The question was met by a flat stare as the older figure replied, “He will not. Your mother and he will never return.” There was a brief pause once more, then, “He was a bad man, and had to be sent away.”

“A-are you sure?” came the quiet little plea. 

Another pause followed, before the other girl confirmed, “Yes, I am sure. I am a Reaper. I know when people are gone and will never come back.” 

Curling in on herself, the little girl sat there with her eyes closed. Tears continued to stream down her face for a silent minute or so, before she made a gasping noise. “Police! I’m ‘posed to call 911! Bu-but I don’t have a phone. And… and…” She looked up, staring trepidatiously at the house as though terrified of the prospect of going back in there. Her words turned back to that desperate, animalistic keening sound. She knew what was there. She knew what she would see if she walked back in that awful place. 

So, it was Jones who rose to her feet. “You will stay,” she ordered, before turning to walk inside. The little girl was left alone, sitting in the sandbox with the memory of her mother’s remains for a couple minutes, before the other figure returned. She had the cordless phone in one hand, and a box of cookies from the cupboard in the other. Without a word, she set the box next to the girl, then put the phone in her hand. 

The child didn’t move at first. She sat there clutching the phone. Yes, she was supposed to call 911 when someone was hurt, so they could get help. But there would be no help for her mother. Even at her age, she understood that. Her mom was gone and would never get better. 

Still, she knew it was the right thing to do. So, her fingers slowly moved over the buttons, dialing the emergency services before holding the phone up to her head. “Hello?” she managed in a voice that broke from emotion. “You need to come please. 

“My mama died.” 

*******

Several hours later, the little girl was gone. The police had come and taken her away. The house had been thoroughly examined, and was now surrounded by yellow caution tape. It was late enough that everyone had left by then, save for a single policeman who had been stationed at the front of the house in a squad car to keep people away. 

He did not even notice the lone figure with pink hair standing at the very edge of the property. Nor did he notice the larger, male figure in a black trenchcoat stepping up beside her. The new arrival had short, dark blue hair and an equally pale complexion. He stopped beside the girl and turned slightly to look at her. No words emerged from his mouth, yet he communicated with her. With a single look, the older Reaper sent a full pack of information from his mind to hers. The transfer was instant, communicating frustration that she had disappeared for so long when he had asked her to stay where they were before, a request for clarification about why she had left, and chastisement for interfering with the natural progression of things. The young human child was meant to die there. It was what would have happened without any interference. And yet, she was still alive, and the man who should have escaped to kill several more times had been wiped from existence. All because of her interference. She had disrupted the balance. He required an explanation for that. As well as an explanation for why she had gone against his wishes as her superior, and assurance that she had not begun to fall to the Reapers’ curse. Certainly, becoming a Hangman tended to involve causing more living beings to die rather than less, but any Reaper acting out of the ordinary tended to be heavily scrutinized. None wanted a repeat of what had come before, so long ago.

That burst of information would have taken a species who communicated verbally several minutes to get through properly. In this case, it was instantaneous, as the Reaper man simply compressed a packet of information and sent it to her directly. 

In response, the girl sent back her own packet of information. In less time than it would have taken an average living being to say the word ‘hi,’ she communicated the fact that she had had a conversation with the young child and chose not to let her die. Because it wasn’t what the Ninja Turtles would do. That, of course, necessitated adding a whole explanation into the packet of who they were, before she sent it off to him. Again, several minutes worth of conversation compressed into an instantaneous burst of information. 

Immediately after absorbing that knowledge, the male Reaper sent back another packet of his own. This one included further chastisement for her actions, as they were, above all else, supposed to remain neutral. Not every single Reaper followed that completely stringently, of course. But he did, for he had seen some of the worst their people were capable of. He had perpetuated some of the worst, before being drawn back to some semblance of sanity. The fact that she was of his creation meant that she would follow his instructions. That was how it worked. Or how it was supposed to work. She was a part of him, a part of his whole, and thus she followed his instructions, as surely as an arm followed the instructions of its owner. And he had instructed her to stay out of any mortal affairs. They were to observe and add to the Archive, that was all. Their place was to stand apart from the universe and ensure that, whatever happened to it in the future, everything it had once been would be remembered. 

