The copious amounts of Yin energy on the surface of the sea looked no different from a blooming black spider lily on the ocean. The skeletal hounds lay prone on the ground, lowering their heads obsequiously as they opened up a path for what appeared to be their lord and master.
A second later, a stream of white paper money abruptly began to shoot into the air from the heart of the roiling Yin energy, scattering about endlessly as though paving the way for the arrival of an important person. It was followed quickly by the blares of sornas that played a shrill and peculiar piece, before dozens of humanoid paper effigies marched out of the roiling clouds, beating on gongs and drums as they did.
The procession of humanoid paper effigies revealed a large red palanquin that sat on their shoulders in a nondescript manner. The palanquin was old, and had ostensibly seen its fair share of years. In fact, it looked no different from one that had just been excavated from an archaeological site.
An old, withered hand lifted the curtain, revealing a blood-red eye that peeked out from the darkness within. The remaining golden glow of the sun revealed the faint appearances of the man within.
It was an old man with a bald head.
The old man had white eyebrows but no beard. His eyes were scarlet in colour, and he was dressed in a long, majestic robe that was befitting of emperors. His skin was covered with old age spots. He appeared to be a living person, yet at the same time seemed to be devoid of any traces of vitality, almost as though he was an entity that had just crawled right out of the grave.
Seconds later, the wall of Yin soldiers standing in front of Pusan neatly parted, making way for a two-meter tall bone horse carrying Emperor Wu of Song in the full glory of his gilded golden armor. The netherflame in his eyes flickered brightly, and he stared at the old man directly across the waters, before finally lamenting, “So… it’s you…”
“It’s no mean feat to actually survive the great ordeal of the path of the asura.”
“That’s right. It wasn’t easy.” The old man responded hoarsely as he laughed.
The smile on his face was incomparably strange, almost as though the muscles on his face didn’t move at all. Only the corner of his lips curled up slightly, revealing a row of razor-sharp teeth within.
“I’m not trying to make an enemy of you.” The old man let down the curtain of his palanquin once more, “I’m looking for something. Grant me passage, and I promise not to touch a single hair of the Hanyang underworld.”
“Get lost.” Emperor Wu of Song sneered, “Hell is still in existence, so do you really think you have the right to discuss terms and conditions with me?”
“Cough cough cough…” Violent coughs could be heard from within the palanquin, “So… Hell is actually still in existence… That’s right. I did sense some fluctuations resembling the establishment of an underworld just about a year ago… Excellent. Truly excellent… To think that you would speak of such matters in such a righteous way…”
Before he even finished speaking, Yin energy erupted from the palanquin like a raging tsunami that rose a hundred meters high into the air! Innumerable spots of netherflames lit up in the darkness within, while a cacophony of ghostly cries filled the air. It was almost as though a rift had been opened to the Eighteen Abysses of Punishment!
The old man’s voice hissed like a venomous viper, “You were the ones who had sold us information on the establishment of the new Hell, so what right to you have to speak with such authority, as though you hold the moral high ground?!”
Emperor Wu of Song remained taciturn, but he held his ground stoically.
Whoosh… The hundred-meter tall billowing cloud of Yin energy slowly converged together and took the shape of the old man’s twisted appearances, and two large scarlet netherflames lit up in his eyes and stared intently at Emperor Wu of Song. Countless wailing ghosts with contorted expressions faded in and out of the old man’s facial projection in the clouds. And then… rows after rows of scarlet lights suddenly lip up in the darkness.
They were lines of red lanterns that appeared to line a boulevard leading straight into Fengdu Necropolis. An eerie nethergale swept through the path, while Yin spirits abounded around it.
“We couldn’t be sure as to whether a new Hell has been established.” The illusory image in the sky smiled viciously, “But you confirmed it for us. Why?”
“Because you, too, wish to rise up against the authority of Hell! Our goals are aligned! We no longer want to be puppets of the old Hell. The world is our oyster, and it’s ripe for our taking… So, let me ask you again - what basis do you have to take the moral high ground in our conversation over here?!”
Emperor Wu of Song finally responded, “There’s still a difference.”
He raised the spear in hand gently, and the thousands of Yin soldiers standing in formation did likewise in a majestic fashion. Then, they all pointed their spears directly towards the palanquin as Emperor Wu of Song continued, “I am an existence that is blessed by the heavens and possesses eternal life! I deserve the throneship over all of Cathay! I’m not an existence that can be compared in the same breath as the rest of the twelve envoys, much less the daolords of the six paths who are no different from Yin fiends in my eyes!”
