Chapter 3: A New Place
Blue Tear City rumbled, as all the energy stored in the soul stone ignited and exploded. A whole section of the city was now gone.
The underground tunnel shook as the Wu and Zhou clan were evacuating. The part of tunnel they were in was located outside of the city, so it did not collapse like the other parts of the tunnel.
Ling had stopped in her tracks and stared back at the direction they had came from. An image of Zhang had flashed in her mind, and she suddenly started running back towards the city.
She knew something had gone wrong and that she had to go back. She had to go back for Zhang, no matter how strong he was he did not possess much essence and how would he be able to take on a whole army alone.
But before she could even take a few steps her path was blocked by the clan’s soldiers. It was their duty to keep Ling, her family and the Zhou clan’s members safe. For this, many of their brothers in arms had died.
The 300 soldiers of the Zhou clan had most likely all died to buy enough time for them to escape.
Ling's father walked towards his daughter, and tried to persuade her. He told her that Zhang would be probably fine, and they'd be able to meet up with him at the capital where it is safe.
Not far away from Ling, Zhang's mother had fainted. She had been worrying about Zhang ever since she entered the tunnel. And the explosion had made her imagine all sorts of nightmarish scenes, where her son was killed.
Both of the clans resumed their evacuation soon after the tremor. They were almost at the end of the tunnel and would soon reach an underground safe house, where they could stay for a few days and then proceed to the capitol.
Unknown to them, their greatest fear had indeed came true. In the crater where the explosion happened, a black colored flame flickered as the wind blew and soon disappeared. Zhang had indeed gone to the world of the dead and was no longer part of the living world.
The soldiers of the Siwang Empire went frantic, their commanding officer had just died and they were still in enemy’s territory. Out of the 10,000 soldiers only roughly 4000 are alive. Zhang was able to kill possibly 200 or so of them, while the explosion and the ground collapsing down had claimed the lives of the rest.
That night, the Siwang Empire had successfully taken over ten cities within the Heilong Kingdom, along with many other cities in various neighboring kingdoms. And also collecting millions of souls, slaves, and lots of wealth to send back to the empire.
The kingdoms neighboring the Siwang Empire fell into a state of panic. Alone, they were no match for the Siwang Empire. So each kingdom sent out hundreds of messengers and emissaries to their neighbors asking for aid.
As the continent fell into chaos, a particular person was oblivious to it all. This person being of course Zhang. He was currently laying on top of a hill. A hill located in a place called the underworld, also known as hell to some.
When the golden armored general ignited the essence in the soul stone and caused the explosion, Zhang’s necklace flashed and a black fire engulfed his whole body and turned it into dust. The necklace had converted his body into pure energy much like the souls that the soldiers were collecting. The pure energy was then used to open a rift in space and send his soul to the underworld, where he would have a chance of living. Where there is life there is hope.
Zhang had just awoken to find himself in a strange place that he had never been to before. The sky projected an eerie green color, white mist were everywhere making visibility terrible, howling winds could be heard, lightning could be barely seen flashing the across the sky, and sense of death hung in the air.
Zhang only recalled that he was impaled by countless arrows and had blanked out.
He wanted to find his family and Ling so he got up and began walking. He couldn't tell which direction he was going and his sense of time slowly disappeared also.
What seemed like day had pass would be only a few hours to Zhang. As he kept walking, he soon saw the figure of a person, wearing a long white robe with long flowing hair.
"Hey! You there, can you tell me where this place is?" Zhang called out.
But he did not receive a reply. Despite this he kept walking closer to the figure, and when Zhang reached an arm’s length distance from the person he once more asked the same question and even tapped the person shoulder.
And to his surprise the figure began to turn around, but what would surprise him even more was the. It was a man, not just any man, but one with one of his eyeballs popping out from the socket and dangling, a part of his head was sunken in and his brain was visible. His mouth slowly began to open, and as it did, flies flew out and maggots fell out. There was no possible way for the man to be alive, he was most likely an undead!
"Welcome to the underworld!!!", he screamed.
Then suddenly his hands launched at Zhang and took hold of Zhang's neck and began to exert force.
To Zhang's horror he could not pull off the it’s hands, and in addition to the currently bad situation the white mist surrounding Zhang suddenly lifted and thousands of undead were revealed as they move all around Zhang.
