Viang, capital of Lan Xang.
Temples and altars could be seen everywhere in the country of Theravada Buddhism. The rest of the country was not very different from a typical county in Cathay.
The streets were lined with stores with Cathayan signs all over. The Cathayan language was used in various places in the country. Unfortunately, the country was poor, and the facilities available to the National University of Lan Xang was somewhat limited.
That said, there were still a good number of Cathayan students in the region, some of which attended private schools, while others attended public schools. Zhou Gu was one of these students.
Everyone attending the National University of Lan Xang knew that Zhou Gu was one of the most famous students of his year. He was handsome, charming, elegant, and most importantly, he was proficient in all kinds of musical instruments, including the piano, electric piano, guitar, bass guitar, and even more traditional instruments such as the zither or the guqin. Every university performance would invariably feature his appearance.
Apart from that, he was also known for his strange temperament.
He seldom spoke to anyone, except for the purposes of discourse in music. Furthermore, he was known to pay large amounts of money in order to secure a single room for himself, as opposed to sharing a room with anyone else.
Unsociability and arrogance were hallmarks of his personality.
Lan Xang was close to the tropics and the temperature tended to be on the higher side all year around. It was August, and yet most citizens in Lan Xang were still dressed in T-shirts, shorts and slippers. Nevertheless, Zhou Gu had a baseball cap on, wore a pair of headphones, and sneakers. As he trudged along the corridor in school, several female students couldn’t help but steal glances at him.
“So handsome…” One of the female students fluttered her eyelashes at Zhou Gu’s 1.8m figure, “If I marry him, I might just be able to live in Cathay…”
The girl next to her laughed, “Dream on. He’s out of our league - a wallflower that knows nothing but music. Not even the other students from Cathay are able to elicit more than a cursory exchange from him.”
“Has anyone seen his dorm room before? It must be decorated like a romantic dream. I imagine countless musical instruments of all sorts within, including the zither which he played to great proficiency last orientation.” “You must be dreaming! Not a single soul has stepped into that man’s room before. He never chats with others in his own dorm room.” “How mysterious… But I can’t help but be attracted to a man of mystery~~”
Naturally, Zhou Gu didn’t hear any of the exchange between the two ladies. And even if he did, it wouldn’t have bothered him one bit.
When he finally arrived at his dorm room, he glanced about his surroundings warily, just as he was used to, before finally opening the door. And then, he quickly closed it behind him as soon as he entered.
His room was completely different from what everyone had expected.
There wasn’t a single musical instrument within his dorm room to begin with. Instead, there were only… countless talismans plastered all over the wall, as well as coffins hanging all over the place!
The coffins were small. In fact, it would be a misnomer to call them coffins. They were more akin to some kind of human-shaped container, wrapped tightly by countless talismans that had cinnabar scribblings and drawings all over them. Furthermore, there wasn’t even a bed in the room. The only other object sitting in his room was a statue of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva!
As soon as he entered the door, a nethergale suddenly converged before him, where it promptly transformed into a Yin soldier dressed in an ancient Cathayan armor. The Yin soldier knelt down before him, “Grand Viceroy, we’ve got news for you.”
The look in Zhou Gu’s eyes at this moment was nothing like that one would expect of an average college student. There was an incomparably complex look in his eyes, almost as though he were a man who was hundreds of years old.
His eyes were like a bottomless abyss, filled with a confluence of wisdom, indifference, and some other abstract emotions.
He waved his hand slightly, and a spot of netherflame adhered itself to a piece of white paper in the Yin soldier’s hands and brought it over to him. He picked it up and stared at it for a long time, before finally chuckling contemptuously, “Does Liu Jinu really think of himself as an emperor? His time has long passed, and we’re all no more than Emissaries of Hell right now… No, in fact, we’re not even Emissaries of Hell. Without any proper conferment of title, we’re no different from Yin spirits and evil ghosts.”
The Yin soldier continued to kneel on the ground silently.
“He’s inviting both myself and Yang Jiye to make a trip back to the old Hell? And he’s even done this in the form of an imperial edict? On what basis? Isn’t he aware that I was born several hundred years before he was?” Zhou Gu casually flicked the invitation, and the sheet of paper spontaneously combusted with a jade-green netherflame, before promptly turning to dust.
It was only then that the Yin soldier bowed respectfully to Zhou Gu once more, “Then, Grand Viceroy, shall I respond to Lord Liu on your behalf to say that you won’t be going?”
