We rematerialized in a place that, like the homes of the majority of Draconequui throughout the multiverse, is hard for somepony without their point of view to describe. But it was Causality’s dominion, the place from which she kept an eye on all their kind. In some cases literally. Don’t give me that look, Causality. My memory may not be perfect, but I will never forget how you were using a plush draconequus as a cushion for a giant fake eyeball back then. Partly because it was still there the last time I visited you!
Anyway, Causality was lounging on a couch attached to the ceiling when we arrived. She drifted down to greet us, with her grinning somehow. I would later learn that I was not really seeing her skull grin but more of a grin on her soul.
“What?” Twilight asked, tilting her head upwards. “A grin on her soul?”
“Yeah,” Causality said as she scooped up some popcorn into her mouth. “What you see isn’t actually my real skeleton but more of a projection of what I would be doing if I still had any kind of body. This,” she waved her velociraptor claw to herself. “Is partly my magic, partly Lady Helheim’s magic making an impression of that’s projected outwards to all the senses.”
“Yes,” Fall said, eyes darting to the mist person. “We might be able to change what we look like but our power comes from Helheim.”
“So, I could change myself into anything I want to and Fall here too if he wasn’t wearing his original bones,” Causality said as she tossed some popcorn towards Fall who managed to snatch it before it fell onto the ground, showing the two had done this in the past many times. “Moo-yah!” She laughed, holding out her left cow’s hoof to Rainbow Dash, who high hoofed it back. “And before you ask, Twilight, Fall using his bones, or any others, gives him the power that creature had.”
There was a loud whack and the two Reapers were suddenly holding their heads. “And before these two Reapers of mine speak any further, let me remind them of what was supposed to the actual conversation.”
“Sorry my Lady,” they both mumbled, looking sheepish.
“Hey again, new guy,” she said to me before turning to look at Lady Helheim. “Let me guess, you want me to show him the ropes?”
“That is what we talked about, Causality,” Lady Helheim said, causing the thing - oh, alright, if it would stop it with the glares - causing the draconequus to fold and nod her head. “Fall Harvest, I leave you in her most capable of hands.”
And with that, she was gone, leaving me alone with Causality.
“Okay new guy, first things first,” she said, clapping her claw and hoof together. “Might not have heard of what I am or seen my kind as there are very few left and can be extremely territorial of what they consider to be theirs. You more than likely will see some ponies that died due to them trying to get in between a draconequus and their ponies.” She giggled as she directed me to someplace where I could sit down even though it was on the wall.
“So your kind is called draconequus?” I asked her, causing Causality to jolt and then faceclaw.
“Yeah; that’s what mine are called,” she said, shaking her head. “Now to the other stuff; you.”
“Yes,” she said in the same calm tone that Light Peanut had. “You saw him send your body here, right?”
“Yes…” I was confused.
“Well, how do you think you are still appearing as this?” she asked me gently, causing my eyes to widen.
“I -I- I don’t know,” I stammered in greater confusion, looking at myself.
“Hey, relax there, new guy,” she hushed me, placing her claw and hoof on me. “It’s one of the better ways to break the news to new guys like yourself. This here is just a projection of what you should look like if you still had flesh. Come, look at yourself.”
She directed me to a mirror where I could see my reflection and I frowned at what I saw. “That’s not me,” I said, tilting my head to the side.
“Yes it is, Fall,” she told me, clapping me on the back. “You were pretty sick and malnourished when you died. This is what you should have looked like if you were healthy.”
I looked back in the mirror and placed my hoof on it. I was a head taller, and my entire body had become more fully built - I wasn’t muscle-bound by any means, but I was no longer thin enough that I could count my ribs at a glance. My wings were covered with healthy and clean feathers. Even my mane was better; it looked like it had been washed and grown out.
“Whoa,” I said.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she laughed, patting me on the back. “This is what I looked like back when I was alive.”
Turning to look at her, I saw she had shifted forms. She now had the head of a futabasaurus (though not its neck) on the hunched body of a smilodon, while her right arm appeared to be that of a velociraptor and her left arm was that of a cow. Her legs were from a mastodon, and her tail was that of a spiked stegosaurus. I saw that she also had wings, one of an ostrich and the other a pterodactyl.
“That’s pretty interesting,” I said with a smile on my face before I realized that I knew what her body parts were even though I’d never seen or heard of these reptiles or animals before when I was alive. “Wait, how do I-”
“Know all of my parts?” she asked me before tapping my head with a claw. “That’s Lady Helheim for you; she wouldn’t want one of her Reapers to be uneducated so she placed all kinds of basic and background knowledge in your noggin. Though it would be a good idea to learn how to do it yourself in case you’re ever cut off from our Lady for some reason; don’t worry, I’ll show you how to turn off the smarts later on and help you out.”