“My purpose is to overthrow Hell, bring light to the world and restore Cathay to the former glories of the Song Dynasty! How can you compare your crass, self-serving purposes with me?!”
Back in the palanquin, the old man’s eyes shrank when he heard these words. His grip tightened around his armrest, and the nails on his hands suddenly extended by an inch or so. The whites of his eyes turned black, while his needle-eye shaped pupils abruptly turned white. Following that, copious amounts of Yin energy began to pour out of his seven apertures. There wasn’t a single trace of humanity left on him in this very moment.
The old man gritted his razor-sharp teeth, and he didn’t even notice it when a black, viscous liquid flowed out of his lips and stained the lapels on his robe.
It was corpse water.
When a person passes away, bacteria and viruses would continually spread, grow and fester in the absence of the body’s defense system. In turn, the bacteria and viruses would begin to break down sugars and proteins to form soluble compounds, thus producing what is known as corpse water.
Within moments, the corpse water began to make a sizzling sound on his clothes, before slowly corroding it at a speed that was visible to the naked eye!
Just then, a pair of hands covered with purple livor mortis spots suddenly pulled open the robes.
It was a child’s hands.
A moment later, the old man took a deep breath and leaned back into the seat within his palanquin and chuckled coldly, “And what if I’m hell bent on heading over?”
“You can try.” Emperor Wu of Song chuckled contemptuously, before raising his spear to the sky once more. A split second later, earth-shattering thumps of war drums echoed from Pusan and swept across the surface of the waters, causing the sea to stir violently. Then, the wall of mounted soldiers parted like the red sea once more, and thousands upon thousands of Yin foot soldiers rushed out to the beating of the drums.
They, too, wore ancient Cathayan armor. However, they were not skeletons. The first row of soldiers were armed with a sword on one hand and a shield in the other. As soon as they stood in formation in front of the sea, they raised their sword and swung down in unison.
The old man’s eyes narrowed. The unified strike of the soldiers had artificially stirred up a tidal wave that was ten-meters tall.
And this wasn’t all.
He could see that thousands of bows and arrows were raised into the air right behind the wall of shielded soldiers. To be more precise, there were three rows of archers standing in formation right behind the first row of shielded troops. And the sheer number of troops stretched over hundreds of meters from end to end.
Whoosh… One of the arrowheads lit up like an eerie fire in the dead of the night. Like a trigger, the other arrowheads soon began to light up on fire as well - a second… a third… a hundred… a thousand… five thousand… ten thousand!
Over ten thousand spots of netherflames were lit up in a menacing matrix of flaming arrows that was primed and ready to fire into the sea in front of Pusan at the moment’s notice!
“Thirty thousand soldiers… Hahaha… Liu Jinu, feudal officials are only entitled to an army of five thousand. What audacity. To think that you would raise a private army!” The old man didn’t sound panicked in the slightest. Instead, he simply laughed shrilly, “I understand. What you’re saying is that it doesn’t matter which of the twelve envoys rise up against the new Hell. Whoever succeeds will be the one who is blessed by the heavens to reign supreme. But… I, a daolord, am precluded from all of this?”
Liu Yu glanced placidly in the direction of Hell, “Wrong.”
“What I’m saying is that none of you qualify at all!”
The Yin energy on the sea in front of Pusan grew thicker and thicker, until it finally swallowed up all of the skeletal hounds laying prone on the ground, and only innumerable spots of glowing red eyes could be seen peeking through the darkness. On the other side, the thirty thousand Yin soldiers were lined up in formation, awaiting the signal to rush into battle. The Yin energy that poured out was so dense that they blotted out the sky completely, while the red spots appeared no different from constellations in the sky. The silence was suffocating.
Everything hinged on their leaders’ decision in the very next moment.
After an inordinate amount of time, the sound of a pin dropping was heard across the vast seas in front of Pusan. Then, there was a cold snort, “Alright… I’ll refrain from taking action just this once. But, I’ve got a question, and I hope Emperor Wu of Song will answer me truthfully. Otherwise…”
His voice suddenly sharpened, and he began to speak like a three year old kid. The voice was incredibly childish, but it was filled with malice and vicious intent, “Don’t blame me for disregarding our interactions of the past! After all, I’m an Incarnate Revenant, while you’re nothing more than an Infernal Judge!”