It wasn’t always like that, of course. They had not always kept themselves separate from the rest of creation. At one time, their people had stretched their will across the entire universe. And that will had been intent on nothing more than complete genocide of everything that was not Reaper. They had essentially been Fomorians before Fomorians existed. With their ability to gain both knowledge and power from the deaths of others, the Reapers had decimated every planet they came across. They killed everyone in their path and used that power to become even more unstoppable. They had, as a species, nearly one and all become Hangmen. 

That path of mindless destruction had eventually turned the Reapers on one another. They were no longer a united species, in any sense of the term. Each had instead become intent on being the last figure standing. They attacked and killed each other, absorbing the powers and knowledge of their own people. 

The universe itself would have fallen, save a very few remaining Reapers who had not entirely fallen to their people’s Hangman curse. They managed to pull themselves, and the universe itself, back from the brink of total annihilation. They saw what their people had nearly done, saw what could have happened to all life in existence. 

From there, the remaining Reapers had known that changes had to be made. Their people were no longer conquerors. They would be observers. They would step back and simply watch the universe. They would feed their people’s hunger for death the natural way, by arriving in places where it was already happening. They would not interfere. 

Some still fell now and then, of course. Some were lost, in one way or another. But, for the most part, the Reapers kept to their word. They had physically spread across the universe, scattered to the point that only a bare handful would be present on any world at any given time. Most of those were single Reaper ‘family’ units where the couple present on the world were actually aided by several who remained within the Archives. From there, they watched. They observed. They collected knowledge, power, and simply memories. They stood by as people died before absorbing the energy from that death and everything that came with it. They catalogued what they absorbed, storing it away for whenever the end of this universe came.

In answer to the chastisement, the younger Reaper (she was equal parts her male counterpart’s daughter, sister, clone, and more, having been created by him from a piece of himself) actually spoke aloud, rather than use their much faster communication method. “I am not a Shredder. I am a Ninja Turtle.” She turned slightly, watching him with that same flat, apparently emotionless stare. “The human child did nothing to deserve death. Allowing that would have been wrong.” 

A moment of silence passed, as the older Reaper considered the verbal words, as well as the fact that she had chosen to speak them rather than communicate in (what was to them) the normal way. Eventually, he turned and raised a hand. As he did so, a glowing portal appeared. He sent back another silent packet of information, informing her that she would follow him to visit the Archives, where he would ensure that she had not begun to fall. If she was becoming a Hangman, he would ensure his descendant/copy/sister did not go any further. 

Immediately, the girl turned and began to follow him through the portal. But she paused right at the edge, turning to look over her shoulder. Right there on the side of the sandbox sat the small Casey Jones toy. Extending her hand, she summoned the figure to her and examined it closely. Her finger touched the top of the toy, before she pulled it apart. Except she wasn’t breaking the figure. Her tug duplicated the figure, creating a second version. This one she tucked into her pocket, before sending the original back to the spot where it belonged. 

That done, she turned and finally passed through the awaiting portal, leaving the terrible crime scene behind.

The room they arrived in appeared to be a library. But if so, it would have been one of the largest libraries in the known universe. The room was circular, about a thousand feet in diameter with no visible doors or any other exit. Shelves of books lined the walls, stretching all the way up out of sight, to skyscraper heights. Trillions of tomes of every color and size filled those shelves. Here and there, in about a dozen different spots that were immediately visible, various books glowed a faint pink color, indicating that members of this Reaper family were accessing them for one reason or another.

The books, in truth, were simply visual representations of various bits of knowledge or even power the Reapers had absorbed. It was collected and stored here. Every Reaper Collective made their archive look somewhat different. Some went for far more elaborate creations, but this one was quite simple, with no frills or unnecessary effort. Their archive appeared as this library, their individual memories, skills, powers, and such were books. Whenever one of the Reapers from this collective called upon one of the stored gifts, the ‘book’ in question glowed.

After giving a brief glance over to a spot on the shelves where several books had abruptly lit up,  the man turned away from them and extended his hand once more. Again, a portal appeared. This one led not back to where they had just come from, but to the Prime Archive. 

Still without speaking, the male Reaper sent another burst of information to his younger, female counterpart. He informed her that she was to follow him so that others could examine her, and ensure all that she had not fallen. He also communicated his hope that she was truly safe, his concern that something might have happened and that she would need to be eliminated. Not as a threat, of course. His regret would be real, yet neither he nor the others would hesitate. If she had been corrupted, they would excise her from reality before she infected any others. He wished her luck, while simultaneously informing her that any attempt to escape before being examined would be an admission of guilt and she would be immediately eliminated. 

