“Isn’t there anything in here that’s a little more conventional?” Qin Ye gritted his teeth and asked as he fervently suppressed his disgruntled heart.
“Of course. For instance, there’s the technique called Ten Thousand Ghosts Ravage the Soul which I’d employed the last time when I rescued you from the Harken. With it, there’s no problem ravaging the souls of a hundred thousand people all at once. For Soul Hunters like you, there’s another technique called the Spirit Slaughtering Saber that can allow you to cleave a thousand souls all at once. But the crux of the matter is that Hell is far too weak right now. If it doesn’t even have the capacity to support Operative-class techniques, how can you possibly expect to use the other heaven-defying arts and techniques contained within this manuscript?”
Arthis continued on her exposition, “Don’t worry, Hell will slowly develop and regain its former glory. Hundreds of years later, you’ll similarly possess the power to level an entire city with a single wave of your palm.”
“Moreover, the true strength of an Emissary of Hell never lies in the techniques and arts at his disposal. Rather, it lies hidden within the zanpakuto in his possession when one unlocks the hollowfied bankai state…”
Qin Ye interjected knowingly, “Have you been reading one of the three great mangas of our time, Bleach?”
“I apologize… Those statements just rolled right out of my mouth. But it’s pretty much the same concept. Your zanpakuto… no, your demonhead saber will constantly be nourished with every soul that it reaps. And as soon as you trigger its state of blade release, you would possess the overwhelming might to crush all Yin spirits of the same class as you! Even the three daolords aren’t an exception to this rule! This is the embodiment of the greatest authority conferred on Hell by the Heavenly Dao! So why do you even need arts and techniques to begin with?”
“And as for bringing things back… it would be ideal if you could incinerate everything here. But if all else fails, I could always employ the Universe Within Sleeves technique to bring everything back with me. My abilities are powered by the laws of the old Hell. Newly-minted Emissaries of Hell can forget about possessing such powers in the near future.”
You’re resigned to living a life of a beast of the field anyway…
Qin Ye shook his head, stood up and left the park.
Having charted out the course ahead of him, there were two pressing issues that he had to deal with right now.
First, money. Second, find out where exactly the other forty credits were hidden.
He walked out of the park from the back entrance, where he furrowed his brows and immersed himself deep in his own thoughts.
Qin Ye was a person who was habitually lazy and spontaneous until critical junctures in his life. That said, it didn’t mean that he was loose and slack in his thinking.
“Two months is quite a long period of time. But that said, we’re also talking about the provincial capital of Insignia Province, and the territory of this city covers an area of approximately seven hundred square kilometers… The first condition is that we have to clock in every day.” He mumbled to himself as he trudged along the road, “This limits the amount of time available to us. Any time in the morning is out of the consideration, while we can rule out the early afternoon until 4 p.m. as a result of the usual classes. In other words, that leaves us with an eight-hour bracket of time between 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. everyday.”
“The second condition is that we cannot disclose our identities, much less inquire anything of the local Special Investigations Department office… Eight hours a day for sixty days for us to deal with an entire city with a population size of over ten million people. And each citizen could very well be a potential lead as well. This is practically an impossible task.”
Arthis chimed in, “These two old men would never speak a single word of nonsense. And they had particularly emphasized that one should steer clear of accruing less than sixty credits. My guess is that… those who obtain less than sixty credits would likely face the imminent danger of being sacked.”
Qin Ye nodded his head, “Indeed. If a person can’t even meet the most basic of requirements, how could he possibly bring up good students?”
The Academy of Cultivators’ first batch of students will be coming from all four corners of Cathay, ranging from the most esteemed clans to the most mysterious of hidden sects. More importantly, this was the pilot batch of students which would determine the reputation of the academy in future. Therefore, the first batch of students was arguably also the most important batch of students. Naturally, quality was far more important than quantity right now.
“Come to think of it, sixty credits aren’t that easy to obtain either…” Qin Ye squinted his eyes and ignored the food and snack vendors that lined both sides of the path as he muttered to himself, “Even though the constitution of a cultivator is far better than that of an ordinary human being, who knows whether one will be stricken with illness during this period of time?”
“Or if one has something of grave importance to attend to and has to take half a day off, then… even if he complied with the rules to a tee and studied obsequiously with the school for the remainder of the two full months, his loss of that single credit would nevertheless cause him to fail the entire semester altogether.”
“Therefore, all things considered, I think it’s safe to say that the forty credits aren’t going to be too remote. But at the same time, it wouldn’t be easy to locate them either. I’ve got it… let’s call a cab for now.”
Incidentally, he had just arrived at a taxi stand. He waved his hand, and a taxi quickly pulled up by his side.
“Got an idea?”
Qin Ye nodded his head, “The funerary street, and the marketplace for historical relics.”
“As the provincial capital, Mount Tai City is sure to have such places. These two locations are the prime targets to find the lead we need.”
After reporting his destination, the taxi quickly arrived in the vicinity of the funerary street. But as the car pulled closer to his destination, Qin Ye quickly discovered something amiss.
The atmosphere felt somewhat different.
The amount of Yin energy around Mount Tai City was pathetically scarce. Yet, despite that, Qin Ye could already see specialty shops of all kinds lining both sides of the road even before he pulled into the funerary street proper.
There was a wide variety of shops, each of which sold different things, including talisman paper, magic tools, jade sculptures, and the like. The religious atmosphere was considerably strong.
“Sir, what’s going on here?” Qin Ye was startled.
The taxi driver responded, “Brother, it must be the first time you’re visiting Mount Tai City, right? I’m not the only one who says this. Recently, things around the area have been… evil.”
Qin Ye immediately understood why.
Hell’s collapse meant that Yin spirits had nowhere to go. The Yin energy that each Yin spirit possessed was thin and scarce. But as their numbers slowly grew, the occurrences of people witnessing ghastly sightings would naturally increase!
It didn’t matter if the number of sightings were limited to a handful, or perhaps only tens of people. But what if thousands of people had witnessed such sights?
Furthermore, the central government already had intentions to slowly prepare the hearts of their citizens for such incidents, and they did nothing to censor or stem the news of such incidents. Naturally, the hearts of the citizens grew more and more sensitive to such supernatural incidents. That said, things were still kept at a manageable level.
The taxi driver raised his chin at both sides of the road, “It’s been like this since two years ago. Monks, Taoist priests, martial arts practitioners and cultivators. Tsk tsk… Such things have died down ever since the Four Olds were destroyed. But now, they’ve begun to make their resurgence once more. And I’ve heard that such trends are a commonplace sight across all other provincial capitals as well, not just in Mount Tai City. It doesn’t help that the government isn’t even stepping in to interfere with the proliferation of these matters. In fact, the government has even earmarked another street for such shops to encourage business. And I hear that business has been booming, and that these shops have been earning well in the region of ten thousands in profits every month…”
Qin Ye nodded his head, and glanced at the shops to the side.
Indeed, business was good.
Regardless of whether they told fortunes or sold “magic artifacts”, each and every shop had at least a few customers browsing their wares. It was a far cry from things just a decade or two ago.
However, Qin Ye wasn’t pleased. In fact, he felt somewhat heavyhearted.
This undoubtedly meant that the situation with the supernatural was only getting worse. After all, it was only when there was a real threat of it that citizens would actively seek out a peace of mind.
The car soon pulled over at the entrance to the funerary street. There was an ancient stone gate with a plaque on top. A statue of a 1.5 meter long Harken sat on each side of the stone gate. At a glance, Qin Ye could tell that there were ostensibly fewer shops displaying their white prayer flags and paper money. Instead, most of the shops appeared to be selling all sorts of artifacts and implements that were related to cultivation.
He casually walked into a shop called “Ning Clan Talismans”, only to notice that there were already a handful of customers browsing its wares. The shop had ancient-style decors. There was a floor-to-ceiling drawing of the Three Pure Ones on the left side of the shop, while a floor-to-ceiling drawing of Siddhartha Gautama hung on the right. A small palace lamp hung overhead, and pieces of tattered, ancient-looking talismans with shoddy drawings lay within finely carved wooden boxes.
A scent of sandalwood incense wafted through the air. As soon as Qin Ye entered the shop, an attendant immediately walked over and smiled genially, “Sir, what can I do for you today?”
Qin Ye was somewhat disappointed.
There was no trace of true energy within the shop at all. All of the talismans were counterfeit goods. He blurted without thinking, “What are you selling?”
“Ancestral talismans.” The attendant smiled and pointed behind the counter, “Our boss studied under the renown Ning Clan of the Soaring Dragon Province. The talismans he draws are all imbued with the nature of Buddha. No matter what demons or ghosts you face, all you have to do is to slap one on and you’ll be guaranteed a lifetime of peace."
Clenching his fists in his pockets, Qin Ye looked at a wooden box sitting on the strangely shaped counter. The talismans were drawn so poorly that it made his eyes hurt. Qin Ye muttered, “Do you believe in such things?”
The attendant revealed a pristine smile, “Sir, it’s not an issue of whether you believe it or not. These things do exist.”
Then, the attendant deliberately lowered his tone of voice and added, “Over the last few years - or perhaps even in the last decade or so - supernatural sightings and incidents have risen substantially. You can call it superstition if you wish, but given the word on the street and the varying accounts of such matters on the internet, do you really think it’s a laughing matter?”
