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If Found Return to Hell

an iPad featuring the cover If Found Return to Hell by Em X. Liu on blue bird fabric, cozy white sweater fabric and navy and purple flannel fabric, plus a headband with seven colorful hair clippies and a headset with microphone

You start your day, a day that will change pretty much the rest of your life, in the most boring two-hour-long mandatory training session. It’s full of squealing microphones and group work, which means it’s absolutely dreadful and you only spend part of it asleep behind your magical eyeglasses that make it look like you’re awake and bright-eyed when you most definitely are not. The session is about responsible spellwork and is necessary to provide the finest in wizarding care for all your clients’ needs. A little while into the slog, your friend Nathaniel strides in like she’s not ridiculously late and hands you a cup of coffee. She is the best and actually looks like a wizard, while everyone else just looks tired. Nathaniel was doing fine on her own, running her own business, but she’s here now, because of rules. You, however, are stuck here, working at One Wizard, which is, for all intents and purposes, a magical insurance call center, and it’s a pain in your ass. All you want to do is actually help people. Finally, the mandatory session is over.

After the training session, you’re back on the phones, which is as annoying as it sounds. Most of the time, people don’t want to be passed along to someone else, or they think you’re incompetent, or they hang up on you, or they’ve turned into a platypus and just want to yell about it. There is one call where someone actually needs your help. This call is from a young man named Shine who has woken up surrounded by red sigils and talismans painted all over his room. Before you can get more out of him, he hangs up. You decide this case warrants a house call to survey the situation and your supervisor agrees and suggests you go take care of it, even though you typically only answer the phones. You decide to take Nathaniel along.

Shine has left a note for you on the front door of the family-run restaurant he lives above. Coming in from the kitchen, his mother greets you and sends you upstairs. You greet Shine’s room with “what the fuck,” so you know it can’t be good. Shine says he doesn’t remember anything, though his hands are covered in red paint so he had to have done it, but he has no idea what any of it means, nor do you or Nathaniel. You send Shine off to take a shower so you can document the space and call headquarters to get someone higher up to take a look. As soon as Shine leaves the room, Nathaniel shows her concern. She spotted a sigil that looks like it says diyu, which is essentially Hell in Chinese mythology. Ahh fuck. When Shine returns from the shower, he’s stressed about dealing with this mess and what’s going to come from it, not to mention his upcoming midterms. You tell him you’ll take care of everything… which you definitely should not have done.

Back in the office, you fill out your report and send it on to the higher-ups. Someone will get to Shine’s case eventually, which, when your supervisor tells you, kinda rubs you the wrong way. You thought the sigils and the talismans would be enough to warrant more attention. You call Shine to let him know you’ve passed his case along, but he’s pretty flustered. You said you’d take care of everything! You give in to his anxiety and emotions and tell him you’ll get a friend to help out, then give him your phone number in case anything else happens. Again… definitely shouldn’t have done that.

The next day, you tell Nathaniel that you’ve made a mistake, but not what that mistake was. She shows you something that she found in the sigils that could mean King, which wouldn’t be good paired with that Hell sigil, but you’ve also sent all the images you took to your friend Dino, so maybe he’ll be able to figure out what these symbols actually mean. While eating in the cafeteria, you get a phone call. It’s Shine. Okay, okay, whoa. You definitely didn’t intend for him to come to your work. His voice is a little different, and when you confront him, you tell him he shouldn’t be there with a lot more cuss words involved, but he seems to like that, which is different from the Shine you met the other day. As you kick him out, he asks if that means you’re abandoning Shine. Wait. What?

