The next day, at noon, when Lin Han saw Qin Ye rubbing his back as he made his way to the cafeteria, he remarked with some measure of astonishment, “Last night, after our drinks… did you commit an irretrievable mistake?”
Qin Ye gnashed his teeth. Anyone who gave him such a slap to the face would never get off scot free.
He glared at Lin Han and hooked his finger at him. Lin Han blinked stubbornly, as though saying - I can’t help a person who can’t control his belt… unless you call me daddy. Qin Ye responded with a great deal of anticipation laced with a slight measure of sympathy, “I’ll give you a chance to get on my good side.”
Qin Ye pulled the big buffoon over and whispered, “Let me ask you something…”
“I’m not lending!” Lin Han responded reflexively.
“Bloody hell…” Qin Ye nearly couldn’t resist the urge to kick the idiot, “Can you please listen properly for once?!”
“Okay.” Lin Han blinked vacantly. Qin Ye took a deep breath, “I--...”
“I don’t have it!”
Taste my sword, kid.
Only one of us is going to make it to the academy building this morning. Prepare yourself!
Under Qin Ye’s intense and frigid glare, Lin Han finally caved after several moments and coughed dryly, “Looks like you’re not borrowing money or things from me… alright. You may speak.”
Qin Ye drew a deep breath - I’m not angry… What reason is there to be upset at a fool… I need his help anyway…
He picked up a piece of ribs from his plate, deliberated for a few moments, and then glanced about as he added with a whisper, “I’m planning to make a short trip out.”
“Are you nuts?!” Lin Han gasped and immediately lowered his head, glancing vigilantly about as he muttered through his teeth, “We’re just about to rise to the pinnacle of life. Everything would be over if the school discovers this! Wait a moment… why did you come looking for my help in the first place?”
Qin Ye fluttered his eyes, “Aren’t you the Local Bully of the City of Salvation?”
Lin Han’s expressions stiffened, “Since when did the Local Bully of Mount Tai City transform into the Local Bully of the City of Salvation? Can you kindly explain that to me, please?”
Qin Ye restrained the smile on his face and flipped the ribs around with his fork, “Because… I’ve read your file. You and Su Feng are both cultivators of Insignia Province. Prior to this, you’d traveled around and worked in practically every city within Insignia Province under the banner of the SRC. The principals might not even know of these things, but the two of you are among the top in terms of direct contact with Yin spirits. Furthermore, there’s quite a high possibility that you’ve undertaken operations at the Insignia University branch campus before. And last but not least… I trust you.”
Lin Han instantly felt comforted, and he nodded, “You really haven’t asked anyone else yet?”
Qin Ye rubbed his back and paused.
Of course I have… but do you really think it doesn’t hurt when you’re beaten up by a silicone doll?!
It only takes a look to snap the tightrope of negotiations. The difference between friendship and enmity is as thin as a micrometer.
“You have so few friends.” Lin Han cast him a dirty look, and then glanced around once more, “Are you seriously about this?”
Qin Ye’s eyes flickered, and he nodded deeply.
He’s got means!
“Do you absolutely have to go?”
“That’s right. I’ll need to make a trip to the phantom market.” Qin Ye looked him straight in the eye as he answered, “Do you have a way out? Is it safe?”
“Of course! Where do you think I get the name of the Local Bully of the City of Sal--... Screw you!” Lin Han glared at him with great annoyance. Three seconds later, he rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone, “Damn it. I really owe this to you, don’t I?! Consider this a repayment for the olive branch you’ve extended me with the research paper.”
After staring intently at his phone for three full minutes, he finally looked up once more and whispered, “Tonight, 12.30 a.m. Meet me at the east gate. You’ll at least have to wait until lights out if you want to head out. The phantom market closes at 5 a.m. They’re only open five hours a night.”
“Thanks.” Qin Ye heaved a long sigh of relief. It’s done… the last piece of the puzzle has finally gone in.
Time passed quickly, and Qin Ye had a good day’s rest.
Night, 12.30 a.m.
Qin Ye slipped out of his room and made his way to the area right outside the second canteen, where they had agreed to meet. He carried a large box containing the artifacts that were to be auctioned off. The second canteen was something which had only been used by the Insignia University in the past, and it was already defunct. Nevertheless, it was still in good condition. And most importantly… it wasn’t too far from this place to the east gate of the academy, and one could follow the path from the east gate all the way to the border of the City of Salvation.
