The young man remained silent as he slowly turned around and stared at Qin Ye. It remained like that for one minute… three minutes… and then five minutes later, his body trembled vigorously, and he choked up, “You know about this?”
Qin Ye didn’t respond.
It was incredibly bizarre. The young man had a shadow while he was squarely facing Qin Ye, but Qin Ye could have sworn that the man had no shadow from his side profile.
“You know how to undo this, don’t you?!”
The man was ostensibly so emotional that his voice was hoarse and cracking up. And then, he suddenly lunged over, thinking to grab Qin Ye by the arm. However, the chains clattered and held him dead in his place.
That said, it was precisely because he had turned around and stood up that Qin Ye noticed the man wearing an SRC emblem on his chest.
“I don’t.” Qin Ye remained expressionless as he set his backpack down on the counter, “I’m here for redemption.”
“I want to exchange all of my merit points for spirit stones!”
The young man stared at him for three whole seconds, leaning heavily against the counter without making a single move. Then, just as Qin Ye began to grow impatient, the man suddenly spoke with a hoarse voice, “I’ve come across far too many people over the years.”
“The question that I often get is - ‘why are you tied up’ or ‘why don’t you have a shadow’?”
He looked up at the ceiling with a distant gaze in his eyes, as though he were recalling his memories of the distant past, “I used to be a human too… I was a human a long time ago. Don’t worry… I’ve joined the SRC… and I’m part of the same camp as you guys.”
He looked ostensibly young, and yet his voice carried with it the weight of time, “SRC… and the fellows of the Special Investigations Department have all examined me. My code name is listed under the A-grade secret dossiers. Nevertheless, nobody has been able to name what kind of spirit I am, or tell me how I can resolve this situation. In the end, it was the director of the Special Investigations Department who personally instructed me to stand guard over the very first entrance to the Great Dipper vault, in the hope that I would one day meet an expert who’s able to resolve the mysteries surrounding my circumstances.”
The candlelight beside him was the only thing that continued to flicker and dance in the dark.
The young man suddenly chuckled softly, almost akin to a ghost’s sputtering and chokes of despondence.
“And yet… that day never came.”
“People came and went… and my heart that was initially filled with expectation and anticipation is now completely iced over. And then, just as I thought all hope was lost, you came along.”
His eyes burned with passion as he stared into Qin Ye’s eyes. His entire body practically trembled, “You’re the first person to call me by the name of a homologous Yin spirit.”
“Please, I beg of you... help me… I… want to be human...”
His strong and proud gaze immediately transformed into a desperate plea. Qin Ye coughed softly. Then, just as he was about to respond, the young man immediately added, “If you’re willing to help me out, then, regardless of whether you succeed or not, I… I’ll tell you a top secret of the First Academy of Cultivators!”
Qin Ye deliberated.
To help, or not to help?
He had a vague recollection that Arthis did in fact have some ways of curing the symptoms of a homologous Yin spirit, but he hardly paid any attention because it sounded extremely troublesome.
“I’ll think about it.” After a long time, he returned the gaze, “Besides, given the secrecy of your existence, shouldn’t you have to make some application or report of sorts? Do the needful preparation, and if possible, I’ll keep you posted on the situation next month.”
The young man breathed a sigh of relief and shut his eyes softly. Qin Ye could see under the faint illumination of the candlelight that his eyelids were ostensibly trembling. It was apparent that he couldn’t contain the excitement in his heart.
For the next few moments, the young man took several breaths to regulate his emotions, before finally reaching out for Qin Ye’s bag with his still-trembling hands. Just then, the young man paused, and his lips quivered repeatedly like a person having the fits.
The room was silent, while his voice was soft. Nevertheless, Qin Ye was standing very close to him, so he knew full well what he just heard.
The man was choking up, and he was repeating the words “thank you” over and over again to Qin Ye as though he were a complete nervous wreck.
Qin Ye sighed softly.
Hell had been emptied out, and evil ran amok among the mortal realm. This was part and parcel of his duty as the very next King Yanluo. He needed to pick up the slack from the previous King Yanluo, just like the incoming government of any nation or country. This was why he had agreed to help out the young man.
