Chapter 99: Death Overcomes Death
Glenn fell roughly to the floor, his clothes staining as he landed in some of the fluid left from the Spawn's birth. He held a hand to his aching ribs, but got up again, the Frog in hand. He'd never seen something move as quickly as the Reaper. Even now, it was a blur as it fought off Crono, Corea, and Magus. The problem was, it was fighting all three of them with one hand.
Magus swung his scythe at the Reaper from behind, almost certain to remove the thing's head, but between one moment and the next it was facing him with its hand on the scythe's shaft. Magus tried to pull it back, but the Reaper's grasp was like steel. He couldn't even make it shift its feet. Effortlessly, it snatched the scythe from the wizard's hand, and carelessly threw it to the side, where it flew so fast that the shaft broke against the hard walls of the cavern.
It wasn't even a moment later when Corea tried to tackle the thing, but as she leapt forward, it was suddenly a foot away, as if it had been there all along. She regained her balance and turned to it. Her fists and feet were hard to follow as she launched a blistering attack, going for the chest, neck, and head withe every attack. Amazingly, the Reaper's hand was always in place to block every blow. She tried to punch and kick at the same time, and its hand moved so fast that it looked almost to have blocked both in the same instant. Suddenly, it caught her hand and pulled her closer, eventually throwing her to the ground behind it.
Whenever Crono's sword (he borrowed Melchior's) swept around to slice off some part of the thing, it was simply somewhere else, or ducking, or jumping, as if it had been waiting for him to make just that attack at just that moment. Crono shouted in frustration, and made a vicious overhead swipe. This time, the Reaper didn't move out of the way. Instead, its hand flashed up and knocked Crono's sword off course, so that the blade missed it by inches. Crono jumped at the thing, sword swinging, but it was already gone by the time he reached it. On top of that, the sword was no longer in his hand. He turned to see it carelessly dropping the blade. It turned to him.
"Are you all done, yet?" When Crono didn't respond, it turned around and cast out a hand. The air before it wavered, and a circle opened in the air, much like a gate, but yellow, streaked with red. It turned to Rakin. "Your time has come. The portal to the other side is prepared. Come with me."
"Not yet," a voice called, and the Travelers all turned to the entrance to see Thanatos, smiling confidently and impeccably dressed in his tuxedo.
Rakin sighed audibly with relief. "I was wondering when you'd get here. Cutting it kind of close, aren't you?"
Thanatos shrugged. "There was always the chance that Valiod had killed you. Guess not, though. Good. Looks like everyone who needs to be here, is here."
"You!" the Reaper suddenly exclaimed, its cold, lifeless voice filled with surprise. "The other one. What are you doing here?"
"Wait a second," Lucca interrupted. "You two know each other?"
Thanatos nodded. "Of course. Though he's not much for conversation."
"What are you still doing on this world?" the Reaper continued, ignoring Lucca's interruption. "The rule is one per world. You must leave."
Thanatos shook his head. "No. I belong here. This is my world."
The Reaper actually began to splutter. "B-b-b-ut... One per world! This cannot be your world. It is mine!"
"One what per world?" Melchior asked.
"Don't you see?" Gaspar whispered. "They're the same. They're both Reapers."
Thanatos' smile faded. "That's right. I'm a Reaper, too. I'm the Reaper of Elosia. This world's Reaper."
"No!" the half-rotted figure yelled. "I am the Reaper of Elosia! Begone or I shall report you to the Council!"
Thanatos shook his head slightly and chuckled. "Report me to the Council? Hmph. I've got a better idea. How about you prove your place as Reaper here."
"That's right, sunshine. I, Thanatos, Reaper of the Planet Elosia, hereby challenge you to Ferris-Tye."
The Reaper stared. "What?"
"You heard me. Ferris-Tye. Right here. Right now."
The Reaper seemed to be in disbelief. "Ferris-Tye? But... nobody has issued such a challenge since..."
"Since the Reaper of Pa-de-twa lost his right to Reap. He was unworthy of the title. As are you."
"Unworthy!?" If the Reaper's face had been alive, it would have been red with fury. "Me? No! You are unworthy. You are likely just a deserter from some minor planet looking for excitement. I will crush you! Then we shall see who the Council deems worthy of Elosia."
