The austere atmosphere that filled the room when Qin Ye first entered was completely gone with the wind. Instead, Emperor Wu of Song stared intently at Qin Ye, almost as though he were attempting to bore a hole through him with the sheer force of photons from his eyes.
Five full minutes later, he finally coughed dryly, “What… was that all about?”
“The annual report on the progress of works in Hell.” Qin Ye straightened his attire and responded placidly, “Weren’t you questioning the basis for which I’ve been chosen as the next King Yanluo of Hell? I’m showing you the basis right now.”
Emperor Wu of Song grew taciturn.
He couldn’t help but sigh wistfully in his heart. The momentum which he had worked so hard to generate had all been dashed to pieces. But it was precisely because of this that he began to pay attention to the unassuming kid standing before him right now.
A future King Yanluo who doesn’t seem to play by the rules, huh...He gazed deeply at Qin Ye. He was personally here to convince the new lord of Hell to come to terms with the reality around him. The new Hell was in its nascent stages of development, and it would most certainly be fraught with challenges, whether from within or from without. What better time was there than to ride the wave of the massive upheaval and declare independence from Hell right now?
In fact, he wasn’t the only one putting these plans to motion - several other lords of vassal states have already begun to stir with the same intentions. That said, the only difference was that the other vassal states didn’t possess the same kind of strength he did.
Unfortunately, all of his plans had just been single handedly levelled by Qin Ye’s show of chaotic blows. Qin Ye’s mind-numbing verbal onslaught had dragged him from a place of homeground advantage to completely unfamiliar territories, where he then stood in a daze in the center of the ring while Qin Ye ran circles around him using his wealth of experience.
“These are the contents of your governmental meetings? The great imperial court meetings?” Emperor Wu of Song’s eyes narrowed. He had finally managed to pull himself together and regain his composure, “Aren’t you afraid that I’ll be able to extrapolate from these figures and assess the exact state which Hell is in right now?”
Qin Ye nearly couldn’t resist the urge to burst out laughing.
If you think you can infer the exact state of a nation from these working committee reports of theirs, then these governmental committees would most certainly have been fired a long time ago!
It couldn’t be helped. Governmental agencies these days were all paper pushers that were masters at putting on a show. If one actually delved deeper into the figures and statistics cited or the work that was listed, they would only come to learn - and to their great dismay, no less - that everything stated was completely of no substance at all! How does one even begin writing tens of thousands of words about matters that were at best ancillary to the core development of their nation, and yet make it sound like progress?!
I’ve been blabbering at length about nothing of substance for the last half an hour just to make you think I’m awesome! Are you actually trying to intimidate me and make me back down with a show of strength? Come on. I practically grew up on propaganda of all sizes, shapes and forms! Do you really think I won’t be able to circumvent your tactics and reframe the issue to my advantage?
“You can try.” Qin Ye picked up the glass of wine in front of him and swirled it about casually, “And even if you were able to assess the exact state that Hell is in right now, so what? King of Hanyang, we now live in an era where the aggregate strength of an underworld trumps the abilities of any individual out there. You may be able to kill me a hundred times over, but are you truly confident in razing to the ground millions of Yin soldiers who are standing in formation?”
“My underworld is stronger than yours, I’ve got more money than you, and I’ve got more ghosts at my disposal. I can crush you at any time. You’re only the lord of Hanyang’s underworld. So what if you’ve managed to unify Daehan’s underworld?”
Arthis hung her head down sheepishly.
When she thought about the actual state which Hell was in right now, she couldn’t help but praise Qin Ye for how thick-skinned he was.
On the other hand, Emperor Wu of Song grew silent for the third time.
Although he couldn’t fully appreciate what Qin Ye was talking about, he could still sense that this man was a master when it came to managing internal affairs. Naturally, he knew that it was only going to be a matter of time before Hell prospered once more. After all, it was rare to find someone able to rule with flexibility, toggling between an iron fist and a soft approach as best fits the situation. Besides, he didn’t have the guts to provoke Lord Harken or incur the wrath of the heavenly dao.
Having lived for over a millennium, he knew exactly where his limits were.
Thus, he finally responded with sincerity, “How should I address you?”
“Qin.” Qin Ye responded succinctly.
“King Yanluo Qin.” Emperor Wu of Song poured himself another glass of wine and raised his glass, “Well then, let’s get straight to the point, shall we?”
If one were to say that there were certain inappropriate contemplations on his mind at the start of these negotiations, then everything would most certainly have been sealed to the deepest recesses of his heart by now.
“I’m happy to hear more.” Qin Ye lifted his wine glass slightly in response, “I, too, am curious as to why the first and only person in the history of Cathay to be described as invincible was posted overseas?”