“The fact that the state isn’t denying anything amounts to a form of disguised acknowledgment of the situation. If not for the fact that Master Ning sympathizes with the sufferings in this world, he wouldn’t even have bothered making the trip across the lands to sell these talismans.”
Qin Ye’s smile grew somewhat complicated, “Then how much does this talisman cost?”
“This talisman is called the Treasured Clearcloud Demon Suppressing Talisman. Its price is 666.” The attendant smiled, “Sir, it’s not expensive at all. The costs of creating such talismans aren’t low. This is a lost art, and the consumption of energy in drawing up such talismans is priceless. We’re new to the street, so we’re selling everything at cost price now. You’ll find that everything here is cheaper than that of our competitors across the road, the Glory of Fortune, and Auspices and Peace.”
A single talisman costs 666… Qin Ye drew a deep breath. If I weren’t based in the City of Salvation, I would definitely have opened a shop along this street. This is daylight robbery! The material costs don’t even amount to 30!
Besides, all he needed to do was to infuse his drawings with some of his own Yin energy. With the energy of an Emissary of Hell radiating from the talismans, would any ghost even dare approach its ward?
“Great Immortal Ning, huh…” Qin Ye sighed and shook his head, and the attendant quickly interjected, “It’s Master, not Great Immortal.”
Qin Ye nodded his head, “He… does he know what he’s drawing?”
“I do know a thing or two.” Before he could finish speaking, an old voice resounded from behind the counter. Qin Ye turned his head to see an old man of average height staring at him with bright, gleaming eyes.
The old man looked to be in his sixties. His white beard hung loosely over his chest, while the white hair on his head was tied up in a bun with a black hair tie that hung over his shoulders. He wore a white chinese garment with black silken trousers, white socks and black cloth shoes. At first glance, he appeared to have all the looks of an immortal descending upon the earth.
“Master Ning.” The attendant immediately greeted him.
Master Ning waved his hand, and the attendant immediately went to serve the other customers. Master Ning and Qin Ye locked eyes with each other, and neither said a single word for a long time.
Even though Master Ning’s maintained a poker face, his heart was already incredibly tense with extreme vigilance.
For some strange reason…
Ever since this young man entered the door, he couldn’t help but look at him. It was almost… as though he were stricken with a frightening feeling in his heart that lingered on endlessly.
There were naturally those who opened such shops in order to fish in troubled waters. But given the current situation across all of Cathay, it wouldn’t take more than two to three years for the effectiveness of one’s products to be known to the rest of the country. Thus, the number of people taking advantage of the situation gradually decreased. Even if the strength of one’s product were lacking, the owners of the shops that still existed invariably knew a thing or two about the things they were drawing, or were at least somehow affiliated to some renown ancestors of the same profession.
The seven underworldly craftsmen had ushered in an era of booming business for their crafts. If anyone dared overstep their boundaries and undermine the efforts of the seven underworldly craftsmen in this regard, they would never go easy on the perpetrators.
Master Ning couldn’t describe the feeling in his heart. He could have sworn that he had earlier seen an unprecedented black cloud rush in from the main door, sending chills across every corner of his body. And… then there was this young man. For some strange reason, the young man gave him the impression of a white-haired person dressed in ancient garbs - almost like someone who had crawled straight out of his coffin.
“You are…” He drew a deep breath and lowered his voice to a hush, “An esteemed underworldly craftsman?”
Qin Ye shook his head in amusement as he sized up Master Ning, wondering what else he might have to say.
A bead of sweat rolled off Master Ning’s forehead.
He’s not an underworldly craftsman… but why do my hands and feet still feel colder the closer I draw to him?
It feels almost as though this man needs only blink, and I’d be dead tomorrow.
“Sir…” He pleaded with a hoarse voice, “I… haven’t overstepped my boundaries, have I…?
“Sir… you run your business in the phantom market. This shop merely represents an opportunity for us to earn a living…”
Qin Ye smiled. He couldn’t be bothered with Master Ning anymore, so he turned around and motioned to leave.
“Sir! Sir!” Master Ning hurriedly caught up to Qin Ye before he left the shop. The attendant immediately turned to look at the bewildering sight with his lips slightly agape, while the other customers in the shop glanced over with a puzzled expression on their faces. Nevertheless, Master Ning ran over to Qin Ye and bowed to him with some measure of flattery in his eyes, “Sir, are you also here because of that cat?”
1. This refers to the early period of the Cultural Revolution where the Red Guards were instructed to destroy all pre-communist elements of the chinese culture. The Four Olds referred to old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas.