When an end becomes a beginning. When the dead save the living. When the mourners are the mourned. When the reaper resurrects the reaped.
Nothing is the same...
... when the departed still remain.
The boy was dead.
Now I know what you are going to ask. Who is this boy I speak of?
I do not know. I do not know who the boy was before his death. I do not know what its name was. I do not know what kind of person it was. I do not know what its dreams or aspirations were. I do not know what its likes or dislikes were. I do not know what its personality was like or what characteristics it had. There was nothing I knew of the boy before I came upon the scene.
And I do not care who it was before death.
Honestly, the whole living aspect of life never really peaked my interest. My job does not require me to need to know things such as a person's life. So I do not.
Besides, what is life really but the precursor to death. So why bother oneself over what once was but always ends? Life is temporary. Death is not.
That sounds really morbid, I know, but I cannot help it. All I have ever witnessed is death.
And this boy, no matter who it was before, is dead.
Its heartbeat has gone silent. The electrical currents in its neural passageways of its brain have stopped firing. Its diaphragm no longer contracts to force air into its lungs which were starved of oxygen long ago. Where blood once flowed freely through the veins and arteries, now a viscous slime invades and clogs up every crevice in the boy's body.
Yes. This child is most definitely, very obviously, and quite assuredly dead. I see its soul glowing above its body. It has already fled its physical vessel.
The soul is a gentle, green, glowing sphere of soft light that is unwavering despite its fragile appearance. A single white string keeps it tethered to the body, the last anchor this boy has with the physical world.
I step forward, quickly and efficiently severe the thin string. The soul is free. Now it is time to bring it to its last resting place. I call the soul to me. I have done this countless times and will continue to do it until all life ceases and death becomes obsolete. Every move I make is memorised, practiced, and familiar.
That is why I am a bit surprised when the soul refuses to answer my call. It stubbornly remains in its place no matter how I try to coax it to me.
But this is nothing knew, even if I was not expecting it. I have encountered many such souls who tarried after their strings had been cut.
Looking at the scene before me, I realise I should have expected it. In my experience it is always those souls which had an especially painful death that give me the most trouble. So strong was their last emotion that it carries over to death and lingers even after I cut them off from the world.
From the looks of the body I can see that this child had just been murdered by another of its own kind, one whose dark and muddied soul resides within a liquid slime form. The experience was probably very traumatic as I see signs of a struggle, suggesting that this death had been drawn out and therefore painful. It makes sense, therefore, that the boy's soul would hold some negative emotion to keep itself from finding peace right away.
Now that I have deduced the cause for the souls hesitation to relinquish itself to me, I wait. It will not take long. Whatever emotion the child had felt in its last moment (anger, fear, regret) will run its course quickly enough and fizzle out. Then I will be able to finish my job and go to my next appointment.
But as I wait the soul does nothing. The glowing sphere of green does not shrink within itself in fear. It does not soak and drip in grief. It does not thicken and sink down in guilt. It does not burn and rage in anger. It does nothing but float calmly and gently before me, giving every appearance of a soul at peace, ready for me to take into my embrace.
I must admit that I feel impatient at this point. My next appointment is coming quickly and if I do not make it then one of others will have to fill in for me. I hate owing any of the others favours. The others feel the same way. Having to return favours can be very annoying, especially when the debt could potentially interfere with one's schedule. I have everything planned out perfectly for the next millennia. Imagine how just one favour could ruin my whole schedule? I would have to rework everything to make it all fit again.
So no, missing an appointment is not an option.
That is why I decide to reach out to the soul. In my experience this is always an unwise move. The moment I come in contact with these lingering souls they always lash out at me. Sometimes, like now, it is necessary as touching them causes them to burn up their emotion faster- even if it is painful and makes the rest of the journey uncomfortable for us both.
I used to wonder why human souls reacted to my presence like this. From my long experience and having witnessed many humans deaths I have come to the conclusion that humans think that I am death.
I am not death. I am just the janitor that has to clean up after life.
And now, I need to focus on my job.
The moment I touch the soul I know that I have woefully misunderstood this entire situation. Instead of burning me with anger or attempting to drown me with its despair, the soul flashes white and then morphs and stretches before me until it has taken on a form not unlike the boy's earthly vessel.
Its hair is wild and unkempt. Freckles speckle across its pale cheeks and the bridge of its nose. The child's stature is small and frame thin while its hands and feet seem a bit too large for its petite frame, something common in adolescents as I have come to notice. But what draws my attention immediately are its eyes. They are impossibly large.
Its new form is faded, dim and almost transparent. But the eyes are not. They are impossibly huge and its pupils glow brightly like two green flames flickering with life.
Which is impossible. It is dead. There should be no imitation of life in those eyes.
This has never happened before.
I am so utterly at a loss for what to do.
I feel myself panicking. If I do not figure this out soon I am going to miss my appointment. Everything is unraveling before me. I will have to let the others know and then all of my careful planning and scheduling will be undone.
Why is this happening to me?
"Who are you?" The boy asks.
Once again I have no idea what to do. I have never had to tell anyone who I was before. The dead are not usually this alive to ask me that and the living never notice me, too focused on the presence of death to pay attention to a humble errand boy.
Before I can come up with an answer the boy seems to have noticed the commotion going on below it. I look as well. It is a grisly scene. The slime human has almost completely taken over the boy's old body. Sludge oozing inside and around the small rigid frame in a grotesque manner.
