Chapter 25: The Pallbearer

As soon as he walked out of the door, the policeman heaved a sigh of relief and pulled out his notebook. The page he was on was densely filled with names. He ran his finger lightly across the surface, and several names were crossed out. That said, Qin Ye’s name remained at the top of his list.

“Team Liu.” He picked up his phone, “Could I trouble you to check on the Tranquil Blessed Orphanage. I want you to pull all details on a teen named Qin Ye… Mm, he’s nineteen on the file, and he moved to Clear Creek County seven years ago… No, I’m not suspecting him. It’s just that we can’t afford to pass up any potential leads, especially if they pertain to non-locals… And this is especially since our investigations reveal that Qin Ye was the last person Wang Chenghao came into contact with. Additionally, the E-grade ghost that AC-285 had dealt with was also the same entity that both Qin Ye and Wang Chenghao had previously run into.”

“Thus, no matter how you look at it, he’s got to be considered as one of the suspects.”

What the policeman was unaware of was the fact that Qin Ye was silently observing him from his window just behind.

“Since when have you become so filled with care and concern that you’d even bother with the life and death of a person apart from yourself?” Arthis remained indifferent, “With so many wrongful deaths occurring all over the world at any point in time, can you really afford to bother yourself with each one of them?”

Qin Ye shook his head and squinted slightly as he responded, “The notion of corpse energy is quite different from Yin energy. After all, Yin energy is something that can only be perceived by those of us who possess the infernal eyes. Even though his body is covered with such intense corpse energy, it’s completely devoid of any traces of Yin energy or stench of blood… It’s patently clear that he’s not the one who had killed somebody.”

Arthis didn’t even bother to probe any further. Such trivialities could hardly hold the interest of a former provincial-level official.

“... Why’d you become disinterested? It’s unfulfilling for me if you behave like that.”

Arthis couldn’t help rolling her eyes within the soul sphere as she played along lazily, “So?”

Qin Ye remained silent.

Arthis - ???

“Don’t speak. I’m looking for a sense of fulfilment right now.” Qin Ye shut his eyes for a few moments, before finally opening his eyes once more with a sigh on his lips, “Feels somewhat difficult to find.”

“...”

“... Forget it. Think about it. Since he didn’t kill anybody, how did the stench of corpse energy pervade his entire body?”

Arthis immediately understood what he was getting at, “Contagion.”

“He must have interacted with someone who carries an intense stench of corpse energy - and their interactions must have been for a reasonable period of time at that. Additionally, their interaction had only just taken place.”

Qin Ye asked meaningfully, “In turn... what kind of person bears the strongest stench of corpse energy?”

“It’d naturally be…” Arthis muttered, but immediately paused mid-statement.

When she finally spoke once more, her tone of voice had already become earnest and somber, “... A pallbearer? Or perhaps a linker.”

Of the seven underworldly craftsmen, the effigy makers could be immediately ruled out because they would never ever come into contact with corpses. The shamans work with parasites, while the coroners and the executioners are professions that are no longer common. This left only the pallbearers and the linkers. Both craftsmen regularly come into contact with corpses in their line of work. As for the corpse drivers, they were known to work alone, and there was no way they would appear around these parts to begin with.

“Are you certain?”

“Not entirely. But, as I’d said before, the phantom market is nomadic in nature. The appearance of the seven underworldly craftsmen strongly suggests that… the phantom market has arrived in Clear Creek County!”

“Furthermore, humans are all creatures of habit.” Qin Ye smiled, “I took a glance at the policeman’s notebook earlier. He’s a very orderly person, and each of our names were listed from top to bottom with our addresses set out beside our names. My name was the last on that list. As with most people, he must have proceeded with his investigations from the first name and ended with mine. Incidentally, I’ve got a pretty good memory, and I noticed only five names above my own.”

The underworldly craftsman must be among those five names!

Locating him would be tantamount to locating the whereabouts of the phantom market. Even if the pallbearer were not the one who had moved the corpse this county, Qin Ye need only check if the phantom market had come across any other pallbearer in recent times and follow that lead. With any luck, he might even be able to discover the identity of the next shard’s owner!

There was no need to explain everything. After all, none of them here were fools. Arthis paused, before she continued, “Have a good rest. This phantom market you’ve mentioned has piqued my interest. I’m quite keen to learn more about people of the lower class too.”