“I am not corrupted,” she informed him, once more choosing to speak the words aloud. With that, she passed through the portal. Now, rather than standing in a library, she appeared on a busy city street. Any mortals who looked at the city, however, would be immediately thrown, as it didn’t appear like any actual, single place. Rather, the place appeared to be several thousand different pieces of cities, from several thousand different planets and times, all bunched together into one place with no rhyme or reason. A house that would have belonged in ancient feudal Earth Japan sat next to a towering oval-shaped building that had seemingly been plucked straight from the world of Pevlefi, where the bird-like Seun lived. And to the right of that was a red-stone castle from the Akheilosan people’s medieval era. And so on it went. Thousands of different species’ buildings and structure-types were represented in this town. Except, of course, it wasn’t a town at all. This was the Prime Archive. 

Every Reaper Clan had their individual archive, where their personal gifts and knowledge were stored. But every clan also added to the Prime Archive, itself created after they had nearly wiped out reality. This Prime Archive was located in a separate piece of reality that was only accessible by Reapers themselves, and only through physically interacting with their individual archives. From there, they could enter this place, where every bit of knowledge they had gathered from many millennia of watching over the universe were stored. The beings who ‘lived’ here were artificial creations, just like the books back in the individual archive. Each ‘person’ held the collective memories of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of people who had once lived, and could essentially become that person at any moment. In fact, they did become any number of people at any given moment. As the artificial people made their way on predetermined routes through busy, crowded ‘city’, living some fake semblance of lives not too different from the nonplayer characters programmed into human video games, they also randomly shifted into different forms. A human striding confidently through the city would abruptly transform into a wooden Relukun who stumbled over his own feet and fearfully watched the people around him as though waiting to be attacked. By the same measure, a tiny, mouse-like Timper, creeping stealthily along one of the gutters suddenly became a massive Ogre, gleefully stomping his way forward while bellowing for people to get out of the way. Every manufactured ‘being’ shifted through dozens of different forms, as the Archive system kept that being active just long enough to run maintenance and ensure their personalities and memories were intact, then shifted to the next one. All while the forms bustled their way through the city, moving in and out of buildings, and generally looking, from the outside, like an actual living place. Albeit a place made up of a thousand different cities squished together and occupied by millions of constantly shape-shifting beings. 

As they arrived in the false city, the two Reapers immediately turned and began to walk toward the massive tower that lay at the very center of the Prime Archive. The tower was actually what remained of the very last weaponized ship the previously war-like Reapers had once used. At one time, it had been the most feared vessel in the universe, capable of casually destroying entire worlds. Now, this relatively small piece of it was all that remained. It loomed far into the ‘sky’ of this manufactured piece of reality, shaped like a massive, black and silver two-tined fork. From the bottom of its three thousand foot wide base, to the very tip of the two tine-like structures, the tower stood fifteen miles high. And yet, this small piece was merely a tenth of the actual size that the full ship itself had once been. Now its power was put to one purpose: maintaining the Prime Archive in this separated piece of reality so that knowledge and memories of what had once been would be passed on to whatever came next, should this universe ever be truly destroyed.

The male Reaper continued toward the tower, but the girl stopped, turning to face a passing figure. “Halt,” she ordered. Immediately, the artificial being did so. She, in turn, stepped in front of it and raised a hand, making a flicking motion with her fingers repeatedly. As she did so, the being transformed from one shape to another with each motion. Like flipping through pages of a book. Finally, it appeared as an orange-skinned humanoid with six arms and a very flat head. But it was not the arms or flat head she was interested in. Rather, her attention was drawn to the weapon that the being held in one of those hands. Specifically, a long, black scythe with a deep blue curved blade. 

Touching a finger against the false weapon, the girl did the same trick she had performed with the action figure earlier. She pulled a copy away from the original. This, however, was a true weapon rather than a false construct. It was also black, like the first, though the blade was pink to match her own hair and aura color. 

Satisfied, she held the weapon in one hand while flatly informing her companion/father/brother/creator, “I am a Reaper. We are supposed to have scythes.” 

He, in turn, stared at her. A flash of communication informed her that he was even more concerned that she had fallen, before he pivoted to continue walking to the tower. One way or another, they would find answers there. The old ones would examine her, and determine if she could be released to continue about her way, or… not. 

