Qin Ye sat up from the ground, gasping for breath. Blood flowed from his lips, but his injuries were in truth rather light.
After all, how heavy-handed could he have been when he inflicted such a wound on himself?
Whoosh… The ground quaked lightly, and even the trees and branches seemed to bow down silently. Then, a pair of shoes appeared in his field of vision.
They had appeared suddenly, and without warning.
“How’s your condition?” Zhou Xianlong finally spoke.
Qin Ye nodded with a bitter smile on his face as he employed his masterful acting skills, “Still alright. I should be fine after a day’s rest. Boss, could you grant me a day off tomorrow?”
“Certainly.” Zhou Xianlong’s voice was calm and placid, “What happened over here?”
Qin Ye shook his head, “I don’t know. I only saw several blurry figures similar to the ones that had earlier attacked Student Ye and breached the Great Dipper Vault. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see what exactly they looked like.”
“How many were there?”
“Not more than ten.”
Zhou Xianlong didn’t ask anymore. Instead, he patted Qin Ye on the shoulder and then crouched down.
They were now speaking at the same level. Zhou Xianlong looked Qin Ye straight in the eye and suddenly quipped, “You know…”
“I’ve been scanning the First Academy of Cultivators all night tonight, yet even I was unable to detect anything amiss.”
Qin Ye’s heart skipped a beat.
Yet he remained completely silent as he listened to Zhou Xianlong finish with his query, “An Infernal Judge like me was unable to detect their presence, and yet you were able to do it. Can you tell me why this is so?”
Qin Ye smiled, “It’s probably got to do with the cultivation I practice.”
“Is it?” Zhou Xianlong gazed at him for several seconds, turned around, and the clothes on his body suddenly fluttered on its own, “You would be wise to keep a low profile on your expertise then. Standing out too much might not always be a good thing.”
“Keep patrolling. And call me if you need anything.”
With that, Zhou Xianlong’s figure abruptly vanished, and the next time he appeared, he was already back on the tallest building in the First Academy of Cultivators, where he held a vantage of a hundred miles in all directions.
“He wasn’t lying.” He glanced at the hand on which he had patted Qin Ye’s shoulder. A golden runic symbol glowed faintly in the palm of his hands.
Zhou Xianlong frowned, “Is this really a result of his cultivation technique? What kind of art does he practice? It’s absolutely bizarre…”
Qin Ye was oblivious to all of this. He simply remained seated on the ground, pretending to recover over the next half an hour before he finally stood up once more and lifted his heels. The faint outline of a rune glowed with a black luster as it imprinted itself into the ground.
That’s right. He’d stirred the preparation works of others, but none could stir his own.
And this was precisely because it was the First Academy of Cultivators.
The silken threads of the upcoming battle were slowly but surely revealing themselves, and the scales were finally beginning to tip in his favour.
He didn’t rest immediately. Instead, he continued to circle around the perimeter of an area five hundred meters away from the memorial hall. As he walked, the runes that were wrapped around his feet continued to imprint themselves into the ground. Then, just as he completed a full circle around the memorial hall, the lights within the hall flickered wildly for a split second, and then grew still and silent once more.
Something had changed.
But a closer inspection revealed nothing.
With that, he finally heaved a sigh of relief and leaned against a nearby tree to rest.
“You’ve done very well. This formation array will reveal the presence of all underworld emissaries for ten seconds. That’s enough time.” Arthis’ voice suddenly entered his ears just as he was laying down on the ground. Qin Ye closed his eyes and whispered, “I’m flattered.”
“It’s truly commendable.” This was one of the good things about Arthis - she was never stingy with her praises, “This was the perfect decision. As a husky living among a pack of wolves, you’ll necessarily be forced to make a choice or a decision at certain points in time. If you’d chosen not to destroy their formation arrays earlier, they would have a 10% higher chance of succeeding in tomorrow’s operations. And if they succeed in bringing Gu Qing’s soul back to where they’d come from… the symbolism of their success would surely draw the attention of many others straight to Hell!”
“And this is not to mention the collateral benefits of the merit points you’d gain from purging these extraterritorial emissaries. If all goes according to plan, you would be able to attain the next promotion to an Anitya Hellguard by the end of the battle!”
“Rank and opportunity… next to these things, exposing a trace of your existence to Zhou Xianlong counts for nothing.”
“And what’s most important is the last thing you did earlier.” Arthis transformed into a paper crane that flew down from the canopy of the trees and perched itself on his shoulder, “Zhou Xianlong has bought your story. With that… you’ll have the perfect excuse to be absent when all hell breaks loose in the memorial hall. What’s more, you can even use the chaos to your advantage to transform into your Hell's emissary state and lay silently in wait for the perfect opportunity to make your move.”
Qin Ye nodded. When he punched himself earlier, it was merely for the purposes of feigning an injury. But as soon as he laid down on the ground, these potential advantages immediately crossed his mind.
The transformation into his Hell’s emissary state would most certainly be discovered by Zhou Xianlong. But… what if he transformed into his emissary state when Zhou Xianlong were too distracted by the others?
With the memorial hall in chaos, would Zhou Xianlong still bother about his transformation a distance away?
The ideal outcome of all of this would be if every single one of the extraterritorial emissaries were killed by Zhou Xianlong. And even if someone did manage to get away, he would be the fallback that pursued them and took them down.
It didn’t matter when he unsheathed his sword. What mattered was whether he could be at the right place at the right time in order to deliver a swift and decisive blow.
“The preparation work is complete.” He closed his eyes wearily, and a smile crept up the corner of his lips, “I’d like to see if anyone else dares try their luck on our territory after tomorrow.”
“That’s more like it.” Arthis stared into the night sky, “That’s how a Yanluo should act and carry himself. An instance of infraction, a life of requital - this is the tenet of Hell that is cast in iron.”
“They can escape to the farthest lands or the deepest oceans, but they would never be able to escape the sword of judgment from Hell.”
It was still night, and the skies were dark as ink.
Dormitory Four, room 126. Gou Yun quietly opened his eyes.
“Hurrghh… Woaaargh…” A gurgling, vomiting sound cut through the solitude in the room. He furrowed his brows and shut his eyes in frustration. But what was most bizarre was that the sound didn’t stop at all. Finally, he opened his eyes once more and called out, “Old Xie?”
This was a room for two.
Gou Yun didn’t get any response. He glanced at the bed that was directly opposite him, and noticed that the sheets had been tossed aside, and the bed was empty. The gurgling sounds were coming from the en suite bathroom.
“Old Xie?” He called out once more. This time, he heard it clearly - it was definitely coming from the bathroom. The gurgling sound stopped for a split second, before ensuing with ever greater intensity.
“Hey… are you alright?” He hurriedly got out of bed. He had always been on rather good terms with Old Xie. But since last week, Old Xie suddenly grew silent and refused to interact much with him. Nevertheless, Gou Yun wanted to remain on good terms with him if possible. They were going to be spending the next two years together after all.
Having still received no response, Gou Yun immediately hopped out of bed and made his way towards the bathroom in his pajamas.
He thumbed the lights reflexively as he got to the door. However, the lights didn’t come on. He cursed under his breath and pushed on the door to the bathroom.
“Uurrghhh… Woaoaaargghhhh!!” As soon as he opened the door, a pungent smell immediately assaulted his olfactory senses. And then, he froze completely.
Old Xie was topless, leaning over the washbasins as he shuddered vigorously and vomited endlessly. From where he stood, Gou Yun was only able to see a mess of hair drooping over his head. He thumbed the bathroom lights again, but it still didn’t switch on. It was only then that he remembered that it was part of the academy rules that all lights would be cut from midnight to 6.30 a.m. There was still close to an hour to go.
“It’s gross… so… gross… urrrrggh…” Old Xie continued to murmur to himself. It was as though he didn’t even realize that Gou Yun had entered the bathroom. Gou Yun was just about to speak up when he suddenly shuddered violently.
Run… RUN! Leave this place!
An inexplicable voice bellowed in his mind. And then, he suddenly felt… a chill.
It was freezing cold in the bathroom. Although it was reasonable to expect the March nights to be somewhat cold, the bathroom was uncharacteristically frigid, and it was no different from an ice cellar. In fact, it was so cold that he couldn’t even sense any body heat radiating from Old Xie’s body. It was almost as though… the person standing in front of the mirror was a living dead.
He fervently suppressed the fear in his heart, gulped, and glanced nervously at his surroundings.
It was pitch-black.
The only source of light was the dim moonbeams that shone through a sliver of opening in the ventilation window. Incidentally the light shone directly on Old Xie’s back, revealing… innumerable scars and wounds all over his body!
There were bruises resultant from the blunt trauma of powerful fists, and then there were lacerations and cuts ostensibly caused by a sharp instrument. He reached out his trembling arms and touched Old Xie’s back. But as soon as his hand made contact with Old Xie’s back, he felt someone grab him!
“AHHHHH!!” He screamed in fear.
It was Old Xie’s hand.
It was devoid of all traces of warmth. In fact, it was even damp and slippery. Then, Old Xie stopped vomiting into the sink, and slowly looked up into the mirror.
T-t-t… It was only at this instant that Gou Yun finally managed to see his roommate’s face in the moonlight, and his teeth chattered incessantly - t-t-t-t-t…
The top half of his face was still Old Xie’s face.
However… the bottom half of his face was gone!
It was as though something had cleanly sliced off his face from below his nose in what must have been a desperate battle, leaving only a grisly row of upper teeth protruding from his head and no lower jaw!
Blood continued to spew out of his mutilated mouth, gushing down his throat and all over his body!
“Help--...” A sharp blade made a clean cut right across his throat before he could even cry out for help. All that remained was a look of incredulity and fear in his eyes as his limp body crumbled and collapsed to the ground.
Clatter… Blood flowed everywhere.
Old Xie stared blankly at him for two seconds, and then lunged straight at the still-convulsing body as he bit open his throat and began to suck desperately.
After some time, Old Xie straightened his body once more and looked out the window at the campus grounds with a venomous gaze in his eyes. He muttered in Cathayan with much difficulty, “... There’s no other choice…”
“This vessel can’t hold out any longer… As expected of Anubis’ emissaries. To think that they were able to injure me to such an extent…”
He lifted his hands and began to draw a complex formation array on the mirror. And then, he spat a mouthful of blood all over it. A moment later, the blood appeared to vanish, as though it were sucked into the mirror, and ripples suddenly appeared on its surface.
KRRRR!!! There was an endless crunching sound, and the entire room appeared to be cut off from the rest of the mortal realm. Wisp after wisp of ink-black Yin energy poured out from the mirror like a massive vortex, while a crimson light glowed at the very center of it all. Just then, a hoarse voice spoke up, “Scorpio IV of the Zodiac… You’d better not have summoned me for something trivial.”
“Your Excellency…” Old Xie threw himself on his knees, “We’ve encountered unforeseen circumstances. Scorpio IV is requesting backup…”
The sound of riffling papers could be heard from the other side of the vortex. Moments later, the voice spoke again, “Mr Gu’s soul is of A+ priority level. We’ve sent twenty-two emissaries, and twenty were intercepted and perished in west-Cathay… Therefore, only you and Scorpio V managed to make it to the target destination?”
“Yes…” Old Xie kowtowed, “The location-bound teleportation array has been destroyed, and the Yin node has been broken. We… will no longer be able to retreat safely. This is why we have no choice but to open the special communication channel… Mr Gu’s casket will be arriving in approximately one hour. There are five known forces, one of which is suspected to be one of the remnant forces of Cathay’s underworld…”
“The remnant forces of Cathay’s underworld?” The voice in the mirror sneered, “If this had been two hundred years ago, I’d have backed away immediately… whether the Ten Abyssal Courts or the Sixfold Ghost Kings… any single one of them is a terrifying force that can single-handedly raze our underworld to the ground. But now…”
He chuckled contemptuously, “Their underworld might not even be around anymore… A hundred years ago, Hell erupted with a massive fluctuation of Yin energy that shook the entire continent. And ever since that day, their numbers have been dwindling and lessening… And that’s fine. This time, we’ll let Hell know something.”
“Their era is now already a thing of the past.”
“Right now, it’s our time to shine!”
Whoosh… A bright golden light gleamed from the mirror as though it had travelled through a space-time continuum and landed directly in front of Scorpio IV.
“This is…” A single glance made Scorpio IV tremble vigorously, “An authentic…”
“Take it.” The voice faded as the countless wisps of Yin energy began to pour back into the mirror and vanish, “If you fail again this time, you… can consider yourself a martyr.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter