"Where are you taking me?" Alexandra could only guess what the Most Deathly Power was thinking. She'd had a few experiences with the skeletal figure cloaked in black over the years, but nothing from them matched her present circumstances. It wanted her help, it had been forward about that much, yet the type of help Alexandra assumed it would ask for was not what she wanted to give. She was not going to make a deal that had anyone die for her.
Luckily, the power that Alexandra found herself indentured to didn't have the same fondness for riddles that the Stars Above had. Death answered, "You have only seen one part of my domain."
Alexandra looked around at the black expanse of the Lands Beyond. The only place she had seen, that she could see, was the castle-like mansion where she assumed the Most Deathly Power made all its deals with humans. "A tour?" Alexandra asked. She didn't imagine it would be very pleasant to walk for an extended time in the formless black, among constantly-at-the-edge-of-hearing screams. Besides, the impression she had gotten was that the Lands Beyond was infinite.
Even if the Most Deathly Power understood the doubt behind Alexandra's words, it didn't acknowledge it visibly. It continued leading her away from the mansion at a pace at once leisurely and fast enough that Alexandra had to work to keep up. "There are others that live under my eye whom I have business with. I will not introduce you, but you may see them when I take you into their home."
The creatures in question could be any shape or disposition. The Lands Below had been filled with all sorts: humanoid, vengeful, pitiful, anthropomorphic, and of course deceitful. Alexandra could only hope that the things in the Lands Beyond wouldn't mind a new arrival and wouldn't be so terrible to look at that her eyes burned out. Casually introducing her to Cthulhu seemed like something one of the Powers would do.
Alexandra could have asked for more details, but she found that she simply wasn't that interested. Maybe a side effect of taking up permanent residence in the Lands Beyond was a slight desensitization to the mysterious. Apparently, the Most Deathly Power wasn't one to initiate small-talk either, so they walked in relative silence.
From the dreamlike nature of the Lands Beyond, it was hard to tell how much time passed, but Alexandra felt like she had only taken a few steps before she blinked and her surroundings had changed. Suddenly, she could see something besides black. Before her was a grey sunless horizon and hills and barren rock and land formations similar to the Lands Below. At first glance, Alexandra would have assumed she was in the Lands Below, but the Most Deathly Power had said that she could never go back there or to her homeland. She took a closer look at the steep hill she was standing on. Morbidly but unsurprisingly, it was peppered with broken yellowed bones and sculls. A pathway had been cleared up the hill that led to a throne that was made of yet more bones, which made Alexandra wonder where so many humans to supply it had come from. She could more easily believe that it was an imagined construct to suit an expected aesthetic than a literal collection of desecrated remains.
The Most Deathly Power shifted, and Alexandra turned to it to see a crowned creature move forward from her side. Alexandra stepped back in surprise. The creature was similar to what she usually saw Death appear as, in that it was skeletal, but it also had dead white skin and thin clumps of threadlike muscles. Instead of a cloak, it wore a roman war skirt and its chest was covered by layered straps and wraps. Its walk forward was slowed by a hunched posture, maybe weighed down by countless bits of gold jewelry and gems that were tied to its clothes and wrapped around its body. As if normal methods of ornamentation weren't enough, yet more gold could be seen through its body where torn skin had left its bones bare.
Alexandra checked behind her to make sure that she hadn't just lost track of the Most Deathly Power. All she saw was more of the same grey landscape, which was strange in that she only remembered walking through black. She didn't expect she was wrong to assume that Death had changed forms, since she could feel the crowned creature the same way she could feel the cloaked one, but she didn't have any explanation for why it had.
"I told you once that my appearance was determined by the perceptions of those looking upon me," the Most Deathly Power said, taking a seat on its throne. "You no longer are limited to seeing what your own notions make me. The creatures here view me as their king."