You drag whoever this is wearing Shine like a skin suit into the Creatures department of One Wizard where he proceeds to hiss at a snake, showing off his fangs. Yeah. Fangs. Okay, something is definitely up, so you ask who the fuck you’re dealing with. The being inside Shine calls himself Wang Ran. He tries to intimidate you and then offers to reward you, his voice dropping and getting very mystical, but nah, red flags are popping up all over the place and you’ve learned to never take a deal with something supernatural so you blow him off. He returns to a more normal state while also threatening you, but you don’t believe he’ll do anything to hurt you because he would have already if he was going to. Just then, Shine’s voice yells out, basically telling you you’re right, but then he and Wang Ran get into a shouting match, which is kind of funny since they’re sharing one body. You decide that you’re going to have to take care of this situation because if you don’t, you and Shine and Wang Ran will be buried under red tape from One Wizard and Hell, which wouldn’t be fun at all. You decided to take them home. Seriously, you’re FULL of bad ideas.

Later that night, you and Wang Ran make a deal that you’re sure isn’t a mistake and that you’re not going to regret. You agree to match each other, question for question. You ask if Shine can hear you and vice versa, and you quickly determine that Wang Ran has been hanging out inside Shine since he called you over to his place. Wang Ran assures you that Shine is fine and let him take over his body, so at least that’s okay. Wang Ran then asks you what you want, but you don’t have an answer. You don’t know what you want out of life. Wang Ran is a little disappointed, he could literally give you anything, but… there’s nothing you want. You decide to ask him what he wants, which turns out to be a very heartfelt answer. He just wanted out, to see the world, to see the light, because he’s never been out of Hell before. You tell him that you don’t really know how to help. Obviously someone from Hell, maybe even the King of Hell, is going to come looking for him eventually. Before you can figure anything out, Wang Ran decides he’s tired so you send him to the couch to crash.

You wake the next morning to Wang Ran and Shine making you breakfast, which is a nice gesture even if there’s no food in Hell and Wang Ran has never cooked anything before so your eggs are scorched. It’s the thought that counts? While you eat, Shine and Wang Ran have a conversation and then thank you for letting them stay and trying to figure out what’s going on. You tell them you’ve got your friend doing research and that if they want to avoid being passed up to the Archmages, you will keep them a secret. That seems to be the best plan, so you head to work, leaving the human possessed demon behind in your apartment.

At work, Nathaniel is excited to do more field work and check out a case where a giant symbol was burned into the ground and almost took someone’s face with it (luckily they only lost their eyebrows). She’s also going to do some of her side work while she’s out, smuggling crystals to people who can’t afford One Wizard’s excellent care. She checks on you and you tell her that you stayed up late researching other cases, and fail to mention that you made a deal with a demon. She says she’s going to come by your place later to liven things up, which sends you into a panic. As she leaves for her case, you tuck into your desk and put on your headset.

Your day is going pretty terribly, but then you get a phone call from Dino, so you scramble to the bathroom to take it. What Dino says, basically, is that the sigils you sent them reference royalty and permanence, which sounds very difficult if not impossible to reverse. After your call with Dino ends, you get a series of selfies from Shine and Wang Ran, so at least you know that they haven’t completely burned down your apartment. Someone checks on you in the bathroom because you’ve been in there for quite some time, so you pretend to be sick and head back home for the day to tell Wang Ran and Shine what you learned. Shockingly, Shine doesn’t seem too upset that Dino thinks whatever he and Wang Ran did is irreversible. In fact, he seems quite pleased. He doesn’t want to be separated from Wang Ran because it’s nice to not be alone all the time. He also says that you can’t possibly send Wang Ran back to Hell after he was finally able to escape. You tell him that you’re not going to make him do anything he doesn’t want to do.

The next little bit of time passes pretty easily, with only a few self-fights that happen between Wang Ran and Shine, and those are mostly over how to wear their outfits. You get some of Shine’s clothes from his mother’s place and go grocery shopping, and everything seems… fine. Nathaniel is curious one day about all the selfies you keep getting from Shine and Wang Ran and doesn’t believe you when you tell her that it’s your cousin messaging you because she knows you don’t have a cousin. When you tell Shine and Wang Ran about her asking about all the selfies, Shine perks up and wants to invite her to dinner, which means you’ll have to explain everything to her, but they’re okay with that. Talk then changes to both yours and Shine’s home lives and how they’ve been kind of lonely, and Shine tells you Wang Ran has been lonely, too, so you have to protect him.

