No wonder her voice sounds so awful. Nobody could possibly speak well after having their throats cut like that.
“Lead the way.” Qin Ye nodded at her. Nohime took a few steps back, turned around, and then walked straight back into the temple. Her two rows of maidservants turned around at exactly the same time.
It was only then that Qin Ye noticed how each of the maidservants had a dagger stuck in their backs.
These were all maidservants who had accompanied Oda Nobunaga in death.
Qin Ye turned his attention to the rows of warriors standing in the distance. The sea of trees swayed gently in the distance, casting shifting shadows on the ground over the warriors that were otherwise only illuminated by the creepy scarlet glow of the red lanterns. Almost as though they sensed his gaze, the heads of the warriors and foot soldiers turned one hundred and eighty degrees around in unison, revealing the jade-green netherflames that burned in their otherwise empty eye sockets.
The wind rose, and the shifting shadows made the surroundings look darker than ever. In that instant, Qin Ye found himself standing in the heart of a sea of threatening jade-green netherflames, almost as though a pack of hungry wolves were laying in wait for the slightest slip up on his part. Any ordinary person in his shoes would have screamed in fear by now.
Qin Ye’s eyes narrowed as he looked back at the ancient temple. Under the shelter of its magnificence, several ancient ghosts that have stood guard at this place for centuries on end stared transfixed at Qin Ye. The tide of Yin energy surging from their bodies appeared to roar with centuries of accumulated grudges.
This was Honnoji.
“Don’t worry.” Ming Shiyin whispered, “Nobunaga has once visited the Cathayan Hell, and he knows of my days of glory. He wouldn’t dare to make a move against you with me around.”
Qin Ye nodded and drew a deep breath to steady his heart. Then, he stepped on the ground that was covered with paper money as he walked straight towards Honnoji.
Everything was brightly lit within.
The inside of the temple was constructed just like a traditional Nipponese hostel. The aisles were narrow, and the wooden floor was stained so much with dried blood that it had an unusual maroon hue. The sliding doors on the side were decorated with ukiyo-e art. As Qin Ye passed by, he could hear heated discussions going on behind the sliding doors. In fact, the doors were slightly translucent, and he could vaguely make out the silhouettes of several persons clad in armor arguing fiercely over something.
Qin Ye stopped in his steps.
As soon as he did, the figures behind the sliding door immediately reacted as though they had detected his presence, and the hair on their heads began to scatter about and grow wildly. In an instant, their silhouettes transformed into the shape of a werewolf. Qin Ye could even tell that they now had hair growing out of every corner of their bodies.
Whoosh! Qin Ye could tell that each of the silhouettes had striking red eyes that were staring menacingly right back at him, engulfing him with a fleeting feeling of terror and oppression.
“What tomfoolery.” Qin Ye snorted and abruptly opened the door.
There was nothing inside.
It was a shabby room inside. The tatami mats were covered in dust, and the walls were practically concealed by the cobwebs. There was an oil lamp burning with a jade-green flame that flickered softly on the table in the room. Two sets of skeletons sat at the table, one on each side.
These skeletons donned great armors often seen on the most valiant Nipponese warriors of ancient times. Furthermore, each skeleton appeared to be holding onto a short knife with both hands that were plunged right into their abdomens. However, having been frozen in time for centuries on end, their abdomen was now completely empty, and the short knife instead hung limply down and rested on the pelvic bone.
It was also right at that moment that the two rows of lantern-toting maidservants bowed respectfully, and then drifted back into the illusory world within the ukiyo-e paintings.
Just like that, they simply adhered and imprinted themselves back onto the paintings.
Qin Ye took a closer look at the paintings. The ukiyo-e paintings appeared to depict Oda Nobunaga’s great conquests, just like many of the Cathayan paintings of their great generals’ conquests. The maidservants had already become one with these paintings again. As Qin Ye walked on along the corridor, he could sense the maidservants in the paintings turning their heads, staring intently at Qin Ye with a faint green glow in their eyes.
It was almost as though he had walked into a long corridor filled with fireflies.
