Gurgle… Mo Changqing covered his nose and his mouth as he fell into the depths of the sea. It was only in that moment that he experienced an excruciating pain surging throughout his body.
It felt no different from having his limbs being ripped from his limbs. The sheer force of the crashing tsunami had been overwhelming, and he could count his lucky stars if he were to get out of this ordeal alive. Blood was already seeping out of his seven apertures.
He was already seeing stars as he swam desperately to the surface. But just then, the surface of the sea flickered with a bright light, followed quickly by… a dim sheen of light from the stars that cast the dark, distorted shadows of a throng of ghosts on the surface of the seas.
And there were innumerable spots of underworldly flames hovering eerily above the waters.
From below, the spots of netherflames looked no different from the constellations in the sky above, shining with a lurid green glow. And then, the dark shadow of Azai Nagamasa’s great armor finally appeared.
“Haa--...” Mo Changqing subconsciously spat out a mouthful of bubbles in shock, before quickly covering his lips again.
How terrifying… How nefarious… This is an Anitya Hellguard. Furthermore, it’s a Hellguard that harbours great grievances in death! The aura of resentment about it far exceeds any hunting zone I’ve ever seen before!
This is an evil ghost that is at least two hundred years old!
How is this possible… How did such a powerful evil ghost end up at the Strait of Tsushima?!
His hands and feet froze in fear as he stared at the living hell above him with great despair. He was still underwater, yet he could already hear the eerie moans of the countless evil ghosts that echoed Azai Nagamasa’s great hatred and resentment. In particular, this was a deep-seated hatred borne out of being forced to a point of suicide, as well as a lingering resentment for the murder of his children. It was a four century long grudge. Countless Yin spirits adhered themselves to the great armor, boring in and out of its cracks from time to time. The palpable murderous intent was so strong that it bore straight through the rushing waters and pricked him on each and every single ones of his pores like tiny needles.
Whoosh… Two scarlet flames lit up from underneath the helmet, while his vicious shadow blanketed the waters. Then, it directed its blazing gaze to those who were around, “I am Saruyashamaru, one of the great retainers of the Nipponese Hell. All who interfere with my plans shall be slain without mercy.”
Azai Nagamasa was trembling with excitement, “I’ll give you one last chance to surrender right where you are. Otherwise… I wouldn’t mind turning this place into a hell of flesh and blood. Those who understand what I’m saying should raise their hands in submission to me.”
There were still several silhouettes drifting about underwater. Cultivators don’t die that easily after all. That said, their frightened expressions quickly turned into a grave and somber one.
A multitude of evil ghosts had surfaced in the mortal realm, breaching the ironclad rule that the world of the Yin and the world of the Yang were not to intersect or interfere with each other. Therefore, regardless of the reason for their insurgence, they had to stand on the front line valiantly to resist the incursion of the forces of Yin!
This was their duty as cultivators and representatives of the mortal realm!
It was time for them to repay society for how it has provided for them and cared for them all this while.
Furthermore, if they were to turn tail and escape right now, the Special Investigations Department would most certainly discover their traitorous deeds and sentence them to a punishment that was worse than death in battle.
All special regimes were backed by the threat of enforcement of certain fundamental rules. In this regard, there was only one such ironclad rule for joining the Special Investigations Department - All shall not retreat from a battlefield! All who retreat shall be executed for treason!
Mo Changqin’s heart was no longer thumping wildly like before. He placed both hands at his waist, tightening his grip around the hilt of his weapon ferociously. Then, he turned to look at the silhouettes of the other cultivators who were underwater as well - not a single person had raised their hands in surrender.
“Very well.” Ten seconds later, Azai Nagamasa chuckled contemptuously, “That man will have a bunch of other human beings accompanying him to the grave. How wonderful… how truly wonderful…”
“This is a beautiful reunion after all… so what’s a reunion without some flesh and blood?”
“Pirate of Hachiman, do it. Don’t mind the Blessings of Virtue. I’ve waited four hundred long years for my revenge. I’ll have no regrets even if I perish immediately after slaying Oda Nobunaga.”
Swish… As soon as he finished speaking, Azai Nagamasa’s entire body transformed into a netherflame that scattered immediately. Simultaneously, Mo Changqing felt the water below him tremble slightly.