When I had been conventionally alive, I knew that while it would have been nice to know my letters proper, I could have never done it. Now, however, I was realizing certain advantages to my new state of being, and having the opportunity to actually learn how to read and write, along with whatever Helheim put in my head, was definitely one of them.
“Thank you very much, Causality,” I told her, tilting my head. “And I have to say that your kind is very interesting; I wish I had had the chance to meet more draconequus.”
“Thanks Fall, but there’s not much of my kind left,” she said as she changed back to her hooded cloak and bones appearance, although her smile was still clear on her face. She squeezed my shoulder, turning me to the mirror again. “Also, the plural for my species is draconequui.”
I nodded. “Right.”
“And now that you know that, this is what you look like now.”
Before I realized what had happened, I saw that I was wearing the same black cloak as she was and I was looking through my empty skull. Instead of being scared out of my mind, I was strangely okay with all of this. I pushed back my hood and ran a bony hoof over my skull and horn and it felt completely normal to me. I was about to push the cloak off of me but something stopped me and told me it wasn't good idea.
You don't need to do that, Causality. Seeing my bare bones won’t cause you to puke.
“You doing good there, kid?” she asked me, concern on her skull.
“Yes, I am,” I said before turning to look at her. “Did you do this so I wouldn’t be freaked out?”
“Of course,” she said, pride in her voice. “No point in springing the whole deal at once if you were not ready for it.”
“Speaking of,” I said, looking at my scythe. “How does this work exactly?”
“Like you, it is an extension of Helheim’s will so she, and we, can do our Role. With a lot of time and practice, you will not really need it to send your assigned lot to the Judge but for the moment, it will act as your crutch.” My eyes went wide as I remembered I was the Reaper of Ponies and I didn’t even know the first thing about the whole alicorn kingdom, let alone anything of the other pony kingdoms. “And before you ask, you don’t need to worry about the pegasus, unicorn or any other kingdoms or outlying villages or what have you; I will take care of them while I help you learn how to do your job by practicing with the alicorns.”
“Alright,” I replied, feeling at ease. “As you are my instructor, what will you be teaching me first?”
“A number of basic things; how to split yourself up, how to change your appearance so you can blend in better in the mortal realm, basic magic, and other odds and ends.”
After that, she began to train me in the basics of everything. I’m not sure how much time passed or if any did pass but by the time she said we were done, I knew a lot more than what I had started with. Some things were a bit difficult for me at the start, like changing my appearance, splitting myself up and a few more things that are a bit more suited to draconequui than ponies.
Still, Causality told me that there was no better way of getting used to my job than to go out into the field. So that’s what we did, leaving Tartarus for the first time since I’d died.
We appeared in an old manor, both of us intangible and invisible. I looked at Causality for guidance but she simply shrugged her shoulders and waved me along. Rolling my nonexistent eyes at her, I moved along the rooms. I knew someone was due to die today but I wasn’t advanced enough in my training to really tell who it was by my Power alone yet.
I floated up through the ceilings until I saw a stallion dead on his side and thought I’d found my appointment.
“Hello,” I said, fumbling with the scroll that held the name of the pony I had to bring to the Judge. “I-”
“Who are you,” the pony asked me, causing me to stumble in surprise.
“I am Fall Harvest,” I said, trying to get everything under control but failing to do that. “I am Death- I mean, I am your Reaper. Wait, not your Reaper; I mean I am a Reaper-” I couldn’t even close my eyes or take panicked breaths of air. “I’m so sorry; this is my first day…” I looked at the list that gave me the name. “Mister Clean...”
“That… that’s not my name, sir,” the stallion said. “That’s my maid’s. My name is Dirty Money.”
“Oh geez,” Causality said floating up from the floor, holding out her arms to both of us. “We’re so sorry about this; like he said this is his first day. I’m supposed to watch over him and he kinda fumbled a bit but I had no idea that you’d be a near us experiencer.”
“It’s… it’s quite all right, I am getting on in years, and with the health problems I’m having, I’m not surprised if I’m higher on your list,” the stallion said as he tried to calm his racing heart. “Though I will miss my maid after all her years of loyal service… just how did she die? I… I want to tell her family it was peaceful, or at least that she didn’t suffer.”
“She died in service for you,” I said, looking past him and to the soul lurking the hallway I was able to see and read now. “She saw that you’d collapsed and raced to get you aid. She had unfortunately slipped on the top stair and broke her neck falling down.”
“Terribly sorry, sir,” said a mare that I had just seen trot into the room, “It was very clumsy of me to trip like that while trying to get help. Won’t happen again, I assure you!”
“Clean Duster, my dear, I do not think it will be an issue considering that you have passed along,” Dirty Money said. “As I said, you served me and my family well for these many years and I will ensure that your family, the Dusters, will be well rewarded.”
“Thank you sir,” she smiled brightly at her former master before turning to face me. “I am ready to go sir,” she said with a bow, the soft yellow coated alicorn mare flashing a smile at me.
