Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea.
Jack hadn’t really given it much thought. Leaping onto the jug of troll soup was an urge before any thought. Jack saw the jug, the boiling shit that he himself had once been forced to drink from… The burning nightmare, as he had come to call it.
Jack, while cackling on the outside, was oddly calm on the inside. He had chosen his action, a target, and all other concerns were… secondary. He hit fast, out of nowhere, and hoped he would make it another day. It was the most idiotic tactic he or his fellow Kobolds could ever come up with, but Jack was also just looking to die at times.
Spending a few 30 or 50 years down here would make anyone a bit stressed.
But as he felt the cauldron rattle and the stew spread, his existence went dark.
Darker than dark. Dark like a somber mood rather than any lack of light, Jack was worried it had all been for naught when he felt he was floating. Jack was scared he’d fallen into the cauldron of slime-making.
But there was no burning or any pain really. Odd, Jack was used to the aches and scars he’d gathered over the years. Delta’s contract was good, but it was slow work. His many bones that grinded from where they had been broken didn’t grind. The flesh that had scarred didn’t itch. His mind that screamed at the horrors he had seen was quiet.
That last one worried him the most.
He floated in a sea of painless blackness.
“Maybe old Jack bit the biscuit?” he mused, watching as his words were swallowed by this queer place. It wasn’t cold or hot. Not too heavy or light…
It was kinda of the middling ground of things. Jack wasn’t a fan. He was a firm believer of taking things to extreme. Like Delta! That gal was a titan of just-making-shit-happen. It was great.
This place? It was trying too hard not to piss him off. (And that pissed him off.)
Just as the thought crossed his mind that he was done floating… he landed on something. He looked down but it was more darkness, just more solid.
“Right…” Jack mused as he looked around for any more shadows acting like shadows shouldn’t. Tricky things, those shadows. Never knew who was hiding in them.
Jack took a few steps forward and finally noticed he was lacking his many, many, many toys. He looked down at his simple tunic and kilt.
A generic piece of clothing from his home. Something he had worn once upon a time. That… got to him a little more than he liked to admit.
“Alright, enough of this shitshow. I wanna see the big bagloo in charge or someone. I swear to Delta’s mushrooms if you leave me alone here I will make a bomb from nothing but my teeth and bodily fluids!” he yelled.
“As much of a sight as that would be… I would prefer you to stop yelling and actually bother looking around before making threats,” came a voice of long drawn out boredom. Jack spun and there was a room.
Jack blinked slowly once or twice, as the darkness was just gone and this study had taken its place. A crackling fireplace, warm soothing heat, lit the room as two squishy armchairs were arranged around it. The walls were lined with bookshelves stretching towards a ceiling so far up that they literally faded from view.
Jack stumbled just a bit as gravity seemed to reapply itself. The solid wooden floors clacked as his claws left tiny scratch marks. Jack steadied himself on a side table that had a delicate vase. It wobbled but Jack sighed as it didn’t fall.
Looking around, he tried to find that voice.
He didn’t have to look far. A figure was bending down to pull a thin paperback off the shelf. The oddity of a large brown bathrobe combined with thick slippers were a little disarming as the figure turned to reveal gleaming bone.
It was a skeleton! Jack recoiled as bad memories rose but as the person sat down in the well used chair near the fireplace, Jack saw that he had been wrong.
There was skin but the man was so gaunt and regal, he looked closer to bone than flesh. Watery blue eyes looked up.
“Well? Do have a seat Jack,” he gestures to the other chair that looked untouched. Confused, lost, and a little bit curious, Jack did so. The man opened his book and Jack could see the cover had a fainting human damsel being held by some buff blockhead with flowing locks.
‘The Pure Flower of Aidenshire’
Jack tried not to comment but…
“Looks kinda like the thing you get for a copper out yer aunts basement,” he pointed and the man flicked those blue eyes up.
“We all have our guilty pleasures, Jack. You and your explosions, I and my unrealistic romances,” he smiled and the expression only enhanced the skull like features of the man’s face. Jack could agree with that but... perhaps his broken mind was finally working but something prodded him.
This is not normal. Stop acting like this is normal.
A bothersome thought but Jack agreed with it nonetheless.
“So… I… am…expired?” Jack asked in his best elegant tone. The man blinked at him.
“Are you a carton of milk?” he asked with one arch brow. Jack scowled.
“Am I deader than my sex life?!” He waved his claws. The man seemed to hide a smile behind his trashy book.
“Well I am not in charge of your love life, despite my reading material. But yes, you did indeed expire,” he said, using Jack’s word with great amusement. He turned a page.
“Ah silly girl. Sneaking into the forest, no doubt to meet your bestial werewolf lover. I wonder how long the love scenes will go on…” he mused as he turned another page. Jack stared.