What had otherwise been a tranquil seabed appeared to have suddenly come alive, and Mo Changqing found himself being tossed about uncontrollably by the waters below in just an instant.
This is… A notion struck him, and he immediately looked down with great astonishment.
The depths of the sea were no different from a bottomless abyss.
Just then, a terrifying roar resounded from the bottom of the pitch-black abyss. Mo Changqing recoiled in horror, and he immediately scrambled and struggled to swim to the surface.
That wasn’t the roar of a single entity.
Rather… it was the mournful cry of innumerable evil ghosts all at once! This was a throng of grievous spirits that were currently expressing their insatiable thirst and hunger for flesh and blood!
The other cultivators that had been submerged underwater were of the same mind as they scrambled for the surface as well. And just as they began their struggle for life, countless spots of netherflames appeared like constellations on the seabed as well.
These were skeletons dressed in ancient Nipponese shrine uniforms with tall hats.
All of them had their mouths gaping wide open at this instant. Their eyes blazed with an eerie netherflame, while their hair were scattered in the waters in a disheveled manner. Each of them carried the banner of the Azai Clan on their backs as they rushed straight up from the depths of the sea with the exact same erect standing posture.
Mo Changqing’s heart sank. Plumb corpses were corpses that continued to stand straight and tall even after their death by drowning. This was a phenomenon that wouldn’t occur unless the person who perished had harboured great grievances while he was still alive. In fact, the resentment that these corpses harboured was so strong that not even the Seven Underworldly Craftsmen would generally think of working with these corpses unless there was good reason to do so.
Yet, in this very moment, a throng of them had appeared out of nowhere, and were now charging straight towards the cultivators from all directions like piranhas that had smelt the delightful stench of blood!
“Damn!!” He cursed in his heart. The plumb corpses moved incredibly quickly underwater, and they managed to catch up to the cultivators in the span of ten seconds. And as soon as they managed to close the distance, the plumb corpses instantly turned their heads in unison.
The throng of plumb corpses were now staring transfixed at him in the middle of the ocean.
Mo Changqing’s heart skipped a beat. Then, a split second later, the plumb corpses opened their gaping wide mouths and unleashed a horrific, blood-curdling cry as they darted straight towards him like a swarm of piranhas!
“Path of Righteousness! Impenetrable Armor! Heavenly Movements! Seize the Skies!” Mo Changqing’s eyes grew bloodshot. He no longer even deigned to cover his nose and his mouth as he formed hand seals as quickly as he could. He slammed his palms heavily together, and a flash of bright light surrounded his body, branding a series of mysterious words on his body. A split second later, a thick layer of smoke wrapped around his body underwater, and his speed instantly doubled as he continued to charge straight up to the surface of the waters!
And he wasn’t the only one. All of the other cultivators reacted in the same manner. There were too many of them! The plumb corpses numbered in the hundreds, and possibly even in the thousands! Furthermore, the weakest of these already possessed strength that was equivalent to that of an Operative-class expert!
The march of Yin soldiers!
These were proper Yin soldiers which constituted the bulk of the fighting force of any underworld. These weren’t existences that they could easily go toe to toe against!
Furthermore, these were the forces under the command of only one general. There were still the forces of several other generals lying in wait in the Strait of Tsushima, including Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Sanada Yukimura, Date Masamune, and Takeda Shingen, among others. None of these mighty daimyos have made their move yet.
They were waiting.
Biding their time and preparing themselves for the moment that Oda Nobunaga appears, when they would finally settle the centuries-long feud of theirs.
One of the cultivators gnashed his teeth underwater. He had only recently broken through to become a Hunter-class expert, and he didn’t have any Hunter-class trump cards hidden up his sleeves. Naturally, he was one of the cultivators who were lagging behind the most. Even though there weren’t many plumb corpses in pursuit of him right now, their numbers still weren’t something that he could easily deal with on his own.
Faster… faster! As long as I can get back onto the cruise liner, I’ll be able to alert the Special Investigations Department to this anomaly. And then, they’ll definitely send someone over! His body was imbued with a speed technique such that he moved more quickly than the plumb corpses that were hot on his tail. He looked up at the surface of the waters, and he judged that there was only approximately one hundred meters before he would soon arrive at the surface of the sea.