“Posted?” Emperor Wu of Song was momentarily taken aback, before he soon revealed a complex smile on his face, “I suppose you could call it that. In any event, it seems that Lady Arakshasa hasn’t apprised you of the exact details. But since we’re here, let me recount everything to you.”
“King of Hanyang.” Arthis muttered coldly, “Are you attempting to intervene with Cathay’s internal affairs?”
Emperor Wu of Song smiled faintly. Then, a split second later, there was a massive rush of wind and a thunderous sound, and a small wine glass was instantly sent hurtling towards Arthis like a meteorite. Arthis’ pupils constricted, and her hair began to scatter. With a furious cry, she waved her sleeves ferociously, repelling the wine glass and sending it flying several meters away. Like a ricocheting bullet, it punctured a considerably large hole in the pillar next to her.
Qin Ye’s heart skipped a beat. Arthis had taken a step back in this simple exchange, and yet Emperor Wu of Song didn’t even move at all.
“This is an exchange between kings. Is it your place to interject at will?” Emperor Wu of Song muttered coldly, “If not for the fact that we were once acquaintances and colleagues, you would already be dead by now!”
“You really don’t think of me as an Infernal Judge, do you…?” Arthis’ hair began to scatter wildly like menacing, venomous snakes, “You may be ranked first among the list of Infernal Judges back then, but I was also ranked a highly respectable forty-second among thousands of Judges. So, what’s this all about? Do you really want to go all out against me?”
“Arakshasa.” Qin Ye called out just as the situation was escalating, “You may take your leave first. Let me speak with the king of Hanyang alone.”
Arthis didn’t retort. Instead, she bowed slightly, and then promptly took her leave.
With that, the only two who remained in the great hall were none other than Qin Ye and Emperor Wu of Song. Emperor Wu of Song held his wine up and gazed into the distance, almost as though he were recounting the memories of ages past. After a long time, he finally muttered, “King Yanluo Qin, are you aware that I’m not the only Judge who hasn’t been hauled off to paradise with Ksitigarbha?”
Qin Ye’s eyes instantly narrowed, and yet he responded with a placid tone of voice, “I’m not aware.”
“I’ve only assumed office a little while ago, and there’s much for me to learn and discover.”
Emperor Wu of Song nodded, “That’s only to be expected. You’ve got your hands tied with the multitude of things to be done right now, so where would you find the time to even bother with these things? That said… are you aware of how we’ve managed to remain unaffected?”
Without missing a beat, he stood up and began to walk slowly towards Qin Ye. His blazing golden pupils locked eyes with Qin Ye, “You should be aware that Hell was once the most tyrannical underworld in the entire world.”
“Even Hades and Anubis wouldn’t dare lift a finger against Hell.” He straightened his back, and then continued with great emotion, “Back then… the phrase ‘By Hell’s Dictum, all rabble shall disperse’ was one that would instantly strike fear into the hearts of all around. All inter-underworldly conferences would invariably be held on our turf and under our conditions. It was glorious and awesome…”
“And that was also when Cathay colonized several lordless regions.”
Qin Ye furrowed his brows, “Lordless regions?”
Emperor Wu of Song gently swirled about the contents of his wine glass, “That’s right. The conditions for the existence of an underworld are rather exacting. Firstly, it must be built on a country. The national borders of the country would also act as the border of the underworld. That’s the first ironclad condition.”
“And the second condition…” He lowered his head and smiled faintly, “Would be that of belief.”
“In that regard, it requires complete belief, whether it be through mythology or religion. After all, it’s only when beliefs exist on earth that the position of a corresponding god in the underworld is created and can exist. That’s also when an underworld becomes formally recognized by the heavenly dao.”
“That said, how many nations are there in the mortal realm that don’t have such beliefs?”
Qin Ye lowered his head and looked at the crystal clear wine in his glass. Emperor Wu of Song’s words were laden with meaning, and Qin Ye immediately thought of the implications of his words.
There were only that many complete sets of religions and myths in the world that would qualify for the conditions for an underworld. He didn’t know the exact number of these qualifying beliefs that existed, but it would never be more than the number of countries that existed!
And since that were the case, the countries that didn’t have such beliefs would naturally have lordless underworlds!
He finally understood how Emperor Wu of Song was able to survive the great collapse of Hell.
Emperor Wu of Song continued, “The West belongs to Hades and Anubis, while the East... is primarily dominated by Cathay and Hindustan! In particular, Cathay’s influence over the region is so great that it completely overshadows Hindustan’s achievements!”