“Where are my manners.” After a protracted period of time, the young man chuckled bitterly and pointed to Qin Ye’s bag that was on the counter, “Are you exchanging these for spirit stones? Shall we start now?”
Qin-pauper-Ye’s spirits immediately perked up as soon as they got down to business. He coughed lightly as he leaned in and whispered under his breath, “Look… since we know each other so well, what do you say to giving me a friendship price of eighty or hundred thousand for each artifact here?”
Shuddering, the young man stared right back at Qin Ye as though he had just seen a ghost, “You can call me A32. I’m a master authenticator. Unfortunately, the secrecy of my existence isn’t commensurate to the amount of power I hold within the Great Dipper Vault… The exchange prices are all fixed in accordance with our guidelines, and there’s no way I can get around them at all.”
“Hey, why does it always have to be so difficult with you? We’ve known each other for so long… Why do you have to haggle so hard when all I’m asking is that you charge me five or ten cents less for a pound of spring onions? I’m an old customer! I buy from you almost every other day!”
A32’s eyes widened. Hang on… did I entrust the task to the right person? His display of haggling skills truly resembles a domineering aunt in the markets… This… Will this man truly be able to resolve the problem that has plagued me for centuries?
“It’s not that I don’t want to help you out here. It’s just that everything will be processed and verified by Styx’s mainframe, and I can’t…”
“Hey brother, effort begets results. Take a look at these bamboo shoots. They’re not even fresh. Are these leftovers from last night’s sale? What’s wrong with a five-cent discount? I’ve always been frequenting your store for groceries, and we’ve been friends for decades to boot…”
What humans dreaded most was an abrupt silence.
A32 grew taciturn, and gave Qin Ye an enigmatic gaze. Qin Ye was immediately taken aback, and he promptly raised his fist to his lips and coughed dryly into it, “About that… the earlier scene was too analogous, and I’d automatically slipped into my old routine… Come, take a look at what I have first.”
A feeling of distrust began to burgeon, and A32 glanced warily at Qin Ye as he slowly opened the bag.
There were three sandalwood boxes inside.
A32 opened the box to reveal a cassette tape within. He closed his eyes and rolled up his sleeves. It was only at this moment that Qin Ye noticed that the man’s pale hands were covered with dark, snaking veins filled with dense Yin energy.
Sensing Qin Ye’s gaze, A32 shut his eyes and chuckled bitterly, “There are two sides to everything. Although I have to constantly endure the torment of this damn Yin spirit, I have to admit that it has given me access to some abilities that regular human beings don’t have access to. For instance... extrasensory perception, or ESP.”
He moved his slender finger inch by inch across the old cassette tape, and a visible strand of Yin energy peeled up from the tape and entered his finger. He explained, “There are many cultivators who are adept at the art of distressing, and they often use special methods and techniques to stain Operative-class Yin artifacts with the aura of Hunter-class Yin artifacts. And then, they lie about the quality of the artifact that they’re trading in. There are also those who bring in counterfeit goods that look exactly the same on the surface, and yet are in substance completely different… That said, with my extrasensory perception of touch, everything is as clear as day.”
Qin Ye blinked his eyes vacantly - Do people even do something like that?!
Attempting to con a bureau of antiques??
Almost as though he could sense Qin Ye’s thoughts, A32 chuckled, “It’s more common than you think. The Great Dipper Vault contains boundless, infinitely-tantalizing treasures, yet not everyone possesses the strength to purge Hunter-class Yin spirits like you do. What do they do, then? Faking and counterfeiting would naturally be the next best option to them.”
“We receive about a dozen or so counterfeit goods every month across all of our redemption facilities throughout the nation. Naturally, the credibility of these counterfeiters would be reduced to the lowest possible level, and not only would they be unable to take out a cultivation-related loan with us, they would even receive discounted returns of 95% when trading in artifacts, as well as incur an additional 0.5% in penalty transaction fees. This is why I was actively discouraging an improper course of conduct earlier. It’s not easy to get yourself off the government’s blacklist once you’re on it…”
Speechless… The more Qin Ye understood the intricacies of the cultivation world in the mortal realm, the more he found himself rendered speechless…
A few minutes later, A32 shifted his hand away from the cassette tape and opened his eyes once more. He nodded, “Everything’s in good condition. Hunter-class Yin artifact, 30,000 merit points awarded.”
He opened the second box which contained the tape recorder. After checking through its authenticity in a similar fashion, he declared once more, “Everything’s in good condition. 30,000 merit points awarded.”
He opened the third box.
This box contained Cao Youdao’s rosary of human skulls.
A32 performed the same procedure as before. However, as soon as A32 placed his hand on the rosary, a powerful nethergale suddenly erupted from within. A32’s clothes fluttered wildly in the chaotic nethergale, and even the Yin energy emanating from his body began drifting away from the rosary.
“Squeee!” A shrill sound suddenly blared from his body, and he abruptly opened his eyes and exclaimed in shock, “An extraordinary Yin artifact?!”
Whoosh… The nethergale in the room slowly subsided as he lifted his hand from the rosary. Qin Ye asked curiously, “Extraordinary Yin artifact?”
A32 stared at the human skull rosary for some time before finally turning back to Qin Ye, “I’m not sure, but the SRC and the Special Investigations Department have left standing orders that I should immediately report to them as soon as I discover an extraordinary Yin artifact. I would have to record all of its particulars as well, including its origins, the person who handed it over, and how he obtained it. Additionally, the reward is far greater than that of ordinary Yin artifacts of an equivalent level. Therefore…”
He turned the candlestick beside him, and a drawer on the shelf behind him instantly clicked open. He pulled out a silver-grey laptop and swiftly opened up the corresponding form, “This might take a while.”
Qin Ye tapped his fingers on the desk - That’s how it’s like, huh… The Special Investigations Department is actively expanding their collection of artifacts belonging to Emissaries of Hell? What are they using it for? Are they trying to ascertain the truth about Hell?
He didn’t respond immediately. Instead, he probed further, “How much are we talking about? What’s so extraordinary about it?”
“Minimally 100,000 merit points. The rosary in your possession is in good condition. It’s not even damaged in the slightest. I would say this artifact is worth somewhere between 120,000 to 130,000 merit points.” A32 created a file for the artifact as he continued, “And as for what’s extraordinary about it… I’d heard that extraordinary Yin artifacts possess the ability to reveal things that cultivators can’t normally see.”
Qin Ye stared at the rosary, “How does that work?”
“Do you know why humans have shadows?” A32 typed as he responded, “You previously had 20,000 merit points. The cassette tape and the tape recorder are worth 60,000 merit points. The human skull rosary is estimated to be approximately 130,000 merit points. This brings you to a total of 190,000 merit points… Well, shadows come from the source of light around a person, and this includes sight. And what an extraordinary Yin artifact does is that it reflects the gaze of a person who’s looking at you. For instance… it could reveal the bloodshot eye behind you that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.”
Qin Ye took a few steps back and brought his hands close to his waist as he responded with a grave tone of voice, “Like now?”
A32 paused in shock.
A split-second later, he suddenly stood up and stared at the human skull rosary as though he were a madman.
The human skulls on the rosary had been ground down by Cao Youdao until they were dark and sinister-looking, like the vast expanses of the deep night sky. And yet its luster revealed the presence of those staring at it, just like how it reflected a blurry image of Qin Ye.
Its effects were highly bizarre. It was as though more than a dozen illusory images of Qin Ye were projected onto a dark screen. It was blurry at best.
But apart from that… he could also see that there was a bloodshot eye staring straight at him from just behind where Qin Ye was located!
“Enemy attack…” A32’s voice trembled, and he immediately called out for help desperately, “Enemy attack! Enemy attack!! Esteemed elders! An unidentified entity has broken into the Great Dipper Vault!!”
Qin Ye stared at the human skull rosary with great disbelief.
He didn’t sense a single thing at all.
And the gatekeepers of the vault hadn’t sensed a thing either.
But there was positively something that had surreptitiously and silently followed him right into the vault!
Who is it?