“Is this the way Mr Oda treats his guests?” Qin Ye had now arrived at the end of the corridor. There was a screen at the end of the corridor with a pot of plum blossoms. The leaves had already withered away eons ago, and a grim white skull hung eerily from the branches.
“Please ignore them. The servants were just being mischievous.” Nohime bowed respectfully, “My lord, Lord Oda is waiting for you in the back chambers. I’m not allowed inside. Please.”
With that, Qin Ye went around the screen, and he found himself in a decently-sized room.
There were tatami mats placed all around the room. This was the only room within Honnoji that appeared new, yet it was also the room that reeked most of a burning, smoking stench and the smell of charred corpses.
The extravagance of the room was befitting of an ancient Nipponese daimyo. There were stalks of withered flowers extending right out of gold-lacquered vases on both sides of the room, and a bamboo blind hung down halfway from the ceiling. A man dressed in black feather weave sat silently behind the blinds, patiently waiting for Qin Ye’s arrival.
Qin Ye took his place right across the man and nodded gently, “Mr Oda, we finally meet.”
“You’ve got a lot of guts to come looking for me right in the heart of my territory.” A husky voice called out from behind the blinds, “We’ve met before.”
“That’s right.” Qin Ye responded placidly, “We’ve met back in the graveyard a thousand miles away from here. But it looks like neither of us had left a good impression on the other back then.”
“Enough.” A gilded fan reached out from behind the bamboo blinds. Qin Ye’s eyes narrowed. He could tell that the hand holding the fan was covered in spots of livor mortis, and it was also burnt beyond recognition.
Nobunaga tapped the folding fan lightly on the tatami mat, “I don’t like to beat about the bush.”
“I’ve allowed you to enter only on account of Lord Ming. I give you my word that I won’t hurt you. And we can let bygones be bygones. I’m not suicidal enough to stir the wrath of the Cathayan underworld. But you should quickly get to the point and tell me what business you have with me. I don’t quite like the stench of the living on you very much.”
There was a soft sound of swallowing saliva, followed quickly by the flickering of the netherflames that were illuminating the room. Oda Nobunaga continued with a low, deep voice, “The stench of the living makes me so hungry and envious of you that I simply can’t resist the urge to devour you.”
Qin Ye shut his eyes and took a deep breath. The most crucial tabletop battle was just about to begin. Everything would turn on whether he could persuade the four hundred years old demon king to pledge his allegiance to Hell.
This was a battlefield without guns and warfare.
He quickly ran through his angle of attack, drew a deep breath, and steeled his nerves. Then, he looked up once more and stared straight into the bamboo blinds, “Mr Oda, what are your thoughts on the Cathayan underworld?”
“Powerful. Mind-bogglingly so.” Oda Nobunaga’s voice was undergirded by a trace of lingering emotion, “I had made a tributary visit to Cathay back then, when I thought that the unification of Nippon was in my grasp. That was during the Ming Dynasty. At that time, I was shocked by how powerful Hell was. I couldn’t fathom how there were twenty Yama-King entities, all of whom were just as strong as Izanami herself.”
“I’ve never had the intention to provoke Cathay.” Qin Ye could even detect sincerity in his voice, “So, if you’re here on behalf of Lord Justice Bao, please convey this message of mine to his.”
It was clear the circumstances were different from what he had planned for.
Before coming here, Qin Ye had already prepared his best angle of attack under a particular set of working assumptions, and he was already confident that he could take down the distinguished Demon King of the Sixth Heaven. But Nobunaga’s response to his introductory query caused him to raise his estimated success rate from 60% to a whopping 90%!
Oda Nobunaga thought that he was Justice Bao’s messenger.
In other words, he didn’t know about the great upheaval that has occurred within Hell.
Furthermore, Oda Nobunaga’s words were richly laden with meaning. Why did he take the first step to show deference to Hell?
It was precisely because he was still harbouring the hopes of striking back at Nippon one day.