“Since time immemorial, Hindustan has never had an era of prosperity that comes close to what we’ve experienced at our Peak. At Cathay’s peak, we had vassal states everywhere, and these could arguably be considered part of our territory. At the very least, we were able to receive the souls of Yin spirits from those places.”
“And as territories grow, so do the number of officials required to manage these places. Thus…” He pointed at himself, “Lords of vassal states, otherwise also known as feudal officials, were born.”
Qin Ye sighed.
It was exactly like what he thought. In fact, it was quite similar to what was going on in the mortal realm right now.
Peacekeeping troops, garrisons in various countries… The same motif was repeated in all shapes and sizes, and the same was true for Cathay a thousand years ago. So long as the leaders of these garrisons weren’t physically located within its national borders, they would naturally be excluded from the extent of Ksitigarbha’s reach.
If that’s the case…
Just how many of such garrisons are there in existence out there right now?
Qin Ye couldn’t wait to return to the old Hell and check its records! He couldn’t wait to ask Arthis just how many garrisons of Yin soldiers Hell had stationed overseas, and where exactly they were located!
Defense is important, but that’s only one side of the coin. The other side… Qin Ye refused to believe that there weren’t any Yin spirits garrisoned overseas that weren’t dedicated and loyal to Cathay altogether!
After all, these were people of antiquity that would have been garrisoned overseas. People of antiquity were known to be most concerned with matters of loyalty, filial piety, rituals, wisdom and beliefs. Emperor Wu of Song might have developed his own thoughts because he was an emperor of his own time. However… the rest might not be the same as him!
Furthermore, the Yin spirits that qualified to be sent overseas would most certainly have been famous people in their own rights while they were still alive!
The flame of Cathayan history hasn’t been completely extinguished! If I can just locate these garrisons, I might even be able to secure one of the famous generals for myself!
Arthis, oh Arthis… you’re such a fool… Your IQ has fallen to a tragic state ever since you’ve been exposed to the internet…
He forcibly suppressed the swelling emotions in his heart, and placidly responded, “About these… feudal officials, as you call it, what are the selection requirements for these overseas assignments?”
Emperor Wu of Song was oblivious to Qin Ye’s state of mind right now. Emperor Wu of Song’s perspective of this posting of his was inherently different from all of the other feudal officials who were sent overseas as well. He was sent out as an emperor - an assignment befitting only of the stronger Infernal Judge at his time. Furthermore, he was only sent to the nearby region of Hanyang, unlike most of the other feudal officials. Thus, how could he possibly be aware of what Qin Ye was thinking right now?
Emperor Wu of Song deliberated for a moment, “I recall that only those who have completed five hundred years of service with a political performance rating of 80% and above qualify to be selected for these postings. Moreover, applicants had to be well-versed in both politics and military affairs.”
In other words… these people must be one of the famous talents of their time!
Qin Ye was brimming with excitement, “I understand. Then, king of Hanyang… are you trying to break away from the Cathayan underworld right now?”
“A dragon wouldn’t be able to display its great elegance if confined to shallow waters, would it?” Emperor Wu of Song turned away and returned to his throne. Then, he gazed intently at Qin Ye once more, “I’m going to cut to the chase. I want you to endorse an agreement for the king of Hanyang’s release from the Cathayan underworld, and I’ll also need the erasure of my name from Hell’s Records itself. Thereafter, we’ll cease to have anything to do with each other. King Yanluo Qin, what do you say?”
His voice quivered lightly. This was the culmination of a thousand years of his innermost desire. And he had finally encountered this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it to fruition!
“Certainly.” Qin Ye responded without any hesitation.
Emperor Wu of Song was stunned by his response. He had never expected Qin Ye to agree to his request so readily.
A rush of excitement surged from his heart, and Emperor Wu of Song licked his shriveled lips with great emotion, “You cannot go back on your words.”
“Not one bit.” Qin Ye continued to stare intently at Emperor Wu of Song. Then, just as Emperor Wu of Song was about to slam the table and shoot to his feet, Qin Ye abruptly added, “But, I’ve got my conditions.”
The entire hall instantly turned frigid.
Qin Ye could even sense a palpable murderous intent burgeoning about him and closing in on him.
“What’s the hurry?” Qin Ye picked up his wine glass and smiled, “Is this the extent of tolerance of a man who was once called invincible?”
“Or… did you think I would deliberately seek to make things difficult for you when I had already given my word?”
Qin Ye gently took a sip of wine, and the smile on his lips widened, “Don’t worry… it’s going to be a win-win situation… one that is of huge benefit to both of us.”
1. The actual word used here is in fact religion, and it seems to suggest state religion. However, that wouldn’t seem to cohere with the existence of hades and other underworlds based on mythology, so I’ve translated this as belief instead.