There were no words. One moment, they were twenty feet away, and the next they were both blurs as they traded kicks and punches. They were moving so fast that it was nearly impossible to tell who was winning or losing. Neither of them made a sound other than the sound of their blows being blocked, so quickly that it sounded more like machine-gun fire (or so thought Christina). The fight was more than furious; it looked like the two were trying to kill each other. The question was, could Death die?
Slowly (a relative term, since the fight had so far lasted a total of ten seconds), the Reaper was driven back a step. And then another step. And then they both slowed down until they were moving in normal time, just as the Reaper's knee fell to the ground. It was the first time anything but their feet had touched the floor, and apparently signified the end of the fight, as Thanatos, who looked rather tired, stopped trying to beat the hell out of the Reaper, and the Reaper's shoulders slumped, defeated.
"You... won..." The Reaper's voice was incredulous. "I... can't believe it... I lost..."
Thanatos nodded. "Yes, you did. And you know the price."
The Reaper nodded sadly. "Yes. I do." It slowly stood, and as it did, the rotted flesh of its face began to fall away. Soon, all that was left was a skull, then even that crumbled into dust. All that was left above the shoulders was a head-shaped area of shadow. But the Reaper didn't look as if it was about to fall down. In fact, in a moment it spoke again. "I know the price indeed." And it reached out its hand. Thanatos grasped it.
Magus, Rakin, Christina, Janus and Glenn all flinched, and that was all the warning the other Travelers had before the Black Wind raged through the cavern. Thanatos and the Reaper were engulfed in darkness, so black that nobody could bear to look at it. Everyone in the area immediately backed up as the cold feel of Death given form raged around the two figures. They all heard unearthly screams, and a few of them sounded familiar.
And then it was over, and the two figures were transformed. Somewhat. Thanatos no longer wore a smile. In fact, he no longer wore anything above the shoulders; only the shadow remained, though his eyes glowed a very faint red. His pitch-black tuxedo was now a pitch-black cloak, though all five of the unnaturally bright buttons remained. He was now a complete Reaper. The original Reaper, however, retained his original cloak. But he had a face now, and the Travelers were surprised to see that it was Thanatos'.
It, or he, shook his head slowly. "I... am only human now... I have never been human..."
Thanatos shook his, or its, head as well. "No, you were human once. So long ago that you've forgotten even what your face really looks like."
The new human reached up and felt his face. He looked down at the fluid on the floor, and could just barely make out his reflection. "I'm... I'm... you!" He looked into the darkness that was Thanatos' face. "You're me!"
"I was you. Long ago, I was you, the Reaper of Elosia. And now, after so much Timestream Traveling that it makes my head hurt to think about it, I've returned, and taken up my rightful place."
"So... one day I will regain my position as Reaper? One day I will defeat... myself?"
Thanatos pointed at Rakin. "If you help him on his next mission. And if you survive."
The former Reaper looked at Rakin for a moment, and nodded. Rakin nodded back. Then Marle's voice broke through the quiet with "Rakin's next mission!? He just got finished!"
Rakin turned to her. "No, mother. I'm not done yet. I can't come home."
"Why not?" Corea asked. She seemed disappointed, but not heart-broken as she once would have been to have her brother announce he was leaving again.
"I've seen the future." He pointed at the two Reapers. "I knew this would happen. I knew the spawn would all leave Valiod all but powerless. I knew that I would survive to get to this point. And I know what I need to do next." He closed his eyes. "If I don't leave, Elosia-that's our planet-is doomed. Those spawn will survive, and they will reproduce. The Hellbound will survive, and they will want revenge on our planet. I've also seen somebody else... Somebody possibly more dangerous than the spawn and Hellbound put together. If nobody stops them, this planet will burn, and thousands of others besides."
"But how do you expect to get to them?" Lucca asked. "I don't know where the Hellbound are, but the spawn are obviously heading for other planets. We don't have space travel yet, and we'll be lucky if we can each get back to our own times, let alone go far enough into the future that we can find a ship. The Epoch's gone, remember, blown up by the Red Omen."
"I know. That's where Thanatos comes in." Rakin turned to the Reaper. "Thanatos, how many of us can you send?"
"There are many factors to be considered. The time we are in and the place both make a diff-" He paused when he noticed Rakin's impatient expression. "Alright. Nine."
Rakin went to stand before the yellow portal. "Okay. Nine." He turned to the Travelers. "Who's coming with me?"
"What a fine lad."
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