Undead with missing limbs, bloated stomachs, charred bodies, and undead of all shapes and sizes surrounded Zhang,then one by one they latched onto him.
There was no way for Zhang to break out of the mob of undead, and he was gasping for air but to no avail. Until his pendant flashed once and the black fire once more appeared. Each time it touched an undead, it would instantly turn to dust and as if feeding the fire, making it bigger and spreading faster.
Soon enough all the undead had been exterminated, leaving little patches of black fire where they were standing. Then all of a sudden all of the black fire floated into the air, and flew towards Zhang.
Not knowing what was happening Zhang stood there dumbfounded, and as the black fire reached Zhang it was sucked back into his pendant.
And a sudden feeling spread throughout Zhang, he could sense his essence circulating throughout his body, although only a minuscule amount which had never happened before.
Zhang touched his pendant, and for the first time in his life, he started to wonder ‘what the heck was this pendant?’ Over the years it became practically a part of him, he never took it off, nor did it ever part from him.
Zhang decided that it was not safe to stay in one place. Who knows if more undead would come here or if something more sinister was lurking around within the mist. Zhang kept moving as quickly as possible through the mist, then suddenly he came to a complete stop.
He almost ran off the ledge of a very steep cliff, if not for the fact that he accidentally kicked a rock when he was running and heard it fell down the cliff, he would’ve ran off the ledge.
To his amazement the mist suddenly dissipated and revealed a massive city that stretched further than the eye could see, and what seemed like rivers of people heading towards the city. He could make out that these were people and not undead, or at least he hoped so, because they were not dressed in all white like the undead that attacked him. The odd thing was that the people were all in orderly lines, and did not run about.
Zhang decided to head towards the palace because it was so far the only sign of people that he encountered. Each step he took toward the city the more details he would notice about it. It had many towers that spiraled into the clouds, walls that stretched across the horizon, and gave off a dominating aura.
When he finally reached the back of the line heading to the city, Zhang walked up and asked a man who was standing in front of him in line. "Sir can you happen to tell me where this place is?"
The man turned back toward Zhang and said "Do you not know? Are you perhaps one of those people?"
"What people?” Zhang replied all confused.
"I'm not sure how to tell you this kid but you're dead, this is the underworld. Were you not paying attention when you entered into the gates of hell and were briefed by the reapers?" The man asked.
The man's words made Zhang remember when the countless soldiers attacked him and after managing to fight for a while he blanked out. He should have realized sooner because why didn't he have a single wound on his body? Obviously if someone had saved him or if he somehow got away he would still have an immeasurable wounds on his body.
As the shock and realization slowly kicked in, the man began speaking to him once more.
"It’s okay kid, it takes everyone a bit of time to accept that they are dead. Like for instance, who would've thought that I died because I choked on that piece of tofu I was eating. Might be a dumb way to die but well, we all end up in the same place no matter how we die. Since you seemed to missed the briefing I suggest you follow me when we get into the city. It is probably fate that we met today."
Zhang simply nodded and stood waiting in line like everyone else. The man would occasionally talk to him about this and that. For instance, once a person entered hell they would be sorted based on their good deeds and sins. Those who had done more good deeds than evil would be sent to the city to wait for their turn to be reincarnated again, those who have done more bad than good were sent to the 18 levels of hell where they would undergo an unimaginable torture to make up for their sins.
Also, the place where Zhang appeared before was called the Forest of the Forgotten. Those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds but not by very much that they would be sent into the 18 levels of hell. They were exiled into the forest for a certain amount of years before they would be judged once more. So they would lose their minds wandering in the white mist and would become like animals, while others who were able to hold on to their humanity will eventually be let into the city.
Hell also has its own hierarchy, which starts with Yama (King of hell) sitting at the top, then the ten Diyu (judges of hell), the vice Diyu who were more than one can count, then the soldiers of the army of the underworld, and regular people who had died. The Yama ruled over all of the underworld and kept the order, while the Diyu and their assistants judged the dead based on their sins.
While the army of the underworld was comprised of souls who did not wish to be reincarnated and wanted to stay in hell. These were mostly people who wished for power, or had very strong lingering thoughts of their loved ones. Because if they stayed in hell they could possibly one day be reunited with their loved ones, instead of reincarnating and forgetting all their memories. But it would took one of strong willpower to wait because ten years in hell was equivalent to one year in the mortal plane. One would have to wait for thousands of years before one of their loved ones to appear.