You wake in the middle of the night to Wang Ran playing a game on Shine’s phone and getting incredibly frustrated by it. You end up checking on him, which pretty much ends with him crumpling up in your lap, weeping. You tell him everything’s going to be okay and that he’s here to stay, which makes you feel warm inside. The next day, Shine and Wang Ran fight over tidying up for Nathaniel’s visit, but when you go downstairs to let her into your apartment, you’re met by her, but also someone else: The Grim Reaper. Well, then. Fuck!

The Grim Reaper, Lark, winces when you ask him what he’s doing there, if he’s there on professional business. Lark seems distressed and lets you know that he’s there for a formal inquiry. You ask if he has a permit, which he does, damn it, and it mentions His Majesty the Eternal Master of the Border to Death who demands your attention about some unusual activity and reclaiming a lost item. You’re pretty sure that nothing you say or do is going to get Lark to leave, so you invite him up to the apartment, but request a few minutes. What are you going to say to Shine and Wang Ran? All you want is to keep them safe, but then Lark bursts in, telling Wang Ran that he’s taking him home because his father has been looking for him. You jump for Wang Ran as the world spirals.

Everything is dark in Hell and you can see why Wang Ran would’ve said he wanted to get out. It’s not burning and fire and brimstone, it’s just a midnight dark house. You confront Lark about dragging not only a demon back to hell, but also two humans who definitely shouldn’t be there, though Lark insists you didn’t have to come along. Well, yes, you did. You couldn’t let your client Shine be taken into the depths of hell! Lark concedes that that might change things. Luckily everyone seems fine, though you and Shine and Lark look weirdly translucent and Wang Ran seems to flicker underneath Shine’s see-through skin. You don’t have terribly long to ponder this because soon King Death arrives, a tired, disappointed father confronting Wang Ran, his petulant teenager.

King Death insists Wang Ran stop acting out and come home, but Wang Ran really, really doesn’t want to. King Death pulls the “this is my domain and you have to do what I say” card and then you step in with a “well actuallllly…”  In the smarmiest way possible, you inform the King of Hell that you took on Wang Ran’s case when he arrived and, adding in some platitudes whilst drawing the sigils, you explain that the sigils signify permanence, and therefore, extricating Wang Ran from Shine will cause them both vast amounts of damage, so, regrettably, Wang Ran has to leave Hell with Shine because you cannot allow any harm to come to your client, and even more unfortunately, King Death has no authority in this case and, you’re sure he doesn’t want to claim a living being before their time. Imagine the paperwork!

Everything seems to be well and good after that exchange. The King of Hell even laughs! However… he informs you that, while you are indeed correct and he has no jurisdiction in this case and therefore cannot keep his son in Hell, he also cannot leave the kingdom of the dead unbalanced, so now you have to work for him for the rest of your life. Eep. But hey… no more call center? Lark “does something reaper-y” and suddenly you are all back in your apartment and seemingly no time has passed. 

While you recover, Shine and Wang Ran have one of their arguments, but luckily there is no slapping or ripping of clothes this time. They’re bickering about how each of them are being idiots because they both feel bad for causing the other one pain. Meanwhile, Nathaniel demands to know just why the kid that you met last month on your case is in your apartment, and you have to explain that you took his case and now, well, you’re apparently working in Hell for the rest of your life. You feel bad because you had plans to branch off and work with Nathaniel, but she tells you that you can use your direct link to Hell to bolster your business, so it’ll be fine!

You take Shine and Wang Ran to visit Shine’s mom and properly explain everything that has happened and, unsurprisingly, all she wants to do is take care of Wang Ran because he’s too skinny and his dad’s not great. A little time passes and you finally get to have the dinner that Shine wanted to have with Nathaniel and Wang Ran helps make the dumplings. Everything really does wrap up nicely with your new adopted siblings. You all become one nice big happy family. One day, the King of Hell will call you in to begin working, but you know what? Everything’s going to be okay.

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