So much for being a self-proclaimed god – he had it coming.
Twisted amusement, with a flicker of hope merge into one – finally, things can be set right. Princess Sun Lian would be cheering my name right now, well, if she hadn’t been knocked unconscious by her father’s childish display of power.
Master Li, once the venerated Glorious Strategist, last survivor of the ill-fated Sun brothers approaches me. Not what you’d call a clingy paternal figure, he’s still the closest person I have to a father.
For not the first time in my orphaned life, I notice Li’s usual humble, if self-assured posture has a subtle tenseness. Must have been through a lot, having his withered old carcass hauled all over the place by Death’s Hand. Deep lines show on his leathery, bearded face; obviously accentuated by the past situation.
My contemptuous smile quickly vanishes as my “esteemed” master speaks. Pride rears its head, as he speaks in his affected, firm but gentle way.
Praise, my friends, makes the heart light and the spirit soar. Hah, I knew I could make the old fool proud. No. Wait–
Turbulent emotions of anxiety, and apprehension manage to infest in the middle of my rejoicing. His voice has changed, become hard, cruel even.
Then the most absurd thing happens; I watch like a dumb village idiot as he intentionally mishandles the Water Dragon’s stolen heart. Throws it into the air. What the hell -
Then it happened.
Stupid bitch, I think to myself, as my body registers a searing blow whip into my chest. Even that ugly hag, Grand Inquisitor Jia, didn’t inflict as much pain. Or Death’s Hand for that matter, when he slammed his foot into my stomach. Thank you very much -
I don’t want to die.
A small part of me laughs maniacally at my naïveté for trusting Sun Li, another is screaming mournfully. This can’t be it. Not now.
A fierce flurry of jabs from my former master brings me crashing to my knees – incapacitated and defeated. I hate feeling weak and vulnerable.
The fiery, choking sensation becomes too much to bear. My vision is blurring, head hurts like hell. Feeling nauseous, the familiar metallic taste of blood is rising in my dry throat.
Everything seems to have happened in slow motion. This can’t be happening. I try to laugh in defiant denial, even try to force my chi to heal myself. A feeble attempt. Disbelievingly, I can hear my sluggish heartbeat dramatically thud to a standstill.
My tunnel of vision begins to cave in. It’s getting dark – and cold. Li is just standing there, gloating like an insane hermit. Bastard.
I don’t want to die.
In the encircling darkness, I picture Sky’s handsome face looking sadly at me, as my grip on life slips.
Mercifully, the burning agony fades. Only to be replaced by an intoxicating, heavy wave of drowsiness – I can’t fight it, and almost welcome it. Feel tired. Want to sleep. The last sight I see is of the majestic, gold-hued ceiling of the throne room. Then complete darkness covers me.
I am not afraid.
The bed I’m sleeping on feels wet, and fetid. Don’t tell me I’ve pissed myself. Why is there rain coming through the rafters of the students’ dormitory? I feel like screaming at Gao the Lesser for his stupid prank.
Time to make him pay.
Irritated, I open my eyes, and discover I’m lying in a bog-ridden, grassy field. Overhead the sky is a sinister shade of blue-violet. Weird. This place is beautiful in a warped way. What am I doing here?
Realization hits me like an aching slap in the face; reminds me of the time Gao the Lesser struck me for calling him a “stuck-up whoreson.” Then memories of the recent past assail my consciousness.
The Imperial Palace. Sun Hai. Sun Li. My thoughts darken enough to suit the ominous skies above. Being a victim of treachery is such an ugly thing; it makes you feel dirty and worthless. Li must be laughing his head off right now. Makes me want to gouge his eyes out.
Pushing my thoughts aside, I turn my attention to the land itself – it’s raining softly. A ravaged, and now deserted battlefield. Tall, twisted trees line the outskirts of the field. Standing up, the pain I felt seems to have gone. No paralysing inertia. Things aren’t all that bad being dead.
There are glowing-blue, armor-clad beings lying in various states of spiritual decomposition. Some are draped over decorative, if powerful looking artillery. Kang the Mad would like this place. Dawn Star would be spouting her typical nonsense about tormented souls. As for Sky, he’d likely been intrigued. The others -
Then I wonder what has happened to them in the mortal plane. Shit.
But out of the hideous uncertainty of not knowing their fate, I reconsider. Sun Li has nothing to fear from my followers. No offence, of course.
They surely would have shown up by now. We could have had one big, happy family bash go on. Similar to the ones that some now deceased emperors used to have. Funny. A dry chuckle of cynicism is the only sound on the battlefield. It’s mine.