Alexandra almost moved to get closer, but she realized that she no longer had to stick to Death's side now that she was in a place she could see again. She turned to take some slow, curious steps to the edge of the hilltop to see where the path started. It was simple and straightforward, cutting through some stone ruins until it disappeared beyond.
A pang of unease hit Alexandra. She was used to unusual landscapes and circumstances, but now she felt like something was missing. Realization hit her and she turned on the Most Deathly Power. "Where's Charlie?"
"Safe, in the realm alongside this one. Mortal beasts like your raven can not travel the same paths I took you through."
"What paths?" Alexandra said. She took another look at her surroundings as some kind of cloud on her mind lifted. She could hardly believe it had made her forget about Charlie, even for a little while. Her familiar was supposed to be connected to her. "Are we not in the Lands Beyond?"
"Not in the sense you are familiar with. This realm can only be accessed through what your people have Named the Lands Beyond, though it would be inaccurate to say that it is beyond that land."
"What does that mean?" Alexandra said mulishly. She wasn't in the mood to sort the meaning out herself since she couldn't help but feel like she'd been tricked. She'd be amenable again when she'd gotten Charlie back and worked out what had happened to make her unquestioningly pliant for the walk from the mansion.
Death said, "The Shinigami here could consider your lands "The Lands Beyond" if they used the same logic. Consider instead that their land is an analogue to your Lands Below."
"Okay, so it's another world away… Why are we here?"
"Business, as I said." The Most Deathly Power leaned back in his throne. "One of the Shinigami tried to trick me. I let him have his amusement, but now he's playing a game with the humans in the world this one watches over. I usually let the Shinigami play, but his game is causing a lot of trouble by human standards. And since I have you and your moods to entertain, I've decided to let you intervene."
Alexandra scoffed. "You mean you want me to fix your mess?"
Death gave her a steady look from its throne and let her squirm under the gaze of its empty eye sockets. "The Shinigami Ryuk has used his free will to drop an object into the human world which has the power to end any amount of lives in any way at any time. I don't care if you decide to intercede or not. Ephemeral human lives made shorter does not affect me. Do you feel the same? Would you rather I take you back so you can slowly lose your senses in the Lands Beyond?"
Was that what was happening? Was she losing her mind? So quickly? How long had it been since she'd been pulled into the Lands Below? Alexandra couldn't be sure. She didn't want to turn into a single broken mind in a sea of wailing spirits. "No, I… I think I want to stop the Shinigami."
"Do you know what Shinigami means?"
"Death God. You can't control Ryuk and you cannot kill him. If you want to disrupt his game you have to scatter his pieces. I will send you down to these human's world and leave you to do what you will, on the condition that you make no mention of my involvement."
"And Charlie?" Alexandra said. Death hadn't exactly answered her before, and she didn't want to leave her familiar alone to go insane.
"The raven will find you in the human's world. When he does so is up to him."
Alexandra nodded, thinking about exactly what she was agreeing to. Free reign in a new world didn't seem like such a bad deal, compared to the nothing she thought her life was going to be at the end of her deal with the Generous Ones. What was the catch? "This death object, is it like the coin you gave me? Someone dies so someone else can live?"
"In a simplified view, the object, a notebook, works the same way. A Shinigami who writes the name of the human it pictures in the notebook will kill that human and get its remaining natural lifespan added to their own. I gave each Shinigami one notebook to use, but it cannot be used to extend any life but their own."
"What? How many Shinigami are there?"
"That is not your concern. Ryuk let a human get his notebook. The human who possesses it will be able to kill you if he knows your name and face. If you die I will not let you go back."
"How am I supposed to find out where Ryuk is or how to… disrupt him? What happens when I find the notebook?"
Death leaned back more, turning to face directly forward. "My time is infinite, but yours is not. You will get the answer to your questions soon enough."
"But—" Alexandra got a word out as the Most Deathly Power settled into statuesque stillness, then her stomach jumped into her throat from being dropped through the hill and into blue sky, falling at an impossible speed until Chicago appeared under her and she hit the ground.