Eagle Perfect: Legend of the First is a parody of dystopian young adult novels, in which two ‘chosen ones’ vie for the status of world-saving protagonist. New readers should start at Chapter 1, or you can consult the Table of Contents.
Chapter Ten: Questions From Beyond
“I’m going to die?” said Legend, taking himself and his two Guardsmen half a dozen steps further away from the river of ghosts.
“The Railweb has many advantages,” said Eleanora. “It avoids undesirable Administration checkpoints, and is virtually instantaneous. One disadvantage is that you die in the process. That’s why we say it’s suicide.”
“It’s not permanent, though, is it? There has to be some way to reverse the process at the other end?”
“If you are lucky, you will un-die at your destination. But undying is so painful it makes dying seem like half an afternoon of filing. That is why we say it’s ‘or worse’.”
“And if I’m unlucky, I stay dead?”
“Yes.” She paused, considering her answer. “Or worse.”
Legend shrugged. He had already determined that all other options led to fatal conclusions, and there was no need to repeat the deliberative process.
“I assume by your shrug that you have accepted the risks and are willing to proceed, likely due to your lack of viable alternatives. In that case, listen very closely.”
Legend listened, and could make out a faint rumbling, growing steadily louder.
“I don’t follow,” said Legend, “what does a faint rumbling have to do with—”
Eleanora silenced him with a hand, her eyes wide with fear. The rumbling had built to a geological growl, and was showing no signs of abatement.
She grabbed Legend by the hand and pulled him towards the stairs. The growl evolved into an ominous thundering, then a deafening roar, before a tsunami of undead souls gushed from the tunnel at the far end of the chamber. The river burst its banks, spilling ghosts onto the platform, as the wave crashed into the far wall with an almighty spray and disappeared into the tunnel.
Hundreds of ghosts, freed from the trappings of the river, now swarmed towards the staircase. They moved in an unnatural combination of avian flight and slug-like contractions, like wet, sentient leaves.
“What’s happening?” said Legend.
“I don’t know,” Eleanora replied, “but we have to get to the river. If we die up here, we’ll be dead forever.”
She towed him back towards the river, jumping over prostrate spirits and ducking beneath swoops and lunges.
“In the Boundless Realm, your eyes will deceive you. Trust only your ears.”
They darted to the left to avoid a shambling mass of tangled undeath.
“Follow my voice at all times. And whatever you do, do not answer their questions.”
As Legend composed a playful mnemonic to commit these instructions to memory, he toppled into the river, and died.
* * *
The concept of infinity was intentionally absent from the official Administration syllabus. The closest Legend had come to it was hearing the earless farm boy talk about how important he was. As a result, Legend’s first glimpse of the Boundless Realm, through three sets of eyeballs and while also being dead, left him overwhelmed.
He could see individual ghosts, and other ethereal shapes, but they also blurred into an indistinguishable haze, as if his eyes were so far out of focus that his double vision had completed a full revolution and resolved itself into an impossible unity. He searched for something by which to orient himself—the river walls, the tunnel entrances, the staircase, anything—but everything he sought he saw too much. River walls encased river walls, tunnel entrances led only to more tunnel entrances, and the staircase led forever into new staircases that somehow began from the first step without breaking continuity. Turning his head had no effect: everything he saw was everywhere.
“Hello there,” said a kindly voice to his left. “How do you do?”
Legend opened his mouth to reply, then remembered Eleanora’s command. He kept his mouth shut.
“Nice weather, isn’t it?” said a voice to his right, just as kindly.
“How are you?”
“Are you keeping well?”
“How’s it going?”
Questions arrived from every direction, echoing through Legend’s skull and through the skulls of his two Guardsmen, wherever they were. (Legend could *see* them—he could see everything—but in his vision they were everywhere at once, just like everything else, so pinpointing their location, if indeed they had one, was far from easy.)
“How have you been?” “Are you busy?” “Where are you headed?” “How’s it?” “What’s news with you?” “How long has it been?” “How are you?” “What’s up?” “How do you do?” “You alright?” “What’s happening?” “How are you going?”
The questions brewed into an oppressive cacophony. Through it all, like a grain of sand inside a boot, a niggle of a sound made its presence progressively known. It grew louder, and over time, evolved imperceptibly into a female voice, screaming in his ear.
Eleanora. Everywhere and nowhere.
“FOLLOW MY VOICE!”
He did his best to move in the direction of her voice, although nothing seemed to change. He closed his eyes.
She was to his right. He went there.
“THAT’S RIGHT! KEEP COMING!”
He followed her words; not walking, not flying, but simply moving. As far as he could tell, his Guardsmen were moving too.
Her voice had grown softer, which presumably meant she was further away. As Legend had no idea how he was moving, he had no idea how to do it faster.