But, just then, the blood coursing through his veins suddenly froze in horror.
Whoosh… A massive figure had just appeared overhead. It was approximately a hundred meters in size, and it swept across the grim surface of the seas.
That’s… a sea serpent with a human face?
Or is it meant to be a fish?
He didn’t know. Nor did he bother to find out, because his teeth had already begun to chatter uncontrollably in response to the presence of the menacing figure. The overwhelming sensation of fear made it patently clear to him - that figure belonged to a Hellguard-class ghost!
But his fear lasted only for a single second. In the next second, his entire body trembled as he glanced back down below with bloodshot eyes.
The plumb corpses had vanished without a trace.
Instead, a man’s face had now appeared beneath him in the deep dark sea.
That said, what was most peculiar about this man’s face was the fact that he was unusually large, to the tune of thirty to forty meters wide. As a result of the size of his face, he made it possible to see every bit of his appearances, including a full beard underneath his lips, as well as rows after rows of razor sharp teeth.
Furthermore, this man had the body of a fish.
The man smiled. It was a pleasant smile, almost as though he were satisfied with the delectable meal that had presented itself in front of him.
“I am the Pirate of Hachiman, Kuki Yoshitaka, also known as the Samurai of the Seas. It has been four hundred years, and yet the taste of human flesh is still just as alluring as ever to me…” The man’s lips trembled as he spoke words directly into the ears of the cultivator in the waters.
A pampus soul…
The last thought that ran through his mind pertained to the pampus soul. Legend has it that those who died in rivers and had their corpses gnawed away by fish would have no body remaining for the soul to take shape. Therefore, these souls would instead take the form of a fish, and thereby transform into a pampus soul. These were terrifying evil spirits - one of the most fearsome ones who lived underwater. They devoured everything within sight…
The man’s thoughts stopped there.
A second later, the pampus soul opened his jaws wide and took a huge bite at him in an instant!
Then, the pampus soul’s massive body propelled him forward. In fact, this was a two-headed sea serpent with a human face on both the head and the tail of the eel-like body. Countless plumb corpses drifted by its side as the Samurai of the Sea darted forward with a shrill shriek, charging straight towards the cruise liner!
He opened his mouth once more.
And then, he began to draw a breath of water!
Given his terrifying size, the single breath caused a massive whirlpool to form right on the surface of the sea, and the cruise ship began to emit soft creaking sounds as it was slowly pulled into the depths of the vortex!
“Ahhh!!!” The dozens of tycoons screamed miserably in their rooms as they clung to the feet of their beds desperately. Fortunately, the beds in each room were welded to the ground, because they soon felt the cruise ship tilting more and more, until it was almost completely horizontal at a ninety degree angle!
“Dear… heavens…” A cultivator who had managed to swim to the surface of the sea stared at the incredible sight with great trembling on his lips.
As far as he could tell, there were two massive netherfire pupils that were blazing underwater. These clumps of netherflames were several meters in size, and located not too far from the surface of the sea. In fact, he could even barely make out the appearance of a human face underneath the clumps of netherflame pupils, and he could tell that the human face… was intent on devouring the entire cruise liner!
A dark moonlit night, and a massive ghostly face surrounded by a legion of ghosts was currently attempting to devour an entire vessel. This terrifying sight caused his hair to stand on end. However, he didn’t retreat.
While the path of a cultivator was filled with glory and honour, the very same path was also filled with duties, obligations, and most importantly, responsibilities!
What goes around, comes around.
Everything suddenly appeared to quieten down around him. It was a strange sensation, almost as though his mind were abruptly awash with a flood of memories.
And in that instant, he could feel the true energy stirring wildly and erupting from every pore in his body!
In fact, he could even sense a slightly warm sensation emanating from a particular hidden acupoint in his body. His master had previously taught him that his life would come to an end as soon as he tapped on the powers locked within this acupoint. And in this very moment, he could feel every bit of true energy within his body rushing straight towards that acupoint, almost as though… he were unlocking the physical limitations of a Hunter-class expert.
He glanced about at his surroundings, only to realize that the other twenty-eight Soul Hunters that were earlier on the deck of the ship were all smiling faintly at him.
He, too, smiled faintly back.
“Hidden arts… Domain of the Seventy-Two Furies, open!!!”