From the next day onwards, classes were suspended for a period of two days for the purposes of cleaning out the memorial hall.
Instructors weren’t personally involved in the cleaning efforts. The semester had only just begun, and classes were suspended in order to get an adjoining memorial hall in order for a person who was completely unrelated to the First Academy of Cultivators. Naturally, this was something to be left to the student council’s own arrangements. Instructors were only involved in the planning and supervising of these cleaning and preparation efforts.
“Why is it so troublesome?” All of the instructors gathered in one of the tiered lecture halls at 9 a.m. Li Tao was in attendance as well, and the LED screen behind him displayed a large diagram with various words and labels. However, the person addressing the audience was not Li Tao. Rather, it was a somewhat skinny man standing right before the lectern.
He ran through the details one step at a time, and it was only at 11 a.m. that the provincial committee’s First Secretary smiled faintly at the audience, “Thanks again, for all your trouble. We’re only acting from orders from above. Given the special nature of this esteemed academy, it’s not too convenient allowing others to take charge of these affairs either. This is why we had to trouble you with this request. It’s political in nature.”
After saying his piece, he bowed respectfully with a smile and took his leave.
There was silence in the lecture hall. After a long time, one of the instructors sighed, “Who’s the one who organized these funerary rites anyway? It’s a little bit on the troublesome side, isn’t it?”
The entire lecture hall instantly buzzed with chatter as though his remarks were a trigger. Even Qin Ye couldn’t help but feel his eyelids twitching uncontrollably as he looked at the requirements on the screen.
It was three full days of encoffining. And the most troublesome thing was that the rituals involved were ancient rites. It ranged from the restoration of his soul, to rites pertaining to “hanging”. Some of these processes were even foreign to him despite the era in which he was born.
“Everyone.” Li Tao stood up and cupped his hands respectfully, “Please quieten down. We’re not independent of the people around us, regardless of what anyone has said thus far. In fact, even the SRC and the Special Investigations Department are entities that would have to work in cooperation with the local authorities.”
“Therefore, there is no way that the First Academy of Cultivators, or any of the other future branch academies would be able to operate in isolation from the rest of the nation.” He drew a circle with his hands and continued, “For instance, what do you think will happen when you depart for other locations on practicums or internships while we’re on bad terms with the local government there? Do you think that they would simply allow us access to their investigation dockets? Or allow us to mobilize their troops?”
Qin Ye nodded in agreement. Although both the SRC and the Special Investigations Department derived their authority directly from the central government, it would still be incredibly troublesome if the local government weren’t willing to cooperate.
As long as one wasn’t on good terms with the local authorities, they could hinder any requests on the pretext that they would need verification from the various relevant departments, thereby easily delaying matters for ten days to half a month at a go. But if one was on good terms with the local authorities, the request would be granted in the blink of an eye with a simple go ahead.
These two old men were clearly flexible and pragmatic.
“Why are these two old men still alive?” Qin Ye rubbed his chin avariciously as he muttered under his breath, “How could you possibly stretch your wings in such a confined place like the First Academy of Cultivators… There are vast tracts of unclaimed land waiting to be claimed by their new masters… I sincerely wish you a cerebral hemorrhage! A painless ascension to the afterlife! Even the palanquin is ready to receive you…”
Li Tao was oblivious to the fact that a particular instructor in the audience was currently giving him his “blessings”. Li Tao cleared his throat and continued, “I’ll send the relevant materials and information to the instructor group. Remember to download and go through these documents once you’ve received them. The final sendoff ceremony will begin tomorrow night at the memorial hall. For tonight…”
He glanced at Zhou Xianlong, and Zhou Xianlong finished his sentence, “Instructor Qin will be in charge of the night watch.”
QIn Ye’s gaze flickered, and nodded his head with some measure of displeasure.
With that, the gathering of instructors were finally dismissed. Qin Ye downloaded the files sent by Li Tao on the way back. They were several hundred megabytes large. He scanned through everything as he trotted back to his room. And when he finally got back, he immediately shut the door and locked it after him. Then, he turned to Arthis with a grave expression on his face, “Did Zhou Xianlong discover what happened last night?”