“You’re the figure. The End? Death turned two-legged?” Jack pushed, confusion at having died fueling his rudeness. The man hummed.
“Not exactly. You can call me Pip,” the man smiled again. Jack was sure now he wasn’t dead, but so high off troll soup he was going to die soon enough.
“Pip? Death is called… Pip?” Jack repeated with disbelief. Pip adjusted his bathrobe.
“Well, you asked if I was the end. I am not. Death is never the end, and all those overhanded tropes,” the man waved his book and sighed.
“Pip is a nice name. I like it and people have a harder time screaming in fear when the name they have to scream is ‘Pip’,” the man said, giving Jack a long look.
Jack was forced to agree. He would actually rather die than scream ‘Pip’ with any level of fear.
It just… was not going to happen.
“So, you’re the guy though, right? The taker of souls? The deliverer of karma? The Dragon’s shadow?” Jack pressed. The man looked like some old retired bachelor whose house Jack had dropped into unannounced.
“That’s me. Nice to meet you. I’d shake your claw but I am just getting to the good bit,” Pip explained as he began to turn pages faster.
“Please take yer time. Not like I have any left,” he answered sarcastically.
“Oh pish posh. Don’t be a downer Jack. You did well to keep that upbeat madness for so long, don’t lose it now,” Pip snorted. He said it like he knew exactly what Jack had been going through.
Made some sense. Death was expected to be a little all-knowing about the souls he ferries but Jack wasn’t seeing a boat around. Or a dragon.
Or a mechanical duck.
Jack hoped the Gnome’s version of Death wasn’t before him. They really made their process of dying a rollercoaster.
“So, how do we do this? Do you pull out the big scythe or do you push me into some void or is there a test?” Jack asked rapidly. Pip gave a weary sigh and put a plain bookmark in his novel and put the book down.
“Are you truly in such a rush? Jack, you don’t even know what awaits you or where you’re going. But alas, I fear that is more my fault than yours,” the man admitted and leaned forward, face all business.
“Now, Jack, you are a delicate being. Usually souls are sorted and sent on their way automatically by the process of me being in too many places to count and to explain. I shepard mostly humans and there is a Kobold reaper, but…” Pip looked a little annoyed as he gathered his thoughts.
“But he’s a bit of a dick,” Jack offered. Pip looked pained but nodded.
“Liam tends to ditch extra work where he can. He’s much more keen on pretending to be some Chef in Kaliman,” Pip admitted with a long sigh of suffering. Jack’s heart squeezed painfully at the name.
Kaliman. The Kobold 'capital’, if there ever was one. His home, his place of birth. He had only seen it in shadows of dreams now.
He had forgotten how it smelled. How hot it was… how… how…
“So, the duty should have fallen to Sally who reaps general monsters who gain enough soul, since you were a Dungeon monster in name but Sally is in the middle of a divorce from her husband Ted, who reaps fishfolk. So, Sally denied it on grounds of you being a contractee and not a true monster, which should have made it Marvin’s territory but Marvin is currently on holiday, so it fell to me since you have two legs,” Pip explained.
“The afterlife is… “ Jack trailed off. He expected explosions, death and demons, and amazing sights to blow Jack’s arse off but this? This?!
Pip sipped some tea.
“My afterlife is run by boring old people,” Jack whispered. Pip huffed as he sat his tea cup down, the pink skulls and flowers doing him no favours in looking anything like a grand spirit of Death.
“Middle-age, if you would. Besides, this is what happens when people believe different things. Trust me, it was all very simple when we were just one person. Then someone decided we weren’t good enough or gothic enough. Then someone decided they hated their father and wanted a different Death God. Then when one became about a dozen we had to have a business model and holiday pay,” Pip waved a hand around.
Jack was ready to bury his snout into his claws.
“So why am I not just being automatically sorted by Sally or Fred or Timbook or Ram or whatever names you people have!?” Jack glared.
Pip sniffed. He clicked his fingers and the room didn’t so much fall away as become slightly more 5th dimensional. Jack hadn’t known he had a fifth dimension until he saw his Soul overlapping physics.
“That’s weird. I don’t like it,” he said bluntly. Pip snorted.
“Nobody likes it, Hence why we all remain as close to the 4th as we can,” he grunted and pointed right at Jack.
“See that bubbling mess of contained explosions and shrieking giblets?” he said and Jack looked down.
“Yeah, looks like a hamburger being crushed by a giant and then vomited on by a goblin,” he agreed, wondering why it was in his chest.
“That’s your soul core, the very centre of you. That ugly hamburger is you,” Pip explained. Jack glared.