“No.” Unexpectedly, Zhou Gu raised his hand, “There’s no hurry.”
He paced around his dorm room. It had to be mentioned that his dorm room was hardly large to begin with, and yet Zhou Gu was still able to pace around the room with an air of royalty about him. Several seconds later, he looked up at the ceiling and continued, “I’m Zhou Gongjin at any rate. It’s fine if I didn’t know about the new King Yanluo’s ascension to the throne. But if I knew about it, and I still refused to make the trip down… it could be seen as an act of rebellion…”
As he spoke, the pupils in his eyes suddenly lit up with two spots of golden netherflames that flickered about wildly.
“Your Excellency…” The Yin soldier cried out, “But… the old Hell has already collapsed. We’re only considered Emissaries of the old Hell, so what does the new Hell have to do with us?”
Zhou Gongjin glanced at the Yin soldier, and then suddenly changed the topic, “Do you know why… Liu Jinu didn’t immediately turn against Hell?”
Without missing a beat, he continued, “He’s amassing his own forces. Over the last hundred years, I’ve been sending several missives back to the old Hell in my capacity as a feudal official, but I’ve not received a single response. We were unable to return for any form of investigations in the first ninety years because Hell was still reeling from its great collapse. The opportunity to return only presented itself in the last decade or so, and even then, the price to pay for returning was incredibly costly. Everyone knows that something has happened to the old Hell. In the meantime, Liu Jinu has already amassed his own army comprising well over ten thousand cavalry, among other forces. He possesses an army that is sufficient to run Cathay to the ground. After all, a proper army is completely different from the scattered forces under the charge of the surviving daolords. So, why doesn’t he just rise up against the new Hell?”
The Yin soldier was stunned. Yin energy continued to flow from his seven apertures as he wracked his mind over the question that had been posed to him. Finally, after a long time, he responded, “Didn’t Lord Liu… say something about independence?”
“Independence isn’t quite the same as an uprising.” Zhou Yu sighed, “What I mean is that he could easily drive his troops straight through the new Hell and forcefully take the helm from the present ruler. He has the power to do this. In fact… he’s someone who hasn’t rubbed the surviving daolords off the wrong way, so there’s no concern that the daolords would rise up against him. In other words, he can safely take the throne and be the lord of the new Hell. So, why doesn’t he do so?”
The Yin soldier lowered his head in confusion, before finally shaking his head in dismay.
Zhou Yu massaged his temples with some measure of exasperation, “Because… he’s more concerned about the bigger picture.”
He continued, “One cannot simply look at the new Hell as it currently stands. Of the twelve envoys, some would immediately pledge their allegiance to the new Hell, some won’t, while there are others who are simply undecided like myself. That said, even if we take the situation at its worst and say that none of the twelve envoys would pledge their allegiance to Hell, we still have to bear in mind the fact that the western underworlds are all eyeing Cathay like venomous vipers.”
He drew a deep breath, “These underworlds… are the true opponents to consider in these circumstances! It’s a cannibalistic world out there. How many underworlds have been established since time immemorial? And how many are we left with right now?”
“The privilege of our status as feudal officials allows us to learn of the collapse of the old Hell before any of the other underworlds out there. None of them know about this right now. But whoever sits on the throne of the new Hell would immediately also assume the position as the new thorn in the side of the other underworlds! Think about it - how glorious did the old Hell use to be? Do you think the foreign underworlds would be able to resist trampling all over Hell now that they are given the perfect opportunity to do so? And we haven’t even talked about the low-hanging fruit of the old Hell’s legacy and how it is something that the other underworlds would attempt to secure at all costs!”
His voice slowly softened, “This is a throne that none dares to usurp, because everyone knows that it is a ticking time bomb that will soon blow up within the next century or so. Hell will soon become the target of all other underworlds. Apart from that loyal dog Yu Qian, do you think any of the other twelve envoys haven’t before considered all these things?”
The room went silent.
It was only after several minutes that the Yin soldier whispered, “Then, Grand Viceroy, we--...”
“There’s no harm in taking a look.” Zhou Yu finally made up his mind, “The imperial court meeting at the end of the year will see the reunion of the twelve envoys once more, together with that nutcase Liu Jinu… Haha. None will pass up on this opportunity…”
Then, a cold gleam flickered across the depths of his eyes, “That aside, do you have any leads on the incident at the Strait of Tsushima?”