“That’s impossible.” Arthis pressed the pause button as she responded, “The spider lady from last night hails from Argos, where one of the four great underworlds is located. Legend has it that spiders were created when Arachne, a weaver, challenged Athena and was consequently transformed into a spider.They were cast out of Athenai a long time ago, and it is unclear which underworld they ended up pleading allegiance to. If the spider lady truly represented the assassins of the Argosian underworld where Garmr comes from, she wouldn’t have been afraid of Garmr in the first place.”
“And the formation array that you’d stumbled upon is something that I’ve seen before. It is the famous Curse of the Grievous Silence referred to in the Book of Night and Day. Anything that occurs within the zone of the curse’s influence would be erased completely, as though it had never occurred before. Mortals would never be able to detect that anything was amiss. Although Arachne’s offsprings aren’t very remarkable, they still possess the blood of nobility running through their veins. Zhou Xianlong might at best be able to sense some fluctuations in the surrounding air, but he would never be able to discover the truth about last night.”
“Are you certain?” Qin Ye furrowed his brows.
“I’m positive!” Arthis responded with an unusual conviction, “Don’t you think you’re underestimating your opponents this time? Cathay’s Hell may be strong, but you would be sorely mistaken if you think that the other underworlds are just soft-footed cats!”
She continued sternly, “They have their own areas of expertise, underworldly arts, and system of divine protection. Perhaps their existence may be a far cry from the threat posed by Lord Harken, but… their existence represents a threat far more terrifying than Lord Harken himself!”
Qin Ye grew taciturn, and Arthis didn’t explain any further. After all, many things were implicit in the things that she had just said.
That’s right… the appearance of extraterritorial emissaries means that… other underworlds have already begun to probe at Hell to suss the depths of its existence!
Just like how the Eight-Nation Alliance infiltrated Cathay years ago, this was also a clandestine inquest!
It was like a blade hidden underneath an unassuming velvet cloth.
“Here’s the detailed particulars for the rites and rituals. Have a look.” Qin Ye tossed his phone to Arthis after some time.
She immediately scanned through its contents as Qin Ye continued with his brief rundown, “Mr Gu’s ice casket will be arriving tomorrow, and the rites and rituals forming part of the encoffining process shall take place over the next three days that follow. I’m in charge of the night watch, and I’m certain that the extraterritorial emissaries would be making their move at night. There will also be present at least two deputy provincial governors, ten city-level leaders, the academy’s Hellguard-class professors, and Zhou Xianlong himself… You get my drift.”
Arthis nodded slightly as she continued to look through the details.
Cover and concealment.
All emissaries would necessarily have to employ smoke and mirrors in order to make their moves right under the nose of the mortal Infernal Judge, Zhou Xianlong. And this included Qin Ye himself.
A single mistake could cost him his cover, and that would mean the end of any potential access to the Great Dipper Vault.
Arthis continued to read through the details and particulars for the next hour before she finally set down her phone. Her voice grew somber, “Masterful.”
“The person who had designed the memorial hall is incredibly masterful. He’s probably close to being an Infernal Judge, if not already one. Furthermore… he probably knows a thing or two about the practices of the old Hell. The number of people like that are few and far between.” She pointed at the image of the casket in the phone, “Look here.”
It was the top view of the casket. The ornate casket was beautifully designed with an exquisite carving of Canopus, the deity of longevity, and his peach of immortality. The carving depicted a long-bearded old man leaning against a peach tree. The peach tree extended across the entire length of the casket, and there were six peaches on it. Canopus held a seventh one in his hand.
“This is…” Qin Ye frowned, and then his eyes suddenly brightened, “The big dipper constellation?”
The peaches fit incredibly well into the carvings on the casket. Yet the one thing that stood out was the fact that they were arranged too... perfectly.
Arthis smiled, “That’s right. This is none other than the Big Dipper Soul Invocation, one of the methods commonly employed by the old Hell. If my guess is right, there should be a cinnabar nail hammered into the casket right beside where his feet are located. Furthermore, there should be a piece of jade placed right inside his mouth. This is called the soul retention jade. The combination of these three elements constitute the old Hell’s most renowned threefold soul-setting technique. You should be able to find mention of this technique in the records of funerary rites and rituals dating back to the Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties.”