Zhang also found out that once they entered the city every soul would be given a crystal card. This card could be used as currency in hell, everyone's deeds will be weighed once more and a corresponding number will appear on the card. Then when one wanted to purchase something they could simply transfer the points from the card to the other person.
As souls there was no need to eat, but most prefer to do so, although it provided no substance, they would still want to be able to taste and enjoy food. People started hotels and, shops that sold this and that.
When Zhang entered the city he was welcomed by a kind looking old lady, who directed him to stand on a scale. When she read the number that appeared on the scale, she was amazed. Although Zhang was only 16 years old, his good deeds outweighed most people who lived most of their lives doing good. This was because Zhang had sacrificed himself so others could live. If not for him, the entire Zhou clan and most likely the Wu clan would've all died. The thousands or so lives of the Wu clan and the hundreds of the Zhou were all saved by him. Thus, Zhang was given an astonishing number of points to use.
She then told him that since he had done so much good when he was alive, he would most likely not needed to wait that long to reincarnate. The lady also told Zhang to be careful in the city, because, although only those whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds were let into the city. However, not everyone stayed good, people were not judged again after they entered the city and like any other place, the city also had crime and evil doers.
But in Zhang's mind he had not once even thought about reincarnating, he would either join the army of the underworld or somehow find a way to return in the world of the living. He also realized that the underworld is probably the perfect place to train and cultivate, due to the the difference in time between it and the mortal plane. This also meant the army of the underworld was immensely powerful. Little did Zhang know that everyone in the army of the underworld was at least a level 8 mage or warrior with a large number of them having reached sainthood and an exceptional few who have even gone beyond that level.
Zhang and the man whom he was talking to while waiting in line was called Yun Zhao. As they entered the city, they saw a mixture of old ancient buildings and many newer buildings. It only showed how long the City of the Dead had been around. Buildings of all shapes and sizes littered in the city, but what stood out the most was a huge palace that could be seen even in the distance. The palace had four massive towers at each corner, a massive dome in the center and then a few smaller looking domes to the side. It gave off an intimidating aura of dominance.
The streets were filled with people dressed in all sorts of different manners, and speaking all sorts of different languages. Zhang was able to make out what some of the people were saying, some of the languages seemed out of this world to him. But thankfully, the majority spoke the same language as he did.
Having never left even Blue Tear City before Zhang was in a daze, he had never been to a city this big before. That being said, how can any city in the world of the living be close to the City of the Dead. Countless people died every day and constantly ended up in the underworld. Although not all of them were concentrated in this one city because there were other cities, but this one happened to be the capital of the underworld.
As Zhang walked around the city, he spotted someone running down the street. As the person got closer, Zhang was able to make out that it was a girl around the age of sixteen much like himself. But her beauty stunned him, her skin was white as snow, with fiery red hair that seemed to go to past her waist and red pupils that seemed to draw him in. He stood there awestruck by how beautiful she looked. Then he saw that she was being chased by two soldiers dressed in pure black armor.
Zhang decided to help the girl get away.
"This way." he yelled at her.
The girl nodded and followed him, the two of them ran into an alleyway, where Zhang had previously seen a bunch of barrels stacked up on a wagon. As they ran past the wagon Zhang kicked it and all the barrels started rolling off the wagon blocking the alley.
After running for a while the two stopped to catch their breath, Zhang didn't know when, but he was holding onto the girl’s hand. When he realized, he quickly let go and looked at her. The girl was clearly blushing because of having her hand held by a stranger.
"Thank you for helping me back there, my name is Yuying, what’s your name big brother?", she said.
Her voice sounded like a heavenly instrument, that soothed the soul.
"You can call me Zhang." He said with a smile.
"How long you been in the city?" Yuying asked Zhang while looking intently.
To this, he shook his head and told her that he had just entered the city today.
"Why don't I show you around the city as a thanks for helping me out earlier?" Yuying said.
The two of them visited all sorts of places around the city, food stalls, shops, iconic places, there were even tourist locations. Who would've thought that the underworld would have tourist attractions. Zhang and Yuying spent the whole day having fun. Although he only met her for not even a day the two of them truly enjoyed each other’s company.
They found a spot to sit down in a busy restaurant and began telling each other stories. Zhang learned that Yuying was actually born in the underworld and had not died.