As her voice receded into the distance, the wall of questions closed in around him. “Why the glum face?” “What’s troubling you?” “Anything the matter?” “How can I help?” “Are you lost?” “It’s not the weather, is it?” “Feeling okay?” “How do you do?”
“I’m fine, leave me alone!” Legend roared.
And he immediately regretted it.
The space around him grew dense with souls, and the voices multiplied in quantity and volume.
“What’s the matter with you?” “Did no one ever teach you manners?” “Do you think he’s European?” “Do you not do smalltalk?” “Why’d you go all snappy like that?” “I hope I didn’t offend you?” “Was it something I said?” “Are you having a rough time?” “Excuse me?” “Do you have to shout like that?” “Care for a cup of tea?” “Are you always this rude?” “Why are you taking it out on me?” “Are you sure you’re alright?” “What’s got you so agitated?”
“I didn’t mean to be rude,” said Legend, “but I have somewhere to be.”
“Somewhere to be, have you?” “You think we don’t have somewhere to be?” “Who made you so important anyway?” “Are you sure you’re not European?”
The questions swelled and overflowed and swelled again, so many that Legend could not possibly take them all in. He allowed them to wash over him, to rinse him and drown him and nurture him, to subsume his existence in their repetitive insistence. He felt a growing sensation of nothingness, and he embraced it. Soon, he knew, he would be at peace.
He did not respond. He could feel the nothingness descend over the Guardsmen, and their senses start to dim. His own escape was not far away, and with it, a reprieve from the incessant questioning of the undead chatterboxes.
Let her call. He had other priorities.
“LEGENDIAH OBADIAH FARAMIAH THE FIRST!”
He jarred. How did she know his full name? And what naughtiness had he practised to warrant its invocation? *Follow my voice at all times.*
As these thoughts ambled about his head, Legend remembered that he was currently dead, and that he had earlier desired to not be. He started to move. But the Guardsmen did not move with him. They felt lifeless, like man-sized cannonballs of solid iron. He tried to leave them behind, but he couldn’t – they were bound to him by a force beyond his comprehension, and proceeding alone did not appear to be an option.
“I’M COMING!” he called out.
He braced every hypothetical element of his non-existence and strained in Eleanora’s direction. Slowly, her voice grew louder. Despite the weight of the Guardsmen’s souls, he was making progress.
Without warning, his left hand brushed something solid. He felt around and grasped both hands onto a sort of ledge. Summoning every trace of resolve, he hauled himself out of the Boundless Realm.
Eleanora had not lied when she said that un-dying would be painful, though she may have understated it. Every fibre of his body was subjected to an infinity of different tortures, each of which consisted of him being tortured an infinite amount of times. He felt every type of pain at once, in every conceivable way and in every possible magnitude. He felt a paper cut, and being hacked apart with a saw, and being burnt on a funeral pyre, and feeling inferior to a fellow invoicing operative, and being skinned alive, and feeling superior to a fellow invoicing operative, and he felt them separately and cumulatively and from every direction.
Mercifully, it was brief. As he got to his feet, and his eyes adjusted to the bounded realm, he saw that he was in a chamber much like the one he came from. Eleanoras were there, though exactly how many of her he could not say.
“I told you not to answer their questions!” the Eleanoras screamed.
Legend made to reply, but something felt wrong. Two imaginary strands were tugging at him in a very non-imaginary way, pulling him back towards the river. He fought against their tension, wrestling with the unseen forces, and after a lengthy battle produced from the river a pair of Administration Guardsmen. Fortunately for Legend, their senses were still dulled from the nothingness, or he might have endured two more infinities of agony. Still, the whole affair was quite the ordeal, and Legend promptly collapsed.
* * *
Legend groaned as Eleanora hauled him up the staircase. His Guardsmen, still unconscious, lay on the platform below, and with each step the invisible bonds grew exponentially tighter. They strangled his lungs, choked his bones, and wrung the blood from his veins.
“Please... stop...” he managed.
“It’s alright,” said Eleanora, lacking any supporting evidence for the proposition. “Stay calm.”
Could she not feel this invisible force, these wretched shackles? Or did she possess a strength so immense that to her, the task was no more challenging than listing one hundred and one reasons to be thankful for the Administration? Whatever the explanation, she continued to drag him through protracted agony until they reached the top of the staircase.
The exit was barred by an iron grille, through which Legend could see a teenage girl in a red tunic and pigtails. The girl was facing the other way, distracted by a plume of smoke rising from beyond a nearby colonnade.
Eleanora placed a hand on the grille and produced another incomprehensible muttering. The grille did not move. She tried again, to no success. This was a permanent impediment.
“Little girl,” Eleanora called out. “Run and fetch Nurse Butcher. There’s a student here who needs urgent help.”
The girl turned to face them, cocked her head to one side, and raised a finger.