“What does this do?”
Arthis smiled, “It does so much… that it will give you the edge you need in this battle against the extraterritorial emissaries… I’m afraid not even they would expect to see the reemergence of the threefold soul-setting technique after centuries of its disappearance.”
She no longer kept Qin Ye on tenterhooks and explained, “This ritualistic technique first appeared right in the middle of the Han Dynasty era. That was also the first time Cathay faced its first invasion of emissaries from other underworlds. Anubis, the Aegyptus god of the dead, sent an underworldly army of one hundred and forty million marching from Al-Qahirah, across the Suez Canal, through the Sinai Peninsula, crushing the Middle East along the way until they arrived at Ramkund.”
Qin Ye gasped. Ramkund… is only separated from the Cathayan borders by the Kashmeer district! Are these wars of the underworld truly so terrifying?
Arthis continued, “Perhaps a hundred million might not be a large number right now. After all, most underworlds would have several hundred millions of troops under their charge right now. But we’re talking about several thousands of years ago. A hundred million troops back then… That’s a force of such great magnitude that it could blot out the skies and darken the earth. Any place it passed would be reduced to a ghost town in an instant.”
“And it was precisely during that century of war that Anubis thoroughly experienced the might of Cathay’s underworld. He didn’t dare to advance rashly. Instead, he engaged in guerilla warfare against the great King Yanluo for a period of 147 years, attempting to seize the high-grade Cathayan souls for themselves, thereby affecting Hell and depriving us of our talents.”
“Unfortunately, as they were operating out of their forward operating bases located far away from their home turf, we were unable to seize their high-grade Aegyptian souls in retaliation. This put us at an absolute disadvantage from the onset, and it wasn’t until we developed the threefold soul-setting technique that we finally managed to turn the situation around in our favour.” She sighed in relief, “This technique essentially affixes the soul for seven days, and the soul would only be allowed to move after the seven days have elapsed. There’s no restriction for Cathayan Emissaries to reap his soul in the first seven days. But if extraterritorial emissaries wished to do so…”
She looked Qin Ye in the eye, “They would have to uncover the lid, pluck out the cinnabar nail, and remove the soul retention jade from his mouth. But these are objects that only the living can touch. Underworld emissaries would never be able to manipulate them on their own!”
Qin Ye’s eyes brightened.
Arthis licked her lips, and her voice grew cold, “Let me tell you something else. Extraterritorial emissaries that enter Cathay must take possession of the physical bodies of others because they would otherwise be rejected by the laws of the land. Do you understand what I’m saying now?”
Qin Ye smacked his lap.
I understand everything now. So that’s how it is!
“I finally get it…” He stood up and began to pace about the room in deep deliberation as he sorted out the thoughts running through his mind. Then, he looked up abruptly several moments later, “First, the conditions.”
Arthis smiled and made an inviting gesture.
Qin Ye continued, “Underworld emissaries cannot be detected by the living in their emissary state. But the living can nevertheless pinpoint their location if they enter their emissary state in the mortal realm. This is precisely also why we think twice before entering our Hell’s emissary state. Even if we must, we would have to actively conceal it from Zhou Xianlong.”
Arthis nodded, “That’s right. The alternative would be to do as Cao Youdao did, which is to perpetually remain in his emissary state, so that no one would be able to sense his presence. But it’s not possible for us. You’re a living Emissary of Hell - the first ever in the history of Cathay, and I’ve also found a beautiful body to use. Zhou Xianlong would definitely detect our presence and then get a lock on our position as long as we transform into our emissary state right now.”
Qin Ye immediately added, “But the same goes for them!”
2. In other words, this is Shouxing of the three deities commonly known as Fu, Lu and Shou. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanxing_(deities)
3. I recall just a few chapters ago that the news anchors reported that he was going to be cremated and his ashes buried here. I guess the anchors were reporting fake news in order to conceal their actual plans.