“My hamburger is wonderful and prime beef!” he said, no hint of shame at his sudden 180 degree attitude switch on his soul.
“It looks like it would give elder demons indigestion, but I digress. The point is that while fixable and sortable, it’s already spoken for,” he reached over and pointed to a glowing orange patch Jack thought was hot sauce or some stain or maybe drool.
“Delta the Dungeon has put a contract on you. She has anchored you to that Dungeon of hers,” Pip explained. He suddenly leaned in.
“By the way, between us… is she okay? I’ve been making room in my schedule for her kills but not a lot happening. Does she need help or is the Sister Sun doing weird things again?” Pip half-whispered.
“Don’t you know? Wait, who reaps Dungeon cores?” Jack blinked. Pip blinked.
“Marvin but he’s on holiday since he doesn’t get much work and was getting bored. So? Is Delta broken or is she…” Pip made a waffling gesture. Oddly, Jack was getting annoyed on behalf of Delta. He wondered if that was the Contract or…
“Have a drink Jack, you need it.”
“Jack, don’t blow up my pygmies!”
“Don’t worry… it won’t hurt you again.”
No. Delta had done this herself. Worming into his old hamburger heart like the goblin she was. Jack couldn’t even dislike her for it.
“Delta is a cracking core and she’s better than those other Dungeons. I bet they needed 30 floors to figure out which way to pour a drink!” he boasted. Pip smiled and poked the orange patch.
“Interesting,” he said and a smear of orange rubbed off on his fingers. Pip rubbed it and it flaked, floating like a snowflake as Pip seemed to stare at with deep intensity.
“Ah… I know this one. Delta… Hm, is that what became of her?” Pip murmured. Jack perked up at this.
“Ya know Delta? She said she was human before,” he offered. Pip mused in silence for a few seconds.
“Not well. Her soul arrived by a hook. Not very pleasant, but when the Brother has naught to do but fish in the abyss for fun, he does find the most interesting things,” Pip admitted. Brother… Sister.
Jack frowned. Where had he heard that before?
Old memories from a childhood long forgotten trickling past his memory. An old Kobold, grey-scaled and blind.
Old Sage Maknaw.
Jack had utterly forgotten that relic had ever lived.
“The Sun and all her harsh love… the Earth and all his dark secrets. They are not like us but they are not perfect. The Sun sets every day to play with her brother and in that darkness of her shadow… monsters were born. The Earth grants us power but also blesses the monsters. They are not gods, my little ones… they are nature itself. Cruel but beautiful,” the sage had whispered around a fire.
Jack had been young. So very young.
“Needless to say. Delta was a soul that I saw in passing. Quite interesting but alas, Marvin will see to her if she ever does require our services,” Pip said, knocking Jack from those memories, the images already gone like snakes into the ground of Jack’s head.
“So Delta is keeping me around, and you’re here to…” Jack trailed off quietly. Pip took no notice of Jack’s sudden melancholy.
“Offer you a choice as I offer all Contractees. I can sever the connection to Delta and let you pass on to some form of afterlife or I can merely let you be called back when the time is right,” Pip held both hands up to show the two options. “In this business, the Contractee—,you—, would slowly have their natural soul replaced by Delta’s perfect Dungeon Mana copy over the years,” Pip began and smiled at Jack’s sudden wide-eyed expression.
“Your previous soul would be ground up and fed back into the Core as a price. There is no doubt your soul is you. A boat rebuilt piece by piece is arguably the same boat in spirit and all, but there is that knowledge that your soul would be gone from the cycle until Delta is also dead,” Pip said and relaxed in his chair.
“It doesn’t bother me nor Marvin. Sally can be a bit perfectionistic when it comes to counting her lot, though, and Ted didn’t help there. Liam would come back and see a Kobold causing a spot of bother and dive in trying to get in on the fun. Terry would sit back and pet Maurice, the cat reaper, and overall the whole thing would reopen the Death Tournament to settle the differences. Other minor death related gods and goddesses and non-gender specific deities would hop in and I wouldn’t have time to read my books!” Pip whined.
Jack really didn’t see how he was causing the afterlife to become gambling addicts.
“Listen, not every reaper is as well-adjusted as me,” Pip promised in his bathrobe and slippers, surrounded by literally miles of trashy romance novels. Jack was beginning to think dying wouldn’t be so peaceful at this rate.
“Sometimes we mess up, and sometimes we fall asleep. That’s why you get idiots who won’t die when they really should have, countless times over. Sure, people call it destiny or plot armour but really, I promise you, their reaper is just literally worked to death and passed out,” Pip rubbed the pinch of his boney nose.
“So… if I cut my ties, you get to read your novels?” Jack summed up. Pip shrugged.