*******

Present Day

“Boy oh boy was that a long and boring discussion.” As she cheerfully noted that, the pink-haired Reaper carefully drew a peanut butter-laden knife back and forth across a slice of bread while standing in the middle of a small apartment kitchen.

She wasn’t dressed nearly as simply as she had been years earlier. Now, she wore black military-style boots with pink laces, somewhat ripped black leggings, ratty jean shorts, a bright pink tee shirt with a black smiley face across the front, and an open black jacket. With, of course, a large hood. 

“Eighty-seven hours of–well, I mean I guess it’s eighty-seven? I’ve never really done the Prime Archive to Earth time conversion. Hang on.” In two swift motions, she slid both sides of the knife along the top of the peanut butter jar to remove the excess before dipping it into a nearby jar of jelly. Taking up a fresh slice of bread, she spread the jelly on it, considered, then added more before sticking both pieces together into a sandwich. 

“Carry the one, subtract for daylight savings, it wasn’t a leap year…” Her thoughtful murmurs turned entirely incomprehensible for a moment before she snapped her fingers. “Eighty-nine hours of interrogation. I knew I was close. And what an eighty-nine hours. Seriously, eighty-nine hours can go really fast if you’re doing something fun. But if it’s not fun, and believe me, this wasn’t, every hour can feel like ten. You know how that is? Yeah, I’m sure you do. You’ve had that kind of boss.” 

With that, she took a rather enormous bite of the sandwich, devouring almost half of it in a single chomp. Which included, of course, making the chomping sound in the process. Chewing that large mouthful, she stepped out of the kitchen area of the apartment and looked over to one side while chewing thoughtfully in silence for several long seconds. Finally, she swallowed and added a curious, “Bet you’re gonna have to have one of those long interrogations after this, huh?” 

The subject of her question, and of everything she had said so far in the long story she had been cheerfully telling, was a young Eden’s Garden Heretic, fresh from their academy. Barely twenty years old, the guy had very dark skin, an entirely shaven head, and was just a bit on the stocky side. He was also pinned against the wall by the shaft of the very same scythe she had created almost a decade earlier. 

Well, not the exact same scythe, technically. She had upgraded it repeatedly over the years, adding far more to its arsenal and capability. 

In any case, at this particular moment, the blade of the scythe was embedded deeply in the wall, allowing the shaft to pin the man against it as well. Runes flared up along the weapon, some of which prevented it from being moved at all by anyone other than its master. Once it was put in a location, it stayed there. By the same token, any person touched by the weapon stayed where they were as long as it was touching them. With very few exceptions (of which this particular Heretic had none), there were no powers that could allow him to either move the scythe, or himself as long as it was pressed against him. 

“I don’t know what you really are or what you want, creature,” the man snarled, “but I’m not buying any of this. We know what Reapers are, how dangerous they can be. Only a couple on the planet? Pretending to be some sort of passive, neutral observers? Bullshit. They’re monsters, and they’re all over the place. Those old executions they used to do all the time with the guillotines and shit, there were Reapers all over the place. You’re not even one of those, you’re just–you’re probably one of those body-snatching assholes people keep talking about. You–” 

Before he could say anything else, the knife (still holding traces of peanut butter and jelly) went flying past, embedding itself deep in the wall so close to his face that it shaved a bit of his five o’clock shadow away. Despite being very dull, the knife still went into the wall all the way up to the handle. 

“Don’t be rude,” the Reaper chastised. “I’m not one of the Seosten. If I was, I already would have possessed you and erased your memory. Besides, I told you my name. It’s Jones. Maybe you should tell me yours so I don’t have to default to one of the names I give every annoying punk who starts jabbering at me.” Her head tilted at his sullen silence. “No? Okay, Bebop it is. Anyway, Bebop, like I was saying…” She walked closer, reaching out to pluck the knife out of the wall  while finishing the last of the sandwich she had made. Standing right in front of the struggling figure, she watched him curiously, swallowing before speaking. “They made me stand there for all that time, interrogating me, scanning me, doing everything they could to find out what was wrong. I mean, for a given definition of wrong. Why I was different. Which isn’t even really fair, because there are Reapers out there who don’t toe the line. But they’re more… the adult Reapers? The progenitors. They’re the ones who have more of a choice in what they are, what they act like. Me, I was a daughter-copy-sister-clone. I shouldn’t have been so independent. But I was, so they needed to find out why. And do you know what they came up with? No, seriously, do you know?”

