Black clouds stretched farther than the eye could see, blanketing the limitless land in near-total darkness. But at the center of the dark lands stood an infinitely tall pillar that pierced the smothering clouds, creating a ring of light like a divine halo.
The pillar appeared thin to the point of easily breaking from the slightest breeze, but that was only in comparison against the infinitely vast lands that surrounded it. Upon closer inspection, at the base of the celestial pillar were numerous ants standing together like an ocean. No, those weren't ants but humans. Those humans were less like ants but tiny specks of dirt standing next to a great tree compared to the pillar.
The number of humans who surrounded the pillars was uncountable, beyond mortal comprehension. Yet, each one of them just stood there, circling the pillar with their eyes closed as if sleeping.
Among the sea of humans stood a man. He was above average height, pale and delicate skin, exquisitely noble features of Sino origins, and ink-black hair that reached his waist. Coupled with the black suit he wore, it was as if an aristocrat had time-traveled to the modern world from ancient times.
The man's eyelashes trembled as his eyelids open to reveal cloudy eyes. His long lashes fluttered as the man blinked away all blurriness from his eyes. When all the murkiness disappeared, all that was left was wariness and confusion as he scanned the surrounding.
He wasn't the only one to awaken from their strange sleep as numerous people, all exhibiting features beyond the common, awoke.
One, blond-haired and verdant-eyed with dignified features and wearing a pure white suit, awoke even earlier than the former. There was a kingly air to him that made him stand in contrast against the dark world as if he was a shining star.
A fair distance away, a woman stared dangerously at the former. She was elfin in stature with the same blond hair and verdant eyes with features at least fifty percent similar to the man, only more severe. But her eyes looked as if they had been dipped in poison and compliment her gothic black dress well.
Within another sea of humans, another woman this time. She had bronze skin that glimmer with luster, amber eyes, hair the color of burning flames. She wore a skin-tight sports uniform that revealed her peak human physique.
One who was similar to the first had also woken up. He had long dark hair, with a militaristic uniform on him, elegant but grave features, a dandy mustache, and eyes that spoke of unfettered ambition.
Another was a man with frayed icy-white hair that was only matched by his frost colored eyes. Towering above the average man, he wore a furred suit that only layered upon his powerful aura.
These were just a drop among the ocean of humanity that awoke.
Back to the first, he held his hands behind his back in a familiar yet unfamiliar habit as he tried to recall his last moments.
The voice was soft but pleasant silvery sounding. The man repeated his name again, but it felt dissociative as if that was his name yet not.
Frowning, the man pried further more into his memories.
He was a college student in the Engineering Department in the year 2020, living in North America. That's right, he had chosen to stay at his dorm, and the last date he remembered was December 31, 2020.
His surname was Ying, and his given name was Zheng. If according to the rules of his home country, then he should have said, "Zheng Ying." But he said "Ying Zheng" as if he lived in an eastern nation.
The man's frown smoothened, and his face became impassive as he dived even further.
Since the year 2000, the birthrate of the world began to decline for an unknown reason. It wasn't evident at first, but many nations and the United Nations noticed the increasingly sparse births as the years passed. The problem was most apparent in Japan, but many people only thought it was the island nation's own problem.
For a time, the United Nations tried many ways to solve the issue before the general public learned of the gravity of the situation. But they were unable to even identify the origin of the problem, let alone solve it.
Then the truth was revealed in the year 2014, causing mass panic around the world. The world descended into anarchy for a few months before law and order were forcibly imposed with military might.
The severity of the matter brought world peace in an ironic twist. The extinction of humanity made every nation pool all their resources into a singular purpose. But it was all for naught as there was zero progress.
Unease had seeped into everyday life, with no hope. It was as if a layer of despair had clouded the whole world. While some persevered, others gave up, and some drove themselves to madness, life continued on.
Zheng recalled that there had even been a worldwide celebration as a baby had been born on December 31 since it had been months since the last birth of a newborn.
The air of severity around Zheng increased as he tried to recall personal information. He could easily recall all the knowledge he had accumulated from his early years to his adult life, but he couldn't recall the names of his family.
Zheng knew that he had a father, a mother, and a sister, but he just couldn't recall their names. Simultaneously, he could remember that he had no sister but three brothers. Yet, he could not remember these three brothers of his in any shape or form.
He was broken out of his inner thoughts as he noticed a person shouting. Zheng frowned and looked towards the person.
That person had a plain face that wouldn't look out of place in a crowd and wore a generic shirt and jeans. Panic was evident on his face as he frantically searched his surroundings.
"W-where is this? W-w-where am I?"
The man said, practically screaming in hysteria. He looked around him and saw the other people all lined up in an orderly manner as far as the eye could see. He reached out towards the person closest to him and shook him.
There was no movement from the still sleeping person at all as if he was a sculpture rooted to the ground.
He wasn't the only one starting to awaken. As time went on, more and more voices could be heard. Most, if not all, were filled with hysteria and fear towards the unknown.
Zheng's eyes narrowed. With more and more people waking up, he worried that the mass hysteria would result in a massive free-for-all. Deaths might even occur from trampling. He had already woken up and was not protected in any way like those still sleeping.