He couldn't help trying to catch glimpses of her when he had the chance, this girl was too beautiful. If she was in Blue Tear city she would be as beautiful as Ling, but instead of giving off an unapproachable lady like aura like Ling, she would have a friendly one that made it easy for anyone to become her friend.
Unlike in the world of the living, the night in the underworld had no stars and no moon. The world would become pitch black and only the lanterns that contained hellfire would illuminate the streets.
Yuying told Zhang that it was time for her to go back home.
"Will we ever see each other again?" Zhang asked.
"We will leave that up to fate big brother, if it is meant to be then it shall happen. I've had the most fun ever for the first time today."
"How about I walk you home?" Zhang asked her, while smiling.
Yuying shook her head and told him it was alright, and began walking away.
Zhang wanted to grab her hand and ask her to stay a while longer, but like she said if they were meant to see each other again they would.
Yuying glanced back at Zhang after walking a considerable distance away, then she began walking again. She walked all the way to the Palace in the center of the city and up toward the giant gates. There were two giant dragons carved into the gates and a team of ten soldiers clad in pitch black armor stood guard. When they saw Yuying walked toward the gates, instead of stopping her, they saluted.
"Princess, the king has sent men looking for you all day." the lead guard said.
"Tell father I'm back now." Yuying said as she walked into the palace toward the throne room.
When she opened the doors to the room there was a big bulky man dressed in black robes with dragons engraved on to it. He was seated on a golden chair or well a golden throne. This man was known to everyone in the underworld as the Yama.
"Father I'm back!" Yuying yelled with a smile.
The man got up from this throne walked towards her and patted her head.
"You silly girl, always causing trouble. Now go to your room and rest, also no more sneaking out of the palace without guards who knows what kind of trouble you might run into." The Yama said.
Zhang was sitting in a room in an inn he had rented, he didn't know where Yun Zhao was. He stood up and walked toward the bed then laid down. He couldn't get Yuying out of his mind, but as he thought about her Ling popped up in his head. "She is probably worried sick about me." he sighed.
"One day we will meet again Ling, one day I'll come back for you." Zhang said as he closed his eyes.
Earlier today he sensed a bit of essence build up within his body after the black fire entered the pendant. He held up his pendant and stared at it. He decided to do something he had never tried before. Zhang was going to enter a blank state of mind and then infuse what little essence he could into the pendant then see if there is a reaction. By entering a blank state of mind he would be able to pick up slight changes if anything were to happen.
As he did so, an immense aura suddenly gushed out of the pendant, and in Zhang's mind he could see a pair of golden eyes looking at him. He couldn't see anything except for the pair of eyes, but a voice soon followed. "Hey you whelp", the voice said.
Zhang was still dazed by the aura that gushed out of the necklace so he didn't reply.
"Thank you for waking me up. I've been asleep for a while or I guess I've been dead for a while." The voice said with a chuckle.
"Was it you who saved me from the ghosts?" Zhang asked.
"No, I was simply using the opportunity to gather more essence, since you alone do not supply me with enough to keep my consciousness awake." The voice said.
Zhang came to a realization, it wasn't that he was not able to produce his own essence it was that whenever he did, the pendant would absorb it all.
" It was you! You've been the one that's been keeping me from gathering essence!" Zhang yelled.
"I needed it or else my consciousness would fade away and I would disappear. But I will tell you this after absorbing those undead, a small portion of my power has returned now. I don’t need to take from you anymore. I am one who remembers those that have showed kindness to me, so I will help you become powerful and leave the underworld." The voice said.
Then a golden drop flew out of the pendant. It projected a powerful aura of pure condensed energy.
"I have refined some of the essence from the souls into a single drop of pure energy and also added a little extra something for you. If you absorb this your level will raise quite a bit." The voice said and the golden pair of eyes disappeared.
Zhang tried to talk to it again but it did not respond. Gripping the golden drop in his hand, Zhang was somewhat torn. He wanted to be angry at the voice for robbing him of his power for the last 16 years, but a part of him also felt gratitude. If he indeed had essence like a regular person, he would have not trained physically and would become reliant on his inner energies instead.
He took the golden drop and placed it in his mouth and swallowed it, and the golden drop slowly expanded from inside his stomach and spread throughout his body. It then began emitting a visible aura around Zhang.