Qin Ye remained at home for a while thereafter. He sat silently where he was until 4 p.m. before he finally picked up the soul sphere, donned his backpack, hailed a rickshaw and made his way towards the eastern side of Clear Creek County. Qin Ye could recall that three of the other five names on the policeman’s notebook were all located here.

Clear Creek County was a place with a long history, and some of its legends had even existed for over a millenia. Naturally, some parts of the city kept its ancient appearances and styles. If not for the fact that the conservation efforts had been localized and limited, the entire city might well have been refurbished into the style of an ancient city altogether.

Their destination right now was East Clear Creek Street, which was also commonly known as the Ethnic Minority Street. Clear Creek County was located in the southwest corner of Westriver, close to the Ashcreek Province where many ethnic minorities had settled down at. From time to time, one would be able to spot people with head coverings or silver ornaments on their heads. This was why the government had particularly earmarked the street to be known and developed as the Ethnic Minority Street.

That said, the term “earmarked” might be a misnomer. Regardless, the fact remained that this was still a locality that was set out for the same purpose. The road was two meters wide and sixty-seven meters long. Both sides of the street were covered with antiquated looking houses replete with bricks and black-tiled roofs. The doors and windows that should have been richly adorned with painting and carvings were instead mottled with age. The ground was covered with overgrown moss, and red lanterns continued to hang down from the sides of the buildings. When night fell, the atmosphere about this locality would immediately turn eerie.

It was already 5 p.m. when Qin Ye arrived at the entrance to the minority street. Several households were already packing up and preparing to close for the day.

After paying the rider, he stepped into an alley nearby. Some preparation work could not be carried out before 6 p.m.

Time passed smoothly, and it was soon 6 p.m. The announcements that everyone was all too familiar with sounded throughout the streets once again. The sun was setting and losing its lustre, and a cool, chilling gloom began to blanket the street. The first traces of night wind began to sweep across the lands. Qin Ye shut his eyes and waited patiently until the clock struck 8 p.m. And then, he finally opened his eyes once more.

He opened up his backpack and retrieved a set of ink-black clothes and a wide conical bamboo hat. A black veil draped down from around the perimeter of the hat, obscuring his appearances entirely. Then, he waited for yet another half an hour before he slowly made his way out of the alley.

He walked along the street. The walls lining the sides were pale white in colour and lined with crimson-red lanterns. There was hardly a trace of any humans on the street right now. The silence was almost chilling.

Qin Ye retrieved a small flute from his bosom. The body of the flute was white as snow, yet evidently different from the colour of jade. The flute was peculiar, to say the least. In fact, parts of it were bent and crooked, and several holes appeared to have been chiseled onto its surface somewhat haphazardly. It belonged to the class of goods that nobody would ever bother to even inspect at a road-side stall.

That said, Arthis was somewhat surprised by the sight of it, “A human bone flute? A flute made from a virgin girl’s shin bone that can serve as a medium between the netherworld and the mortal realm. Its technical name is the Big Dipper Flute. You have something like this?”

Qin Ye smiled faintly, “I’d never expected the esteemed provincial bureaucrat would even know that this is called the Big Dipper Flute.”

As Qin Ye walked along the silent street, he lifted the flute to his lips and began to blow into it.

A shrill and mournful yet clear and crisp sound began to resound from the flute. Wherever he walked, the wandering souls on the street would tremble and prostrate themselves before him. Then, wisps of corporeal Yin energy that could be seen with the naked eye began to emanate from the bottom of his feet. As the sounds of the flute began to grow more melodious, the Yin energy condensing near his feet grew thicker and thicker. Several minutes later, the Yin energy had grown so thick that it looked almost as though he were walking on a black cloud of sorts.

Just like that, he walked on, one house after the other. Then, just as he was about to reach the end of the street, two crows perched on the roofs of houses on both sides on the road suddenly cawed in unison.

Caw! Caw!

These were the only two crows present along the entire stretch of dark streets.

“This is…” Arthis was refreshed by the sight of a new experience. After all, when did she ever have to bother herself with such trivial, menial tasks in her hundreds of years as an Infernal Judge? In fact, she had even begun to feel lacking in certain regards.

Ah, I guess it’s to be expected. Someone that can remain hidden and inconspicuous among humans despite bearing the identity of a monstrosity must have his way about things. Am I truly fated to be a flower adorning the frozen throne…?

“They’re domesticated.” Qin Ye stopped playing and shook the flute slightly, “This is called a Yin artifact. Professional underworldly craftsmen would immediately be able to identify the sound of a Yin artifact. In fact, it’s only when they hear an authentic Yin artifact that these underworldly craftsmen would personally welcome its owner as a guest. After all, it’s a sign that we tread the same path in life. Crows are also known as the welcoming birds of the underworldly craftsmen. As long as the craftsmen are willing to extend their support to a kindred spirit, the crows would immediately welcome their guest.”

Qin Ye then looked mischievously to both sides of the street, “That said… I’d never thought that there would be two craftsmen at the exact same place at the exact same time. I’m now ninety percent certain that the phantom market has come to Clear Creek County.”

Squeak… Just then, the store fronts on both sides of the street opened at the same time. The left store front was opened by an old man dressed in a Taoist robe. Yawning, he exclaimed, “From where does this fellow Taoist hail?”

He was approximately sixty to seventy years-old with a goatee on his face and glasses on his eyes. He was sickly thin.

The door on the right had also opened, revealing a lady in the mid-forties munching on a bag of chips. She was round as a ball, and her cheeks were pink and rosy, accentuated only by her clean, short hair. As soon as she opened the door, she mumbled, “Who’s that! Blowing and blowing and blowing on your flute, eh?! Here I am trying to catch up on my dramas, yet you can’t even let me do so in peace…”

They opened their doors at the same time; they stepped out at the same time; and they also noticed at the same time… the swirling, corporeal Yin energy that was surrounding Qin Ye’s feet as his robes billowed in the air without the presence of wind.

Silence.

Three seconds later, “IT’S A GHOST! AAAAAAAHHH!!!” Two loud shrill cries shattered the silent night skies, before they were quickly followed by the loud thuds of two slamming doors.

…………………………………………..

It was 8.45 p.m. 

Location - between house numbers 3 and 82, Ethnic Minority Street, Clear Creek County, Westriver Province.

Huang Sanhe leaned against the door. His entire body was trembling and his teeth were chattering incessantly. It was hardly a cold night, yet chills continued to run down his back.

His mind was in a mess. It was in an absolute mess.

“It’s a mistake… It must have been a mistake… Hah-... It’s impossible. Nobody could possibly control that much Yin energy all at once. Back then, when my grandfather’s grandfather hung up a portrait of the Anitya Hellguard and summoned a soul from the netherworld, the Hellguard didn’t even show up. I’m most certainly mistaken. My eyes are playing tricks on me…”

Even though he continued to mutter and mumble, his fingers didn’t stop moving for a single moment. Strand after strand of black threads were zipping about nimbly between his fingers almost as though they were alive. He looked almost as though he were playing a game of rope flip.

It had to be mentioned that the threads appeared somewhat peculiar. They were neither silk nor wool. In fact, it is only upon closer inspection that one would be able to tell that these threads were woven from the hairs of a human head! The threads gleamed with a dark oily glow. It was difficult to tell just how many instances of treatment these materials had undergone by now.

Yet, the more his fingers moved, the more flustered he got. This was because he knew full well that this must be the most powerful ghost he had ever encountered, and the ghost could not have come knocking on his door for no reason.

Thud. Just then, the door rattled once, and the man jumped as though pricked with a pin! Just a moment ago, he was still leaning intently against the door; yet in the very next moment, he had already backed all the way to the cabinet, screaming at the top of his lungs, “D-d-don’t come any closer!”

“M-my family has never committed any atrocities! Y-you shouldn’t be looking for me!”

There was silence at the door for a moment. And then, a calm voice spoke, “Linker?”

Click… As soon as the words fell, the lock on the door opened on its own. The old man first noticed the plump lady’s entire body quivering as she stood aghast behind the man dressed in flowing black robes. Then, he saw how the man in black robes simply… drifted in!

Thud. The door shut softly. Qin Ye surveyed his surroundings quickly. The old man’s room was simple and humble - cases of incense, couplets, and various artifacts and talismans. Qin Ye snorted in his heart.

These were people who specialized in profiteering from the dead. They appeared to be living humbly, yet the charges for each assignment they undertook started from RMB20,000 to RMB30,000! These guys were far richer than Qin Ye was!

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