He swept his eyes towards the back, where endless darkness reigned. Then he looked towards the front where the only light and celestial pillar was rooted.
Zheng had two roads to travel: seek the light ahead or walk into the darkness behind. There was an instinct within Zheng and a voice that guided him towards his decision.
Starting with the first step, Zheng started his journey towards the celestial pillar. His gait was steady as if each step connected and linked him to the ground under him.
A hand reached out and grabbed Zheng's shoulder. The owner of the hand was a man with trained muscles and a squared jaw, but his haunted expression caused his face to appear skull-like with sunken eyes and bony cheeks.
The man's body reacted before his brain could comprehend what was said and let Zheng go. Not just the man, but Zheng himself was surprised by his authoritative tone.
Leaving one last glance at the man, Zheng continued to walk forward.
As he progressed, Ying Zheng's stride became more and more imposing with each step. It wasn't there was no one that tried to grab or block him as the man had done earlier, but one look from Zheng's jet black eyes caused them to freeze in motion.
Zheng knew that he had frightening eyes. Since young, people had always misunderstood his genuine emotion because of them. But now, he thanked his mother for giving birth to these eyes of his.
It wasn't his intention, but before Zheng knew it, a crowd had started to follow him on his way towards the pillar. This, coupled with his own demeanor, caused his manner to become even more imposing, as if he was a general leading his soldiers.
The people in his way mostly gave him a wide berth, with a few joining his journey. But no matter how long Ying Zheng walked, the pillar always seemed to remain far off into the distance, unmoving.
People who had started to follow him began to drop off along the way. Zheng didn't know if they gave up because it seemed hopeless or whether they lost their strength. But it didn't matter to him. All he needed to do was to arrive at his destination.
He didn't know how long it had been since he started his journey. Time seemed to distort as he continued to move through the endless sea of people. They were numerous people from different ethnicities and races. White, black, yellow, brown, and even those that stretched the definition of what it meant to be human. Some were skinny, some fat, tall, short, muscular, weak-bodied.
But there were no children or elderly. It was as if they didn't exist.
However, Zheng didn't have time to ponder about such matters any longer. He could feel his strength draining with each passing step as his focus blurred. But the celestial pillar still stood in the distance with him no nearer than the beginning.
There was no end in sight. The originally leisurely steps became momentous as if each step had him crossing a mountain in one bound. Reality told Ying Zheng that no matter how much he traveled, he would always be the same distance away and never reach his target.
An uncrossable gulf separated Zheng from the celestial pillar.
Everyone of Zheng's senses told him that he should stop. His eyes told him that he never made any progress. His ears told him that nothing changed, and the same sound entered his ears over and over again. His touch told him that he took the same step over a million times without any progress. His fatigue told him that it was time to stop. Everything in the world told him that he should give up.
Ying Zheng didn't care. He knew that he was taking step after step, and each step brought him forward. He was making progress, no matter how insignificant it seemed, even if the world said he was wrong. This was a simple confidence, the belief in himself.
Zheng didn't know how long he continued to trudge forward. And as if he awoke from another dream, Zheng found himself just mere meters away.
Up close, the celestial pillar had a radiant color to it, nobler than plain white as if it was divine. Relief sculptures depicting an infinite number of subjects spread throughout the surface. Just from a single glance, Zheng could see the Typhoon of Greek mythology facing off against the Olympus gods to the Great Sage Equal of Heaven, Sun Wukong, facing off against the Heavenly Army's hundred thousand celestial soldiers.
Zheng calmed down his agitated state as he observed the pillar even more. Looking left and right, the pillar seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance. Looking up, the pillar and the ring of light merged into one as it braved off the encroaching darkness.
Then Zheng looked behind him to see a vast rift between him and the sea of humans. Nothing was blocking the people from accomplishing what Zheng accomplished, but there was an invisible barrier as if a chasm separated him and the rest of humanity.
He looked back at the celestial pillar. At the foot of the pillar, there were numerous gates. On each side of the gates depicted good and evil. Sometimes it was an angel and a devil, other times, it was an immortal and a demon, and even the images of a deva and an asura.
Zheng chose the gate with the depiction of the Jade Emperor and his Heavenly Army on one side against the Great Demon Sages alliance led by Sun Wukong. Perhaps because he was raised by his non-English speaking parents, or maybe it was all the Chinese shows that he watched as a child, Zheng had always been fascinated by Chinese Mythology, especially those that concerned immortals.
The gate towered over Zheng, and it seemed more fitting for a giant rather than a human like Zheng. But he did not care as he placed a hand on each side of the gate and pushed.
It felt like he was pushing two mountains instead of two marble-like gates. But so what?
During his journey here, did he not cross mountains with a single step? At the very least, Zheng felt as if he did. No matter if the progress were tiny or minuscule, he would continue. Even a mighty elephant could be felled by numerous ants.
The door of good and evil opened, and Ying Zheng walked into the light.
[Welcome to Shamayin]
[Hero of Humanity, Ying Zheng]