Emperor Wu of Song responded disdainfully, “Shoot.”
“Where’s the Book of Life and Death?!!” The voice was so shrill that it could tear through the skies. It was even filled with a sense of marrow-penetrating madness to it, “Tell me where the Book of Life and Death is, and I’ll leave immediately!”
“Heh…” Emperor Wu of Song held his horse reins tightly and laughed uproariously. And then, he squinted into the darkness and quipped, “Are you afraid?”
In that instant, the number of red spots in the cloud of Yin energy rapidly multiplied. It had numbered in the thousands before, but now… the number went up to the tens of thousands! In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the number exceeded… a hundred thousand!
Kkkrrr…. The archers standing behind Emperor Wu of Song tightened their bows. The mounted Yin soldiers in front clamored with a battle cry, before promptly lowering the heads of their horses and readying their spears beside them as they prepared to charge at the moment’s notice.
There was a deafening silence as the clouds of Yin energy continued to stir. A second later, countless humanoid paper effigies with simple drawn-on appearances, wearing tall hats, black robes and wielding mourning staves flew out of the clouds of Yin energy like a scattering swarm of bees!
Sssss!!! Thousands upon thousands of ghosts cried out amidst the burgeoning inferno of netherflames in the sky, while a constant stream of humanoid paper effigies continued to pour out of the cloud of Yin energy, until nearly a hundred thousand could be seen!
Not even Emperor Wu of Song was able to keep his pupils as placid as before.
“That’s right… I’m afraid…” The old man’s voice called out of the darkness. It was hoarse, and ostensibly filled with resentment, “I’ve spent thousands of years being tormented endlessly under the six paths of reincarnation… And now, I’m truly afraid, because Hell’s been completely hidden from me, and I know nothing about it… So, how about we just call it quits and mind our own business, hmm?”
Emperor Wu of Song chuckled softly and lifted his head, “I don’t know where it is either.”
He directed his mount to turn around, and slowly returned to where his ranks of troops were standing, “Perhaps the Emissaries of the new Hell have managed to secure it, or perhaps they didn’t. I’m not in Hell, so I wouldn’t know of these things. Why don’t… you take a look for yourself?”
Whoosh… As he departed, so did the thirty thousand troops under his command recede like an ebbing tide.
With that, the surface of the seas was still and silent once more. Several minutes later, the massive cloud of Yin energy quickly shrank back, as though they were vanishing through a rift that had opened up some distance away. Soon, the entire sea returned to its previous, peaceful state.
Several minutes later, a Yin spirit dressed in ancient Cathayan garments like a scholar drifted towards Emperor Wu of Song, “My lord, he’s left.”
Emperor Wu of Song nodded deeply, while the scholar continued with a hoarse voice, “Your Majesty’s suggestion was fantastic. We haven’t been able to suss out the true strength of the new Hell at this point in time, but the daolord is most certainly more invested than us in such a piece of information. After all, he knows that the reestablishment of the new Hell means that it would only be a matter of time before he gets banished to a life of endless torment under the six paths once again. There’s no harm in giving him a gentle nudge to test the waters before us.”
Emperor Wu of Song looked up at the darkening sky and murmured to himself, “The Book of Life and Death… The Yin energy of the new Hell is incredibly weak, and nobody would be able to locate the new Hell if they’re bent on remaining hidden. But if they’ve managed to secure the Book of Life and Death for themselves, then Hell’s Yin energy would most certainly receive a great boost, and they would instantly become visible. In other words… even a blind man would be able to tell if the new Hell has managed to secure the Book of Life and Death.”
Not even Emperor Wu of Song knew of what exactly transpired on the Strait of Tsushima. However… he was almost certain that the Book of Life and Death had appeared, and then vanished once again. Unfortunately, nobody could confirm whether it was swallowed up by the strait altogether, or whether it had been taken away by some other person.
And if it were… who?
“My lord, what about… the people of the mortal realm?” The scholarly Yin spirit bowed respectfully.
Emperor Wu of Song’s eyes gleamed coldly, “Dispose of them.”
“Anyone who dares to covet the Strait of Tsushima must all be disposed of. Nippon is also doing the same thing. There’s no reason for third parties to probe in the affairs of the Strait of Tsushima.”
The great army soon departed, leaving behind four corpses that drifted endlessly on the desolate seas.
The cufflinks of each corpse were etched with the mark of an albatross.
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