He had only been one step away from unifying Nippon, and yet all of his dreams and hopes were dashed in a single fateful incident at Honnoji. How could such deep-seated grievances be dispelled with the passage of merely four centuries?
He had shown deference to Hell because he still wanted to conquer Nippon. He didn’t want to find himself duking it out with the Nipponese underworld, only to find the armies of the Cathayan underworld hot on his tail. After all, it wasn’t as though Cathay had never interfered with the internal politics of a nation before.
His mind spun quickly. His wealth of life experiences gave him an edge in reading people, and his thought processes were by no means inferior to that of Oda Nobunaga. Within seconds, he reformulated his strategy and devised a new angle of attack. Then, with a faint smile on his face, he responded, “And what do you think about Yomi-no-Kuni in turn?”
Oda Nobunaga finally stirred behind the bamboo blinds. His gaze burned so brightly that it seemed to penetrate the opaque blinds in front him. He chuckled, “The Nipponese underworld.”
Qin Ye continued, “Do you know the strength that lies in the hands of the lord of the Nipponese underworld?”
Without missing a beat, Qin Ye continued, “They possess all the famous talents of the Warring States era, including Takeda Shingen, Uesugi Kenshin, your former ally Tokugawa Ieyasu. Even Azai Nagamasa and Akechi Mitsuhide are there.”
Qin Ye silently glanced at Nobunaga’s body language underneath the bamboo blinds.
There seemed to be no reaction.
But Qin Ye knew better. He could tell that the mention of these names caused Nobunaga to tighten his grip around the folding fan.
“They’re all serving under Izanami right now.” Qin Ye lowered his heads and licked his lips, “In other words, so long as you’re still bent on taking back Nippon, you’ll have to face all of the daimyos from the entire Warring States era back then.”
Qin Ye’s breaths grew hot with passion, “Are you really willing to give up?”
“To give up on your dreams of conquest?”
“To give up on your ambitions to conquer and unify Nippon after being just a single step away from it?”
“Are you willing to give up on the chance to seek vengeance against Akechi Mitsuhide for the arrow in the back at Honnoji?”
Oda Nobunaga was lost for words. He couldn’t hide his feelings any longer.
These dreams formed the grievances and obsessions that had plagued him for centuries. There was simply no way he could deceive himself and shrug off these thoughts when he was confronted with the verbal enunciation of the deepest desires in his heart.
“What message are you trying to convey exactly?” Oda Nobunaga finally responded after several moments of silence, “Is this your message, or is this Lord Justice Bao’s message to me?”
In other words, he wanted to know if Cathay was going to intervene. After all, it wouldn’t take more than a few months to completely flatten Izanami’s forces if Justice Bao personally showed up. Oda Nobunaga was keenly aware of the extent of Hell’s power.
Are they trying to invest in me?
Are they giving me the chance to avenge the blood feud of ages past?
The prospects of such thoughts caused his heart to stir greatly.
Qin Ye sighed softly. His opening had gained him some ground, but it still wasn’t enough.
Preoccupation was his greatest ally right now. How could Oda Nobunaga bring himself to simply let go of a centuries-old long-cherished wish? These festering thoughts have already become more than a mere obsession by now.
“There’s no need to be anxious, Mr Oda.” Qin Ye’s eyes gleamed brightly, “It doesn’t really matter whose intention it is right now. Rather, the question you might have to ask yourself is whether you’re willing and able to stand on the same side as Akechi Mitsuhide again.”
The folding fan snapped softly in the midst of Qin Ye’s statement.
Nobunaga didn’t respond verbally.
But he had by his conduct undoubtedly responded to Qin Ye’s question.
Qin Ye pressed further, “And are you able to live with the fact that you’ll have to serve under someone all over again? You, who were once a single step away from reigning as the emperor of Nippon, would now fall to be no more than a lord of a fief?”
“If you can’t accept then, then it begs the question whether you possess the ability to oppose Izanami and all of the great daimyos back then combined. With these two thousand soldiers of yours?”
Qin Ye leaned forward quietly, “Lord Nobunaga, times have changed.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter