An Annoying Person
Blackness. That’s all I could see when I next became aware of my surroundings. I use the word “aware” loosely here, because there was nothing to be aware of. I was intensely cognizant about vast stretches of nothingness stretching out all around me, in that way that one who has trained for years in picking up on the slightest shifts in air currents and physical presence will feel the absence of these signs far more keenly than an untrained individual. On any given day, if I closed my eyes, I could still give an estimate of the number of people in a limited radius, the number of living and inanimate objects, the types of wind currents, and even, on occasion, the types of emotion that people around me were emanating. That last seems a little far-fetched, but people show signs when they have emotional shifts. Their breathing changes, their pulse quickens, their voices change ever so slightly – all these signs were signs I had learned to read instinctively. Not by any choice on my part. But you don’t spend ten years in battle and walk away learning nothing. It’s just not – well, it’s not exactly imposible, but it’s highly improbable, at least.
Anyway, I could pick up none of these signs around me at that time – a welcome change, for certain, since they usually bombard me to the point where it takes a conscious effort to tune them out. Once I had taken the time to relish in the peace that came with silence, I began to attempt to piece together where I was. The last thing I remember was… running a red light. And getting hit by a large vehicle. And then nothing. Coupled with the current nothingness that surrounded me, it didn’t take me too long to figure out that I was probably dead. Which implied, of course, that the blackness around me was some form of afterlife. My first thought upon reaching that conclusion was about how anticlimatic the Great Beyond was. Of course, that might have been due to me believing in the wrong faith or something. I mean, if I wanted guaranteed passage to an afterlife, I could have prayed to Yingquan. She told me so herself. I even know her prayers by heart – even though I’ve never recited them, myself. But, as strange as it may seem, despite having met a deity, I refused to pray to her. Something about having the chance to meet her and speak with her and even play chess with her made it somehow harder for me to accept her as a divine being.
As I mused on this, whom should appear before me but Yingquan herself? Clad in her favorite green robes, she materialised out of the nothingness, her long, blue hair and violet eyes as annoyingly beautiful as I remembered. She materialised just ahead of me, and started to walk through the void toward me, the emptiness beneath her feet turning into cherry blossoms with every step. Her long robes trailed behind her as she walked, and she wore that annoying serene smile that never seemed to leave her face. She radiated beauty and divinity, and any who looked upon her would feel compelled to bend the knee. I felt my knee threatening to buckle, but I willed myself to stay standing and did not move from my spot. Yingquan continued to walk toward me, until she was right in front of my face. Her powerful, commanding eyes bored into mine, silently demanding worship. I crossed my arms and waited. I certainly wasn’t going to speak first.
After a few moments – or it could have been an eternity; in a land with nothing, what does time matter? – Yingquan sighed and gently patted my head with a resigned smile, as if I were a wayward child.
“I see you haven’t changed one bit, Elysium. Still the stubborn girl who thinks she can take on the world.”
“I did take on the world. And I won, if you’ll recall.”
Yingquan closed her eyes and nodded, all the while retaining that smile.
“Of course. We gods and goddesses do not forget. It is because of you that I hold my current position.”
“Enforcer, wasn’t it? In charge of maintaining balance and forestalling disasters throughout the worlds, or something like that.”
“Indeed. I am now Enforcer Yingquan, though I will request you to not use my title – we’re too close for that, surely.”
I saw no need to respond to that – I had never intended to append her title, though the reason was far from something like intimacy.
“But enough about me. We’re here today to discuss you.”
My deadpan response seemed to catch Yingquan off-guard. Her eyes widened ever so slightly before they returned to their regular, neutral appearance. She beamed with pride.
“Of course. I should have expected my chosen hero to confront death with dignity.”
I rolled my eyes.
“So where is this? Afterlife? Can’t be yours, since I’ve never worshipped you.”
Yingquan winced, to my great delight.
“Such harsh words. Harsh because they are true.” She suddenly perked up. “Of course, perhaps you mean that our relationship is far too intimate to be categorised as worship. After all, I see you as a friend, not a supplicant. Yes, it does hearten me to know that you value our friendship so greatly.”
I buried my palm in my face and groaned. Her face was beginning to show signs of breaking her serene facade and showing her truer self. Problem: her actual personality is generally much more annoying to deal with.
“Anyway, you haven’t answered the question. Is this the afterlife?”
Yingquan shook her head excitedly.
“Nope. Because you’ve done so much for me, I decided to pull a few strings and send you to this space between worlds. I never really properly rewarded you for helping me win that war, after all. I figured it was the least I could do. So I dragged you here. And I’m here to give you a choice.”
Finally, we were getting to the important things.
“A choice of where to go, of course. Normally, when someone dies, their soul goes to the afterlife of whichever faith they follow – unless it’s a faith for a deity that doesn’t actually exist, in which case they get tossed into the afterlife that most resembles that they were promised – assuming, of course, they were generally good people. For people without faiths, like yourself, we basically pick an afterlife at random and send you there. Makes things less of a burden on the administrators.
In your case, however, I’m going to make an exception – there’s a legal precedent, of course, but that was several millenia ago – and let you choose from one of three options.”
“And these options are…?”
“Calm down, I’m getting there. Option 1: Afterlife. You don’t really worship me, but I can make an exception for you since we’re such close friends. I can grant you access to my exclusive afterlife. First-class citizenship. Good lodgings, good location, great choices for entertainment, tons of fairies for servants, great food. I’ll even get you a house close to mine! We can meet for lunch, and dinner, and play chess and gossip just like we used to! It’ll be so fun! What do you say, hm?”
I suppressed the urge to scream out my indignance as she referenced those little lunch sessions she had whisked me away to on a whim – she once did it while I was in the middle of a siege. It had cost us that battle, resulting in hundreds of lost lives and setting our campaign back months. I could feel my eyebrow twitching as I tried to prevent my anger from boiling over and spoke.
“Yes, it does sound… wonderful. But what are the other two options? Just for discussion’s sake?”
“Come on, I’ve already ordered the plans for the renovation to be drawn up…! Fine. Option 2: Eternal servitude, option 3: Transfer. Boring, right? Option 1’s the best after all!”
“Wait, wait, wait. Please. Clarify. Eternal servitude?”
Yingquan replied in a bored voice.
“Yes, yes. Eternal servitude. As Enforcer I have a duty to keep the balance across the multiverse. To help me do that, I have a personal corps of warriors who help me to keep this balance. If you pick this option, I’ll enlist you into my ranks. You’ll get god-like powers, but you’ll be bound to serve me and carry out my orders for the rest of eternity. Sounds dreary, right? Sounds boring, right? So you should totally go with option 1.”
I kneaded my brow, starting to be annoyed at the lonely goddess pushing me to spend the rest of eternity as her gossip receptacle.
“And what about Transfer? What do you mean?”
“Mmmm… Basically I restore your life. You can come back to life. But not on your world. That would be disrupting the flow of time in your world. If you choose to live again, you will live on another world, one unknown to you. You wouldn’t know anyone, you wouldn’t have any friends. You’d be all alone. So surely you’d pick Option 1, right?”
I caught something she said.
“Wait. Unknown to me? Why not just send me back to that previous world? It’s under your domain, no?”
Yingquan shook her head.
“Nope. That world was destroyed.”
I blinked. Then I blinked again. Then I shouted.
“Wait, WHAT?! When?!”
Yingquan winced as I raised my volume.
“I can’t tell you. That’s classified information, above your clearance level. Sorry. It happened a while ago.”
My heart sank. Did that mean…?
“Eurydice. What about Eurydice? What happened to her?”
“Oh, your cute little sister? She died. Not with the rest of the world, but before that. Assassinated by her son. Real shame.”
I felt like crying but didn’t. It was a strange feeling. For years I’d acted like she was dead, but I’d always held hope that somewhere, in another world, Eurydice was alive and well. But now, finding out that she was truly dead, it seemed that I had no more tears for her. I had spent so long crying over her assumed death that I had none left for its confirmation. I gripped my heart, not out of pain – there was no sensation of pain in this realm – but out of instinct. Yingquan looked at me with eyes filled with compassion and pity.
“Yes, A real sad way to go. She was sobbing uncontrollably when I brought her here.”
…Wait. I turned my gaze away from my feet and stared sharply at Yingquan.
“…You gave her this choice too.”
Yingquan jumped and frantically looked around, then shook her head, then nodded, then shook her head, then finally sighed deeply and nodded firmly.
“Yes, I did. I wasn’t supposed to tell you.”
“Which did she pick?!”
“I’m not supposed to tell you that, either.”
“…It’s the precedent. In all the cases where such a choice was offered, the option selected by the candidate was kept secret. As such, I need to stick to that, or I risk running afoul of celestial law.”
I ground my teeth in frustration. My sister was dead. She had been given an option. She was now either in Yingquan’s afterlife, living another life in another world, or bound in eternal servitude as one of Yingquan’s soldiers. There was another chance here, another chance for me to be a proper sister. I simply had to go to wherever Eury had chosed to go. But there was no way of knowing which option that was.
Then it dawned on me. I didn’t need to know which option she picked. I simply had to pick the same one. I turned to Yingquan.
“I’ve made my decision.”
Yingquan laughed and clapped her hands excitedly.
“Of course, it has to be option A, right? The others are all so… bleargh. Option A’s definitely the most fun. I’ll go tell the architect fairy to get started right awa-”
“Take me to the same world as Eury.”
“You said you weren’t allowed to reveal her choice. I’m not asking you to. I’m asking you to repeat her choice for me. I’ll pick whichever she picked. This way, I can choose to go to her, and you don’t have to breach confidentiality. It’s perfect.”
Yingquan stared at me for a few moments. Then she sighed, the levity fading from her face. For perhaps the second time since I’ve met her, she spoke to me with a serious expression.
“You’re… correct. That should not pose a legal issue. And I can understand that you would want to be with your sister. If this is what you truly wish, I shall grant that wish for you. A promise is a promise. Your choice is your own. But know that this choice is irreversible. Even my powers have limits. The option your sister chose may not be the option most favourable to you. Do you still wish to do this?”
I looked Yingquan in the eyes and nodded.
“…I see. Very well. I only hope you don’t come to regret this decision.”
Yingquan lifted her hand and placed it on my head. I felt my body filling with warmth, like a cup of freshly brewed tea in autumn.
“Go then, with the blessing of the Enforcer Yingquan lighting your path.”
She gave me a light push, and I felt myself falling, and falling, and falling, and falling. I kept falling, further and further, into a chasm with no floor.
Then I heard the sound of insects, of wind, of animals in the distance. I heard the nearby rustling of the grass, I heard the calls of the birds above me. A gentle breeze tickled my nose, bringing scents reminiscent of the first days of autumn. I felt the sun beating against my back. But I could not find the strength to open my eyes and observe my surroundings. Absorbing the wealth of sensory information around me, I slowly drifted to sleep.