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Shift Exchange

by StellarWind Elsydeon

StellarWind Elsydeon Forces of nature don't die. They're only replaced.
Final drops of rain landed on the shattered stones that had once been intricately-carved blocks of marble. Like a macabre assembly of amputees stood the hollow skeletons of trees that have long since died. The wind was blowing in a chilly, freezing whisper, dragging along a heavy mist. The gate, still standing long after the rest of the fence fell apart, opened and closed - seemingly of its own accord - with a silent creak, scaring away an old, bleary-eyed owl that was taking a nap on the gate post and sending it in a quick flight towards a very tall tree some distance away.

Cemeteries are a rather strange example of the circle of life - on one hand, they are the eternal home and final resting place of the dead. On the other hand, however, few are the days in which there is not even a fragment of movement on behalf of those who walk and breathe within them. The never-ending movements of the mourners who have come to pay homage to their departed loved ones give these places a life force of their own - a life force born of death.

Not this cemetery, however. This cemetery was entirely dead. Terminally dead, in heavy stages of decay. No, actually, decay wasn't the accurate term. Decay is a process that is a side-effect of life growing upon death. Absolute death - cold, changeless, uncompromising - has made its home in this cemetery. It has been decades since anyone has been buried there; In fact, for decades - and even centuries - on end, nothing living has even passed through the gates - there was something deep-set and fundamental about this cemetery’s very essence, its very fabric of existence, which declared that it was the abode of death - humans and animals steered clear of it, and even plants did not grow within the premises.

Amidst the swirling mists stood three figures - tall and thin - draped in robes. One of them, its face entirely concealed within the blacker-than-black hood of its robe, skeletal hand wielding a scythe, sighed.

"Good grief, what a hole. Is this where you live?" asked The Death That Was.

"It's not much, but it’s home." replied The Death That Is, clutching the hilt of her Katana and turning her large, mist-colored eyes to The Death That Was, a sudden wave of light reflecting in her long, silvery hair "Things are not what they used to be back then. No budget. Remember the days when we used to work together?"

The Death That Was grinned - although, considering his skeletal figure, it would have had a hard time adopting a different expression.

"How can one possibly forget? Ahh.... Back then, people knew how to die with style... In wars, or plagues, or only-the-devil-knows-what. Ah... To ride the wings of the storm, reaping the souls like wheat... I never DID understand how you always managed to do it so well with this toy knife of yours." it said.

The Death That Is scowled and glared at The Death That Was for a moment "It's still sharper and much more maneuverable than that over-sized stick of yours." and then she grimaced "But you're a lot more marketable than I am. You draw a whole lot more attention. More crowds, if you catch my meaning.."

"Maybe, but you're an absolute wiz at all the bloody bureaucracy the job demands nowadays... What am I supposed to do with all this paperwork?" The Death That Was shrugged its bony shoulders.

"That's exactly the problem. Things just aren't like they used to be – they’re dropping like flies, and it's only because of their own stupidity. I mean, they even take care of the reaping themselves - I just have to sign all the bloody paperwork... Hell, the way things are going now, I might as well return the bloody sword and get myself a bloody fountain pen instead... On the other hand, who would write odes to The Grim Document-Signer?" she mumbled "Only the devil knows how long I've been in this job, and most of the fan-mail is still addressed to you."

The Death That Was sighed "The world has advanced quite a bit since the time in which you were my apprentice and nothing more... But still, some things never change..."

"Which brings me to the reason we have gathered here today." said The Death That Is "My heir has proven herself worthy."

The third figure - the shortest of the three - silently stirred under her cowl, and gently undid her hood, exposing her face, framed in blacker-than-black curls - the pale angel-face of a young girl, but without any trace of innocence. She did not hold any bladed object - but a single gaze into her eyes would have sufficed.
She gazed at the world seriously, indifferently - but most of all - knowingly.

She said nothing, merely nodding with childlike gentleness. She was The Death That Is to Be - the most terrible of them all. She was born to handle numbers that none of her predecessors have ever handled before. Hundreds, thousands, even millions were nothing to her. She was created to deal with billions. She was the Death of the Apocalypse. Of Doomsday. Death to end all Deaths. The last one that would ever occupy the position. She silently moved her hands, weaving rays of blue light into different forms, as if she was playing Cat's Cradle - rays of light composed of pure, unrefined data. New data. New information. She put her hands to her chest - from the center of which a dim red light emanated - only barely visible through the mirror-like, silvery fabric of her robe - and the light that emerged from her hands seemed to be absorbed into her, intensifying the red glare that encompassed her entire body for a moment. She closed her eyes, for a moment looking like a drug addict that has just received her fix - and then the light slowly faded, shrinking back to its origin. Her eyes opened again - and for a moment, it seemed that even more terrible knowledge was reflected within them...

That was one of the things that made her perfect for the job - she was addicted to knowledge. And after all, knowledge is the most dangerous weapon.

"She is ready, but for now, the world is not yet ready for her." said The Death That Was.

"Her time shall come too." said The Death That Is and closed her eyes "Let us hope it shall not come anytime soon... I was starting to like this place, you know. When she goes on duty I'll be kinda short of a job. It ain't easy being a spiritual entity nowadays."

"Why ARE staff changes in our field so complicated?" asked The Death That Was, out of the blue.

"Are you kidding? We are a relatively simple story. Do you have any idea how many times were the guys in charge of births replaced? Spirits, Angels, even BIRDS for cryin' out loud, before they realized the role was obsolete and sent the last one to early retirement."

"Well, what can one do? That's what happens when you have a government committee acting as God... And even they are only temporary workers."

And with these words, the fog swirled and stormed as the Death That Was and The Death That Is - shadow and mist - swirled and vanished into it. And the Death That Is To Be surveyed the kingdom that, one of these days, shall come into her possession.

So much to discover... So much to study... So much to dismantle into its most primal elements... She had the patience to wait.

The Death That Is To Be smiled and vanished into the fog as well. After all, the more she waited, the more she'll have to learn...