“Very okay,” I said, wincing as I fumbled my words again. Holding out my scythe, I raised the blade to her with her backing up. “When I… um, slice through you, you will appear in in a very long line. You will need to wait your turn to face the Judge to see where you will need up for your afterlife.”
”You mean there’s a chance I could be in Tartarus forever?” the mare wilted, taking steps backwards with me noticing with morbid fascination that she was quickly approaching the top of the stairs.
“I cannot believe that you, of all ponies, would be sent to Tartarus,” Dirty said as he walked past me, placing a hoof on her shoulder and stopping her from moving any closer to the stairs. “I am certain that a mare that would risk her own life to save another’s would be bound for Elysium.”
“Th-thank you sir,” she said, tears in her eyes before she turned to face me again. “I’m ready to go sir,” she said to me. With that, I raised my scythe and sent her off to be Judged. I felt the soul pass through the realms and a smile formed on my face. I then blinked, or did the skull equivalent of one, and turned to face Dirty Money.
“Um,” I said, trying to recall exactly what Causality said to do in these situations as Lady Helheim wasn’t -
Still is not.
-all that keen on being publicly known.
“Don’t worry sir,” Causality said softly, placing a hoof on his shoulder. “You will not remember most of this; just small fragments and such.”
“That doesn’t seem-” But before he could finish, his soul flashed back into his body and he woke up. Tilting his head and rubbing the bruise, he began to call out for Clean Duster. We left the house through the roof as he left the room and made the discovery.
“Well Fall, that was not the best of starts,” Causality said as we floated past the manor. “More than a few big mistakes but you’re lucky that he was a near death experiencer and not someone that cheated Lady Helheim. That means he won’t remember most of what you said; maybe one line or two.” I must have looked depressed because she punched my shoulder. “But you did about the same as me, Nidhogg, George and every one of us when we started.”
“Really?” I asked her, turning my head to look at her.
“Oh yeah, I completely bungled my first run; I let the guy talk me into letting him wager for an extension of his lifespan. Said it would be fun. And honestly, what harm could a few extra centuries do for a creature that normally measures its life in eons?” She let out a weak chuckle. “Turns out he was very good at senet and he actually won. Lady Helheim was pissed and I’m not sure why she didn’t just boot me off to the Judge beyond the fact that there were so few draconequui who were suitable for this job; I think literally one out of every googolplex could have the potential to fill the position and there aren’t even close to that many draconequui left.”
“And how many is that in numbers I actually understand?” I asked, my implanted knowledge falling short.
Causality considered. “Well, a googol is the number one followed by a hundred zeroes; a googolplex is one followed by a googol zeros.”
I blinked, the number falling into place within my head. “Wow. That’s a big number.”
“Tell me about it,” Causality agreed. “But you see what I mean, right?”
“Of course,” I told her. “It means there’s almost no chance of ever finding another draconequus who could be a suitable replacement if something ever happened to you.”
“Bingo, new guy,” she said and then she seemed to get sad. “That means I’m stuck with this job for a very long time. There are a few decent members of my kind out there, don’t get me wrong, just none ever suitable for being a Reaper. So I either got to wait until one pops up or they all kick the bucket before I head off to my paradise.”
We stopped on a cloud, looking at her for what seemed a long time before I asked her. “What do you think yours would be like?”
“Like the world I grew up in; much bigger trees and ferns and stuff instead of these toothpicks trees we get now. Proper high temperatures rather than all this cool weather we’re stuck with now,” she grumbled with me tilting my head as it was just the start of harvest season, with it being a crucial time to get the products in as we were dealing with a heat spell. She noticed the confusion on my face and gave me a wry grin. “Kid, and I say this in all seriousness, I am literally old enough to have seen the first snow this planet ever got.”
My jaws dropped as I tried to figure out how that was possible.
“Draconequui age differently, remember?” she said with a chuckle at the expression on my face. “I may seem ancient to you, but to my kind, someone who’s a million years old isn’t even the equivalent of a teenager yet. That kind of lifespan means it’s not easy relating to non-draconequui, but I managed, even before I got this position.”
“Will it start to make sense with time?” I asked her, tilting my head upwards at her.
"Yeah, it will," she said sadly. She then bumped my side and grinned at me. “But hopefully, you'll get your replacement soon before it gets too long for you.”
“Heh,” I said, looking up at her. “You think I can handle the next one, Causality?”
“Yeah, and we’ll keep at it if you goof up again,” she said, pushing my hood over my face with a laugh before dashing off, with me chasing after her while I was laughing all the entire time.
“Wow,” Twilight said as I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts. “That’s… that’s really some story.”
Helheim nodded from her own position. “And that’s just the beginning.” She turned to Fall Harvest, who winced. “Do go on, Fall.”
“All right, all right…” Fall looked contemplative. “So… next comes the part you really care about; where I meet Celestia for the first time.”