Like most other universities, the Insignia University’s branch campus was built on the outskirts of the city.
It was cheap and cost-effective.
“You have to be back by 5 a.m.” Lin Han was already there, and he handed Qin Ye a bundle, “I don’t know if you’ve been to the phantom market before, but you’ve got to bear three things in mind.”
“One. Don’t be surprised. There won’t only be humans in the phantom market. Some of the things you’ll see there aren’t human beings. The phantom market is an establishment that straddles the gray area of realms. They appear only after midnight, and the time and location are indeterminate. Unless we walk the same path, there’s practically little to no chance that a regular human being would encounter the phantom market.”
“Two. Don’t speak. As soon as a human being opens his mouth, his Yang energy would leak out. It is anyone’s guess what might happen if you attract the unwanted attention of non human beings. Disguise yourself with what I’ve just handed over to you. Nobody reveals their true appearances at the market.”
Qin Ye nodded. The phantom market was something he had only heard of in name. Had had plans to visit it back in Clear Creek County, but unfortunately his plans were foiled by his encounter with the Assassins of the Underworld. This was a good opportunity for him to satisfy his curiosity properly.
He opened the bundle which Lin Han gave to him, and he was immediately dumbfounded.
“Can you please explain what this is?” The abrupt and drastic change in the mise-en-scene surprised him thoroughly, and he stiffly pulled out a black, silken item, “Why does this look so much like stockings?”
“Because it is stockings! And it’s Langsha stockings to boot! That thing itself set me back several hundreds.” Lin Han began to pull it over his head as though it were perfectly natural. One layer… and then another layer… It was so embarrassing that Qin Ye quickly pulled off every layer of stocking that Lin Han had put on with one powerful tug. Then, he fervently repressed to bash in the teeth of the stupid fool as he gnashed his teeth, “Change it this instant!!”
“Why?” The fool was rather displeased, “It was only because of you that I’d gone out of my way to purchase these Langsha products! Otherwise, I would usually just dig two holes in a garbage bag. It’s simple, and yet practical--… Did you just kick me?”
Qin Ye calmly retracted his foot and glared at Qin Ye with a murderous gaze, “No reason… Now get it changed for me! I don’t care what it is! It can even be a trash bag for all I care! Now! Now! Now!!”
The two men met again ten minutes later. Lin Han’s dissatisfaction had risen to the level of resentment, “Transfer the money to me. Two hundred and thirty - not one cent less! It was such good stuff… I just can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to use it…”
Qin Ye transferred two hundred and fifty to him. Then, wrapping his face with a piece of ordinary black cloth, he followed Lin Han out.
I somehow get the feeling that this trip isn’t going to be too smooth sailing... I guess you can say it’s a form of talent to be able to make a simple disguise look like the disguise of a bank robber…
There were several spell arrays erected at the east gate, coupled with cultivators that were on guard and sentry duties all day round. There were even a multitude of surveillance cameras installed to cover every single angle and perspective possible. One could say that the defense was incredibly tight. Lin Han didn’t take the front door. Instead, he found some bushes that were located approximately two hundred meters away from the main entrance, and he rushed headlong into it with his arms wrapped around his head. It was almost as though he were a Nipponese ghost being chased by a swarm of hornets.
Ahhhhhhh… the bad premonitions have come true… Qin Ye stared at the bushes. One could easily tell from its voluptuous looks and ferocious armaments that… it was a rose bush…
And there was a small opening at the bottom of the rose bush that appeared to be plied by dogs no less. The corners of his lips twitched uncontrollably, “This is the path you were talking about?”
Despite Lin Han’s massive build, he was as nimble as a gopher in the barbed bush, and he responded without turning back at all, “Paths are created by men after all… are you coming or not?! I’ve already blocked the surveillance cameras in the vicinity with gum. You’ll be discovered in an instant if you attempt to leave from any other place!”
There were some people in the world who had an innate gift for bringing out the worst in people. Qin Ye couldn’t help but develop an intense urge to murder him right now.