The boy gasps and tries to move toward its empty body. I assume it wanted to stop the monster, though I do not know how it could have achieved that when it had no power to stop this sludge human even when alive. The boy is surprised and distressed when it passes right through the physical bodies of both living and dead humans.
It turns to me now- eyes wide and full of desperation. At least I think it is desperation. I have only ever payed attention to what emotions look like on the souls I collect. So seeing desperation in its eyes is different than seeing it play out on a soul. I do recognise the way the emotion makes the green in its pupils glint and skip about frantically just as its soul would have if it were still in its spherical form.
And yet, mixed in with that desperation is something lighter, brighter, and uncomfortably still. It's an emotion I do not recognise. I feel a weight come to rest over me as if the boy had just given me something precious and now it is my responsibility to keep it safe and alive.
I am going to fail. I just know it.
"P-please, can y-you help me?" The boy speaks in a voice that sounds so broken and scared.
"No." I answer. "I cannot."
"W-why?" Its voice is dripping with too many emotions for me to identify.
"You are already dead." I say.
And with that the bright spark it had entrusted to me winks out and I am surprised at how much I miss it. No one has ever directed such a positive emotion at me before. A part of me wishes I knew what name humans call it. I want to see it again.
Now, though, the boy's eyes have been dampened by grief and the inner light dimmed by cold resignation. It begins to cry and I sense its grief. The child's eyes are literally dripping, a shining clear substance leaking from them as it sobs.
I think this is what most humans do when they see the body of a soul I just reaped. I always assumed the leaking was because of some failed function in the souls chosen vessel. Now I see that such leaking is because of the soul itself and was never the fault of a broken body.
Who knew souls could cry.
"I-I'm s-s-s-so sorry mama." The boy says between its sobs. "P-please don't be too s-sad."
The child's mother is not here so I do not know who it is talking to.
It is at this moment that another human being appears, stepping out of a whole in the ground with a flash of light and a bright smile. This human has a strong and powerful soul- yet I can feel how weak its remaining life force is. It will not be long for this world. Who knows, it just might be one of the souls assigned to me. I do not make it a point to know which souls are on my list. I just know where and at what time I need to be to collect them.
I hope I will not have to reap this man's soul. I do not like to know what souls where like before they lost their physical connections to the world.
The human is smiling and declaring in a loud voice that everything is alright now, "Why? Because I am…"
I do not get to hear the rest of the sentence because the man stops when it sees the cold and stiff body that once belonged to the boy. The slime human has nearly hidden all of itself within the small frame and perhaps if given a few more minutes it would have been able to successfully hide within the dead body and get away from this bright human. But slime still covers the outside of the boy's old vessel and there is no mistaking the human's escape attempt, or the boy's death.
Next there is anger. Boiling, raging, righteous anger. There is a fight in which the man quickly, efficiently, and mercilessly defeats the slime human. Then there is guilt and tears and sobbing as the powerful and bright man cries and apologises over and over for not getting there in time, for not saving the boy.
This is a scene I am more familiar with. I do not see it all the time, but it happens enough that I am no longer interested in watching it play out again. I do not understand why humans are always so grieved by death. Do they not know that this is a completely normal outcome? Everything alive dies.
The boy watches the whole thing play out, though. And when the man begins to cry, it rushes to the man's side. I note that it seems to have figured out how to move around now.
"I-It's not your f-fault All Might." The boy tries to comfort the man. Its hand goes right through the man who promptly shivers as if a chilly wind had just passed by. Besides that the man is completely ignorant of the child it is grieving for.
"You tried to s-save me!" The boy continues to try and comfort this 'All Might. Does it not realise yet it cannot be heard? "You tried a-and that means a lot to me, really! Please don't b-blame yourself. I-if anyone is to blame it's me. I wasn't able to hold on long enough… or do anything. I… I couldn't even save myself. This is all my fault."
Then, in a quieter tone I am barely able to pick up, it whispers. "I really am a worthless Deku."
While all of this is interesting to watch -I have never witnessed the dead try and comfort their own mourners- time for me has run out. I have to go now. If I do not solve this issue right now I will miss my appointment. But what do I do? Should I just leave? Abandon this job only half done? It is tempting. Leave now and forget about this boy. No one can say I did not try to finish my job. It is not like I could just take the fully formed soul with me.
Or could I?
Why not? It would actually be the perfect solution. I could continue on with my work while also keeping the boy close so that when the soul is ready and has lost this awareness it seems to have I can finish my job and bring it to its final resting place.
Who knows. Maybe this is what I am supposed to do.
Decision made I move forward and touch the boy's shoulder. Huge, piercing green eyes look up at me and I am startled at how the dripping liquid pooling in its eyes just makes them shine brighter.
"Is it time?" The child asks, hand wiping across its eyes in what I guess is an attempt to wipe away the tears.
I am not quite sure what it means, but I answer anyway. "Yes." It is time for my next appointment, though I doubt that is what the boy meant.
"Okay," the boy's voice shudders even as it draws itself up to its full height (which isn't much, especially in comparison to my own towering size) and squares its shoulders. "I-I think I'm ready."
Is it? Has its soul run through the course of whatever leftover emotions carried through from life?
A bit relieved, I call the soul. The light of its eyes flashes, but otherwise there is no other response. The soul does not come to me.
So it is not ready then. I am a bit disappointed, but this does not change my previous plan.
I reach out and take the boy's hand. Then we are gone.
It was time for my next appointment.
First Chapter - - - Kill off main character.