Bebop, as he had been dubbed, scowled at her silently for a moment. But in the end, his curiosity won out. “What?” 

Flashing a bright smile, Jones poked him in the forehead. “It was one of you. No, really. That’s it. It was one of you. Well, one of you and one of those Seosten you were just talking about. See, you know how each of you Heretics are connected to one of our Reaper Archives to store and use your powers? Yeah, we know about that, and there’s a reason you can only use the powers you put there. We sort of… shove everything you put in the Archive over into a corner. Anyway, it turns out, about eight years ago when all this was going on with me, one of your people was having some sort of thing with one of those bodysnatchers you were talking about. Not just a thing, a thing from clear across the universe. The Seosten was projecting past a lot of magic blocks, all the way here to Earth. Something went wrong and the Heretic ended up getting yanked off Earth and back to where the Seosten was. But she was using the Archive right then, using powers she stored away in our Archive. When that big universe-wide yank happened, all that power sent a little, ahh, feedback through the Archive. And poof, I was cut off from my father-brother-original-leader. I wasn’t linked to him the way I was supposed to be anymore. I had my own thoughts, my own wants, my own… urges. I had my own self. Which was weird. I saw that girl, Casey, in trouble and I didn’t want her to die. So I stopped it.” 

Clearly unable to resist asking, the Eden’s Garden Heretic managed a gruff-sounding, “So what happened after your little… examination?” 

Giving a broad smile at the fact that she’d managed to draw the man into the story, Jones replied, “I was banished. I mean, politely banished, but still. They knew I didn’t do anything wrong and I wasn’t all evil or whatever, but they didn’t want to risk whatever happened to me affecting everyone else and disrupting our very important work. So they sent me away. I had to learn how to really be my own person here on Earth. I had to get a job. I mean, I didn’t have to, but it’s the right thing to do if you want to buy food, comic books, video games, movies, and I love all those things. Especially Turtles stuff. I mean… it is how I got my start, after all.” As she said that, the girl nodded to a corner of the room, where a classic, full-sized Ninja Turtles arcade machine stood. “My pride and joy. I mean, I know, you can play it all on PC or console and all that, but it’s just not the same as standing at the machine, you know what I mean?” 

From the look on his face, the man had absolutely no idea what she meant. He shifted a bit from his pinned position, hesitating before demanding, “Say I even believe this story a tiny bit instead of going with the obvious bit of you being some trick from the Rebellion. What’re you gonna do with me now?” 

“Well, I mean, you did break into my home and try to kill me,” Jones reminded him. “But I suppose it’s not really your fault. Not totally, anyway.” Clearly debating with herself for a moment, she finally reached out, grabbing the scythe before yanking it free to let the young Heretic drop to the ground. Spinning the weapon around while stepping back, she rested it against the back of her neck, arms hooked over the shaft while casually informing him, “You can go.” 

For a second, it was clear that the man was debating with himself as to whether he should try to attack again. Eventually, he just cautiously asked, “Are you serious? Why would you let me walk away after everything you told me? I could talk to people about it.” 

In response, Jones the Reaper raised both eyebrows. “Talk to people about it? Talk to them about the good Reaper who caught you, told you her life story and all about how much she loves Ninja Turtles and video games, then let you go? Sure, okay. You go ahead and tell your genocidal, xenophobic friends all about it. I’m fascinated to know how that goes.” 

From the grimace on ‘Bebop’s’ face, he had no more confidence than she did in how his people would take that story. He also looked like he was reconsidering the whole attacking her thing again. But in the latter case, a glance toward the sharp pink blade of the scythe made up his mind for him. He took a quick step sideways, hand rising to project a flat shadow-circle against the wall before disappearing through it. The shadow portal would take him… somewhere else. 

As soon as the Heretic was gone, Jones exhaled. Her gaze turned to the holes in the wall where the scythe and knife blades had been, even as she reached out to trace her finger along them. In the process, the holes were fixed, until there was no sign that anything had happened. 

“Crap,” she murmured with annoyance while tugging a well-worn (and clearly well-loved) Casey Jones toy from her jacket pocket to look at. 

“I’m gonna have to move again.” 

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