Forcing myself out of my daydreaming, I sense there is some sort of life nearby. Wow. I’m even starting to sound like Dawn Star now. Remind me to get myself killed again – later.
On the far side of the field, a small fortification in the form of a barrier wall has shafts of radiant light that stab into the storm-filled skies above.
Then the last person, or being whom I expected to turn up, decides to materialize. Great, more philosophical babble. And frustrating riddles to match up.
Celestial powers; what a fantastic bunch. Yet over-whelming sadness seems to radiate from this one. Stop being a hormonal woman. Focus.
Her apparition is clearer this time, an attractive female humanoid with gentle, pale-blue eyes and full lips. I notice her skin is scaled; obviously this is a chosen manifestation – not a true representation of her proper form.
Clad in a stylish traditional blue robe; her streaming midnight blue hair cascades loosely over her distinguishable form. I wish I had fancy features like that. Well, before Li killed me of course. Maybe in the next life, I’ll get a decent position.
The Water Dragon, former Shepherdess of the Underworld speaks to me, finally. For perhaps the first time since our little trysts, I listen intently – she’s actually making sense this time. Will wonders never cease?
As the dead, once powerful Goddess reveals my role in Sun Li’s plan… Mixed humour is replaced by increasing rage and a feeling of inexplicable worthlessness. Then wham, she hits hard. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that stage.
My entire life has been based on a lie. I feel like disembowelling “Master” Li, grinding his being into pulp, and cementing his remains on the Great Wheel. So maybe it’s not an actual physical device, I wouldn’t know. It would save a lot, though – concerning economy for the Celestial Bureaucracy. Instead of specially forged metal, use human flesh.
Amusing. But twisted. Are you insane, I ask myself silently. The rain seems to have gotten colder, and the suspended glowing lanterns swing violently in the icy breeze. It seems to imitate my mood.
Being told you were manipulated; an expendable tool to be disposed of is quite damaging to your mental health, you know. I smile mirthlessly, the Water Dragon looks on with that ingratiating compassionate gaze. I feel like punching her right now, anything to wipe that sorrowful look off her oh-so-noble face.
She wouldn’t be too impressed if I started swinging, so I listen to her gradual revelations on my past.
Then wild screaming pierces the eerie twilight land. Masked Spirits, of course. Even more annoying and shrewder than in the world of the living. The Water Dragon vanishes, and leaves me to battle these former holy monks. Losing your way in life must be a trial, but losing your sanity in both life and death must be worse.
What a cheery thought. Dark humour mixes with reluctant sympathy, as I roll forward to confront the dead.
Fluid grace adorns my movements; clearly, being dead does have its boons. I don’t intend on staying dead long, anyway.
Despite my new-found swiftness in battle, the Masked Spirits emanate strong waves of despair and helplessness. Mentally creating a barrier, I manage to deflect their pathetic attempts at lowering my morale. They press harder, trying to force my mind into breaking – and surge forward.
The Water Dragon speaks to me still. Shut up. I’m busy.
I sound like the Black Whirlwind. A scary thought. He is likeable; if mentally deficient people who follow their base instincts tend to be your thing.
Icy cold, scythe-like claws rend into non-corporeal flesh. It stings. As though from afar, I can feel the fire that fuels the discordant path course through my veins. I want to lose myself in a rage. Forget every single ridiculous law that exists. Impose my will.
White-hot focus and blazing hatred blossom, an inhuman shriek slices through the air like a knife. Not theirs, I note distantly, as I channel my anger through deft, calculating strikes.
Their whining ceases.
I am the victor – sort of. Tingling pain, like ice shards, prickles my waist. Forcing calmness, I focus on my chi energy and heal my spirit body. At least I’m not bleeding to death. Death does have some advantages.
While walking impatiently towards the sand-brown, fortified wall, the Water Dragon materializes again. Wish she’d stop doing that.
My spirit soars above violent emotion, as the Shepherdess mentions there is hope.
I just have to debase myself first. Doing errand jobs and purging holy temples of ancient corruption isn’t high on my list of likes. Regardless, I persuade myself to do the “right” thing.
Privately, I ponder if my parents had gone insane during the slaughter of Dirge, or if they’d been lucky and escaped to the Great Wheel itself. I want to make Li suffer tenfold -
Enough. The future remains to be seen.
Stepping past the Water Dragon, I enter the glowing portal. There is no pain, just tepid heat.
After I restore her temple, providing she keeps her end of the bargain – I might help set her spirit free. Li is going to regret teaching me the basics.
Playing childish, altruistic games isn’t my forte.