After hearing Ichi completely destroy all my dreams, I'd decided to give up and let go and stop existing. So naturally I was a bit surprised at how... exist-y I was being.
I was in a big blank white void room, which was admittedly a lot less exist-y than most places I had been in life, but Descartes said "I think therefore I am", right? And I'd just agreed to stop being, so that made it weird that I was still thinking! Contrapositive rule, I am not therefore I do not think!
In fact I was doing a lot more than just thinking, I was also standing and seeing — not that there was much to see, or for that matter much to stand on, and yet there I was doing both of those things, which I found rather odd indeed.
"Taro?" a voice called out.
"That's... me, yeah," I said in confusion. "Is this what oblivion is? It's not what I expected..."
"There's been a mixup. Ichi wasn't supposed to be your reaper."
"He wasn't? Then..." It didn't immediately make sense, since surely reaping is reaping and a different reaper would've said the same things Ichi did.
"We need to reevaluate a few choices."
At this point it finally occurred to me to look at the person who was speaking. Despite the mature and formal tone, they looked like a kid in a fox-eared hoodie, which was pretty cute but also confusing and not at all like someone I'd expect to see working in the afterlife, especially after Ichi.
"So, wait, who are you, then?"
The fox-kid bowed politely. "My name is Myriad Kit, and I will be assisting your reincarnation today."
"Does that mean I really can be the fat low-end noble nobody cares about?!" I exclaimed excitedly.
They lowered their glasses to give me a condescending look. "Taro, are you familiar with the law of pyramidal economic structure?"
"... It might be called something else in your world," Myriad admitted with a shrug. "But to put it simply, for every 'fat low-end noble', there must be hundreds of peasants toiling to provide. Do you know how many people choose to reincarnate as peasants?"
"Um..." This seemed obvious. "None?"
"Not quite. Some people really like their pastoral fantasy," they muttered, "but... pretty close to none."
"Oh... so what you're saying is, I have to reincarnate as a peasant for some noble...?!" The thought of slaving away while some noble lived the easy life off the fruits of my labor almost made my blood boil.
"Nah," Myriad said. "I mean, you can if you want — pastoral fantasy and all that — but what I'm here for is completely different. We've got bodies, we've got souls, they're out of balance, so I'm here to put them back in balance."
"Ah." I thought about that for several seconds. "... What are you talking about?"
They grinned. "To put it simply, there are only so many nobles in the multiverse, so you and everyone else who wants to be one are gonna have to share."
I stared blankly again. "Share... a noble?"
"Approximately, yes," they said with a nod. "Instead of getting to start your own new life from scratch, you'll be joining the ongoing life of an existing noble, alongside the... few hundred other souls who picked that route."
"That... sounds unwieldy," I said.
"There's souls back home who handle it just fine," Myriad said. "And you won't be figuring it out alone, of course — the hundreds of souls who got there before you will be able to show you the ropes."
"Hmm..." They were making it sound like a pretty okay-ish deal, but... "What other options do I have?"
"Well, you can accept oblivion, of course." The look on my face at the suggestion was enough for Myriad to know I wasn't taking that option. "You can also reincarnate by yourself," they said. "The downside to that one, though, is that there's a good... four or five millennia before the next opening for a singlet low-end noble."
"Yeesh! That's a long time to wait. What would I even be doing in the meantime?"
"Hm, well," they flipped through their clipboard. "You gotta keep your soul active and awake all that time, so you'd probably be doing work for us, here in the shinigami realm."
"Wait, that's an option?!" I exclaimed. "Why didn't Ichi mention that!?"
Myriad shrugged. "He's pretty competitive. I guess he didn't want to create a potential rival."
"That sneaky little so-and-so...! That's it!" I declared. "I'll sign up for this one! Make me a shinigami, and I'll show Ichi who's really the best! Teach him to sandbag me like that..."
Myriad smiled. "All right then. Let's head back to HQ and get that paperwork filled out."
It hadn't occurred to me that an influx of souls meant there would also be an abundance of reapers, but that was fine. I didn't mind spending my time doing paperwork; the pay was decent and I could take brief jaunts to the mortal realm on occasion, usually when one of my favorite video game series got a new entry.
And every decade or so, I was called in to a reaping.
The first dozen or so were quite simple, probably deliberately to give me a chance to learn the ropes.
"Oh, sure, if you wanna reincarnate as a farmer in a fantasy world, there's dozens of open slots for that. Most people back out when they realize farming is hard physical labor... heh, and that sentence is usually the cue, but I guess you really are into that, huh?"
Then the more complicated ones started trickling in.
"As I recall, there are limited openings for that slot. Extremely limited. Your best bet would be talking to my colleague, Myriad. Hey, it's not my department, I don't really understand how it works, don't yell at me about that."
And then... well, that's about where I am now. A few hundred years have passed, and I think I like my afterlife pretty well.
"Say, Myriad, how'd you become a shinigami, anyway?"
"I was created in the mortal realm... once the higher-ups here learned about me, they realized I would be perfect to help with that soul bottleneck situation. Why?"
"Eh, just curious."
I might even turn down that noble position when it opens up... nah! After working that long, I'd say I'll deserve a vacation!