“I’m literally taking about 30 souls as we speak. To one woman, I am a giant smoky demon. To a priest, I am a talking shaft of light. Very annoying to read with no fingers… Point being is that you don’t bother me. It’s everyone else who’s crazy,” Pip explained. Again, in the distance, a shelf collapsed under the mounds of paper covers showing fainting women in men’s arms or some couple embracing.
“You’re a mad, contracted, Kobold with lots of achievements and karma under your belt. Your soul, while ugly, is a hefty bonus to the afterlife,” Pip hummed. He leaned in.
“I’m thinking you should give us the bird and go home. Avoid dying, because you will be fished out to talk to one of the others. Maybe Sally, once she’s done devouring her ex-husband. The fishfolk are going to be immortal for a whole week at this rate…” Pip grimaced.
Jack eyed Pip.
“You’re… kind of a weirdo,” he admitted. Pip smiled.
“Banish such thoughts. I am just a powerful creature of death that sits around in his home, reading trashy novels and giving out unwanted advice. I am perfectly normal,” he huffed. Jack grinned.
“If I do die, can I ask for you or is there some sort of paperwork I need to fill out? You’re kinda not an ass,” Jack nodded.
Pip stood and stretched, bones popping much louder than they would in any human or Kobold.
“No luck, m’afriad. I only managed to cause Sally and Ted to break up, Liam to get inspired with some new dish, and Marvin to be lost in another dimension by chance and luck so I could speak to you today. So, I believe this is until next time?” Pip smiled and Jack crossed his arms.
“I didn’t say my choice!” he argued. Pip snorted.
“Your orange patch grew by an inch. You need not say anything,” Pip promised and then Jack was falling.
Pip liked Jack. The mad thing had heart. An ugly hamburger heart but it was pure in its intent. He sat down and picked up his novel. He was sure he’d read this one about… well the number didn’t matter nor did the overused plot.
Pip just liked the novel idea that there was no good romance without Death involved somewhere. Like a third invisible partner that hung over their mortal hearts.
It was like reading about himself in love. Egotistical, and Pip loved it.
His study was quiet and Pip knew it was a lie.
“Come out, I know you’re back there. Eating my books,” he called good naturedly. This guest was a little less annoying than his fellow reapers. Mostly because the thing didn’t really have a motive beyond being curious.
From the shadows. A shifting shadow of many limbs and heads moved at angles impossible to humans until the being trotted out of the darkness to stand near the fireplace.
White wool, four black legs, and a mile long stare from two left eyes. The creature was an odd one. Old but new. Lost but on track… he was controlled chaos in a very fluffy form.
“…” the god-like sheep did not exactly speak but its intent reached Pip nonetheless. The two had been friends for a long time.
Mostly because Pip couldn’t keep the pest out his library nor from eating his first editions. But the creature was known to its followers as the Finder of Paths. An unusual God-centric religion that focused on the sheep before him.
“Me, lie? Perish such accusations, my friend,” Pip smiled at the creature. He pretended to buff his nails.
“I didn’t exactly say I was a reaper of humans. I merely said two legged at the best of times. You know it’s not becoming to brag of titles,” Pip huffed. The sheep chewed a rather smutty piece of a chapter from one of Pip’s books.
“You are such a prude.” he sniffed. The godling before him merely passed its amusement on silently.
It wasn’t really a sheep. Pip could see that, most higher beings could, but for mortals, it was safer to see the form of a sheep than what it actually was. To be honest, the human mind preferred the sheep. It was closer than anything else to its true form.
Still, the sheep pressed and Pip was beginning to roll his eyes at the chiding he was getting.
“Jack would have had issues with me. If I had said I was the reaper of heroes. He would argue and deny and no one wants to have that debate in the middle of a good book,” Pip nodded to himself.
He was glared at.
“Okay! Okay! Maybe I really did want to get back to my story. But come on! Rosealine Thighlina is about to bust into the evil fortress of Celimanty and rescue her true love Long Rod Robin-” he said in another whine but the sheep was already gone.
“Come back! I haven’t gotten to the part where they become a threesome with a werebadger!” he cried out but the spiritual door of his realm was slammed shut as Pathfinder left in a hurry. Pip sat back down and grumbled to himself.
He picked up his book and smiled to himself.
“No one appreciates true art,” he sighed in contentment.
After all, these books all gave Pip one thing besides the obvious lift in his ‘spirits’. A happy end where the hero wins, sleeps a lot, and Pip would never meet them.
It was a sad hobby but Pip did the best he could. He turned the page and chuckled.
“Oh, there’s her famous Thigh Crusher of eggs. Girl, you are deadly,” he commented as he read on. The book would be read quite a few more times that night.
Jack will respawn in 5 days automatically.