Though Jason hadn't been able to see any clouds from the ground, he found a great deal of mist on the staircase. He was never in the middle of it; it always appeared to be a good distance in front of him and behind him, yet so thick as to be opaque. Hence, he soon lost sight of the ground, and he was walking up a staircase suspended in the clouds.

He walked for a long time. The scythe increasingly became a burden; with each passing step, it seemed to grow slightly heavier. Glancing at it, Jason was suddenly tempted to toss it aside altogether. He felt a great uneasiness just looking at his reflection in that moon-shaped blade, a keen sense of his mortality. He felt that the scythe, Stormbringer-like, actively thirsted for his life. Still, Jason held on to it. He feared what might happen to him if he relinquished its protection.

After what seemed like ages, Jason came to a greatly elongated step, a sort of miniature landing. Beyond it, the normal stairs resumed. Hardly had Jason stepped onto the landing, wondering what it was for, when something began to form before him. Or was it two things? A host of tiny golden-glowing motes, flying through the air from every direction, was converging into two large masses. Soon the masses began to look human in shape. The shapes grew more and more refined, and then, with a flash, they became a man and a woman, the latter cradling an infant boy in her arms. All were stark naked. Seeing this, Jason was struck by a disturbing thought, and glanced down at himself. But he was fully dressed. In fact, he was wearing one additional garment he hadn't been before: his blue-jean jacket, still bearing the marks of the dragon's claws.

"Jay," said the man, "that's scary."

Jason looked hard at the stranger's face, and quickly realized he wasn't a stranger at all. Jason could recognize that mile-long mouth anywhere: it was Curtis Malloc Debyeamo, albeit aged by a good fifteen years. His voice had matured to a rich baritone, and he wore a light beard and a mustache.

"Curtis," said Jason, "do you have any idea what's going on? I don't."

"We're really close, that's what." said Curtis. "You almost killed Death, or something. Once we finish it off, Life will win!"

"But… no, I mean…" Jason turned to the woman. He didn't recognize her. She looked about Curtis's (current) age. She had long, dirty-blond hair and big, round, sea-green eyes that made Jason think of innocence. "May I ask who you are?" said Jason. The woman stared back at him dumbly.

"She's a rabbit, Jay." said Curtis.

"Oh." said Jason quietly. "And… uh… who's the father of the child?"

Curtis smiled. "Me." Jason felt totally unsure of how to react. "What's that scythe? It's so scary somehow…"

"Death itself." said Jason. "All of Death's power, which used to be spread out over all those undead hordes—and, I guess, over the multiverse in general, in order to keep Life from doing all this—is right here." He held it up.

Curtis looked horrified. "Pup, what are you doing with that? Throw it away, so Life can get rid of it."

"I don't intend to let Life win." said Jason. "I intend to destroy it."

Curtis stumbled back a step. "Destroy Life? Are you crazy, man? This is what we've all been waiting for—all been fighting for! And now…"

"Tens of billions of lives are worth this?" said Jason, gesturing to encompass the whole scene.

"No! Look, I mean—I don't know what's up with these stairs and mist and stuff. This is just a bit of the multiverse. Outside, it's a lot better. Paradise! And it's just a taste of what it'll be like when Death is totally gone forever."


"Man, you can't imagine it! I mean—think of normal life, how we lived before we all got mixed up with the gods and the wars. It's a mixed bag. Sometimes there are fun moments, happy moments. But just sometimes. And some are happier than others. Mostly, it's all so boring. And then there's the sad moments, and the angry moments, and so on. But now, Jay, there's just happiness! Just joy!" He was so thrilled that for a moment he had to stop to catch his breath. "It's all one big party, with feasting, and dancing, and singing, and sleeping, and sex!"

"So the festivities never ended, after all." said Jason darkly.

"Why should they? Don't you like to have fun? Man, you're so serious, just like me when I was a kid."

"When you were a kid?"

"Well, yeah. I'm not a kid anymore!"

Jason thought about that. "Yes," he said sadly, "I guess you're right. Have all the other children aged?"

"Oh, yes."

"So I'm the only kid left in the multiverse!" He glanced at the baby; he was sound asleep. "The only kid who isn't a rabbit, anyway."

"Is that a loss?"

"Curt," said Jason, "don't you realize that if this were to simply go on, human beings proper—the kind that, for instance, take the time to learn a language—would quickly go extinct? All that would be left would be the rabbits."

"Is that bad?"

"Of course it's bad!" Jason cried hysterically, waving the scythe about. "What are we without language—without our smarts—without fiction and philosophy and history and science—and even math? What about math, Curtis? You like math, don't you?"

Curtis shrugged. "It's really cold and artificial. It's—what's the word—anathema to Life."

"Yes, exactly! And if only for that reason alone, it must be worth something! Rabbits, though… they're not even people! Is that what you want for the next generation of our species—hunks of meat?"

Suddenly, Curtis's eyes widened, and he said "Why didn't I see that before? The snath's black!"

"The what?"

"The snath, the pole."

"And it concerns you that it's black?"

Curtis nodded gravely. "Haven't you heard of the Black Scythe?" Jason shook his head. "Well, you're not a Frotanist. But the legend is that in order to make people, the gods had to kill all the monsters on earth first, and the last monster they had to kill—the toughest one to kill—was a demon wielding a scythe that had its blade reversed, to make it a weapon instead of a harvesting tool, and a black snath. It was called the Black Scythe."

"So this is the Black Scythe," said Jason, "and I'm a demon."

"I—I don't know." said Curtis. "But it can't be a coincidence. Oh, please, Pup, throw that away at once! It's overflowing with evil! Can't you feel it? It stinks of death."

"And you stink of life!" said Jason. "You become an adult, and what's the first thing you do? You have a son—and not just any son, but a son who'll never be much smarter than my goldfish!"

Curtis seemed to be fighting to keep rage in check. "I don't know what's wrong with you." he said. "All I can say is―" His anger suddenly collapsed into sorrow. "Please, Jason, I implore you, as your brother: throw the scythe away! We swore to forever stand by each other—don't you remember? And I've always gone along with you. But this one time, Jay, this one time, please do what I want. That's only fair! It's what you'd want, too, if you were thinking straight."

Guilt gnawed at Jason's heart. "I can't do it." he said. "Concerning this matter, I can't make a single compromise. One would be enough to derail everything. I—I'm not deaf to your appeal, Curtis, but there's far too much at stake here for me to be loyal for loyalty's sake."

Curtis looked aghast. "Are you going back on your word—on your blood? Blood-brotherhood is sacred, Jason!"

"Well, guess what:" said Jason, his voice taking on an acidic tone: "cleaning up this holy mess is gonna involve killing some sacred cows!"

The eyes of the boy-turned-man burned with rage. "Third and final chance." he said. "Do you willingly and dishonorably sever the bond of brotherhood?"

"Yes." said Jason.

Curtis stared at Jason silently for a few more moments. Then, he spat on the floor, making a conspicuous stain on the pristine red carpet. With another golden flash, he and the two rabbits disappeared.

"How nice it is" Jason declared to no one "to be suddenly freed of that man! What was I thinking in making friends with that blockhead? What was I thinking?" He shook his head. "No doubt I've made lots of mistakes. It's nothing less than a miracle that I now have an opportunity to make up for all of them."

Jason trudged onwards and upwards, his head held high. Yet internally, he was quite troubled by what he had done. While he didn't miss Curtis, he feared what unforeseen consequences his betrayal might have.