The Yin soldier pulled out another piece of white paper from his bosom and lit a spot of green netherflame nearby, revealing a name on it.
Zhou Yu stared at it for the next few seconds, before spontaneously combusting the sheet of paper and reducing it to ashes, “The daolord of the path of the asura has confronted Liu Jinu? It seems like nobody’s aware of what exactly happened on that fateful day, huh? The Book of Life and Death… Things are truly getting complicated…”
Qin Ye was naturally oblivious to the interactions that had taken place thousands of miles away. He had returned to Hell with great shock, only to be faced with a somber-expressioned Arthis who was rambling on and on.
“You’ve finally come…” Arthis heaved a sigh of relief as she gazed into the distant sky, “There’s no need to rush. It’s useless to rush. The one who sits on the throne will have to bear the weight of its crown. Did you really think that there wouldn’t be any implications to receiving the Book of Life and Death back in Hell?”
“But it’s not about the Book of Life and Death right now!” Qin Ye clutched desperately at his hair and tugged at it, “The Albatross has struck! I’m afraid it’s not going to be long before they track me down! I’ve done all I could to erase my tracks, but… my particulars are still stored in Guardian Auctions’ database!”
There was no way he wanted to reveal his true identity back in the mortal realm - at least, not until he had managed to squirrel away as much of the treasures stored in the Great Dipper Vault as he possibly could. After all, there was simply no telling how much supplies he would need for the future development of Hell. Besides, there was no downside in amassing these treasures either.
However… it was clear that things were starting to get a little out of hand.
The eruption of Yin energy at the Strait of Tsushima had attracted the attention of the entire East Continent. The butterfly effect was slowly stirring into full force… and it was finally transforming into a terrifying tornado.
Fortunately, the old Hell was large enough such that the Yin spirits that had detected the great fluctuations of Yin energy at the Strait of Tsushima were all “one of their own”.
Having understood the tension between underworlds globally, Qin Ye hardly dared to think about how great the repercussions would be if news of this incident spread to the Middle East, or even to Europa or Usonia.
“You’ve got to be careful.” Arthis responded, while Qin Ye jumped in fright as though someone had stepped on his tail, “What do you mean? Will someone do something disrespectful to me? Will someone make a move against the Yanluo? Will they be sending their emissaries against us? No… They can’t! They wouldn’t! They’re all no different from yin spirits right now. If they try to invade the new Hell, they would immediately be detected by Zhou Xianlong, and their efforts would be thwarted! We’re at the City of Salvation after all!”
Arthis lowered her head, and her gaze grew deep and abstruse, “Have you ever wondered… why the three eastern provinces were suddenly thrown into such chaos?”
Without missing a beat, she continued, “You wouldn’t have, because you’re not familiar with the situation there to begin with… unlike me. I’ve personally seen the Eighteen Abysses of Punishment, the six paths of reincarnation, and how the souls who had sinned in life were punished to an eternity of torment in these places in the afterlife…”
She turned around and locked eyes with Qin Ye, “Thus, you can’t even begin to fathom how terrified these Yin spirits are of the new Hell right now.”
“I’m not worried about the twelve envoys at all. What I’m worried about is that others who have detected the existence of the Book of Life and Death would come searching for the new Hell like maddened, resentful spirits! I’m talking especially about the hardened, grievous Yin spirits who have managed to escape from the torments of Hell! They are the ones who would be eager to devour flesh and blood and don a new fleshly body. The daolord presiding over the three eastern provinces is so terrified of Hell that it might just push him to go all out just so that he can draw close to central Cathay and catch a glimpse of the new Hell! And he wouldn’t be the only one doing the same. Perhaps… the involvement of the twelve envoys might end up becoming a shield for us after all.”
Qin Ye grew taciturn, and his eyes flickered wildly.
He was currently re-examining the complex relationship between the twelve envoys, the old Hell and the new Hell right now.
It suddenly dawned on Qin Ye that he might have been oversimplifying matters all this while. The big picture was no different from a chessboard, with a multitude of moves available to him, yet a single misstep might well mean checkmate.
“Whatever the case might be, the best way moving forward is simply to remain inside for now.” Arthis cautioned gravely, “Don’t leave the City of Salvation under all circumstances, at least before the imperial court meeting at the end of the year! With Zhou Xianlong and the First Academy of Cultivators around, you’ll be absolutely safe under the shelter of the City of Salvation!”
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