He sighed with resignation and charged straight into the dense foliage of the bushes. After crawling for approximately ten minutes, both he and Lin Han emerged from the other side of the foliage.
They could see the national highway extending out from the city. The lights of patrolling cultivators were still a distance away. Both men exchanged a knowing look, operated their true energy, and then shot off into the distance in an instant.
Whoosh… A rush of wind swept past their ears as they ran on. Ten minutes… twenty minutes… and finally, after half an hour, a brightly lit mountain appeared right in front of their very eyes.
Several ancient houses sat at the foot of the Mount Monarch cemetery in the dead of the night, almost as though they were huge tombstones themselves. The night breeze swept through the empty streets with a soft whimper, like a symphony of souls playing on bone flutes. White prayer flags and yellow paper money were scattered all over the ground, only to be tossed around playfully by the hands of the invisible gale.
And there were even certain households that had bizarrely crafted paper horses and servants placed in the display windows to these houses. What would otherwise have been a peculiar, humorous sight in the day looked so dark and eerie at night that it would send chills down a person’s spine.
It was as if… as soon as a person turned his attention away from these windows, the paper effigies would open their eyes and silently stare at his back.
This was the first time that Qin Ye had come to the phantom market. A cemetery that should have been silent and still was instead brightly lit. A path led straight from the base of Mount Monarch all the way to its peak, and there were pale, white lanterns lining the path, each of which were approximately ten meters apart from the other. There was a single word written on each of these lanterns in blood-red lettering - “Goods”.
It was windy on the mountain, and the lanterns swayed unendingly, causing these sources of light to flicker incessantly. It looked almost like a dead man’s eyes were blinking at them.
“The single word on the lanterns represents the rules governing this market. It indicates that you are only allowed to barter for goods. They don’t accept money or spirit stones. Each iteration of the phantom market has its own rules. For instance, when I last visited the phantom market in Pearlriver, they only accepted spirit stones. If that’s the case, the lanterns would reflect ‘spirit’ accordingly. And if they only accept money, it would write ‘cash’ on the lanterns.” Lin Han explained.
Qin Ye nodded, and his eyes narrowed as he pointed to a location closer to the top of Mount Monarch, “What’s that?”
Regular humans would never visit a public cemetery in the middle of the night. But not only were there humans right now, there appeared to be quite a number of them at that.
Some wore hats with foot-long veils hanging down their faces, some wore masks, while others wore hoods. There were some who carried around a backpack, or huge boxes, and there were even some who materialized from a gathering of ants from all directions. All of them walked up a spiral stone staircase.
There were even some who were wrapped in ancient black robes, wearing mourning masks and carrying a red lantern. And whenever the hem of their robes drifted up, Qin Ye could see that they weren’t walking with their feet to the ground. In fact, wisps of Yin energy leaked out from underneath their robes as they drifted among the rest of the crowd.
“Those are Yin spirits whose existences have been approved by the government.” Lin Han glanced at him and explained, “Just like A32 of the Great Dipper Vault, some of these are household gods, while others can somewhat be considered homologous Yin spirits as well. Some of them are even special Yin spirits with no record of supernatural incidents that have voluntarily pledged allegiance to the Special Investigations Department. The government would give them a special proof of identity… such as this one. Take it.”
He handed over two identity tokens. Qin Ye took a glance at them. The records on it stated - “Chen Qi. Date of Birth: 2/6/1964. Date of Death: 21/8/2009. Date of Issuance of Yin Spirit Permit: 2/6/2018. Valid Till: 2/6/2028.”
The details on the other were exactly the same as a person’s regular ID card. The only other difference was that the national coat of arms was instead replaced with a wreath.
It was incredibly original!
Qin Ye kept them and whispered, “That’s not what I’m asking you about.”
“Do you smell that?” He closed his eyes and sniffed the air again, “There’s a stench of dead people in this mountain right now.”
Lin Han was completely baffled by his comment, “Of course there’s a stench of dead people. They’re all dead people here! Perhaps the scent you’ve caught a whiff of is from the firecrackers instead?”
“No…” Qin Ye opened his eyes and gazed deep into the mountain, “It’s the stench of the living dead… and furthermore… there’s a peculiar scent that is foreign to Cathay altogether… I wonder where I’ve smelt something like that before?”