Arthis drew a deep breath, “You should remember never to underestimate an Infernal Judge. All who have attained the ranks of Judges would unlock a hidden ability that is unique to them. You can think of it as a specialty of sorts. Fortunately… the one with the strongest battle prowess, Zhou Gongjin, is standing on our side this time…”
“He’s just levelling the playing field.” Qin Ye abruptly interrupted her, “He’s not standing on either side. Rather, he’s simply helping the weaker faction. What a joke… To think that Hell would one day find itself languishing so badly that it would even be considered the weaker faction. Does he really think he can be an opportunist and get away with it? Does he really think that he can have his cake and eat it at the same time?!”
But it’s not the time to be thinking of these things right now. Sorting out the twelve envoys is something to be done much later on in the future. Despite these thoughts, Qin Ye was finally able to set his mind at ease.
After all, the two sides of the scales had finally balanced out.
Previously, the weight of the scales were tilted well in favour of Liu Yu’s faction. But the addition of Zhou Yu, Ban Chao and Wang Meng to the fray barely balanced the scales to the state of a tense equilibrium.
They would never siege Hell. This was something that Qin Ye had always known. After all, the existence of the Book of Life and Death and Lord Harken were sources of deterrence that weighed heavily on their hearts. Rather, the envoys were merely posturing right now - something that was commonly seen in most diplomatic exchanges. For instance, whenever Usonia wanted to secure a greater measure of benefit for themselves, they would always fire off a round of sanctions and brandish their military might to the world.
It wasn’t to declare war on others. Rather, it was merely to scare and shock others into submission, so that they would already have leverage to work with when negotiations begin. The twelve envoys were employing the exact same tactics.
There was already some measure of closure to the earlier tension and conflict. Thus, it was finally his time to make his move.
Whoosh… A nethergale slowly converged around Qin Ye. The appearance of a Hellguard in the mortal realm was something that would draw the attention of throngs of people. But here, the appearance of a Hellguard was like a drop in the ocean compared to the billowing auras of the thirteen Infernal Judges and the multitude of Yin soldiers standing behind them.
Nevertheless, everyone still turned to look at Qin Ye.
They had already noticed his existence from the onset. And even if they considered him to be nothing more than a nominal third King Yanluo of Hell, they still couldn’t simply ignore his very first reaction to all that was taking place.
The nethergale slowly wrapped around him and brought him to the forefront of everyone’s attention. As a Hellguard, he was only equipped with the ability to fly and glide for a short duration of time, and he naturally didn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of Judges who could hover for extended periods of time. Thus, he positioned himself on the ground right in the middle of the three factions of troops.
Thump, thump, thump… His heart was practically leaping out of his chest right now. There were thousands of Iron Stupa cavalrymen situated no further than three hundred meters from his location. A single stampede of hooves could most certainly trample him to his death.
Countless Yin soldiers stood all around him, with bows and crossbows cocked and at the ready, and spears held high and primed to strike. Hundreds and thousands of flames flickered wildly about in the eyes of the Yin soldiers. Mountainous mobile residences lay in the backlines, doing little to conceal the explosive auras of Judges that were bearing down on him like a rushing tide.
There were also tens of thousands spots of crimson karmic netherflames blazing atop a stiff mechanical wall behind him. It was a stifling sight. As he stood between the towering, tyrannical forces, he felt crushed by their domineering presence.
His senses were tensed up to the extreme, and his adrenal gland buzzed with activity. Qin Ye placed his hands behind his back and tightened his grip around the shard of King Yanluo's Seal, infusing it with his Yin energy and shrouding himself with a thin protective layer of the shard's Yin energy. It was only then that he finally stopped trembling in his feet, and managed to stand tall against the overbearing pressure bearing down onto him.
"Esteemed feudal officials." He swept a gaze around slowly, even as he did his best to speak calmly and slowly. That said, not even Qin Ye could tell whether his voice was trembling or not. He continued with the best normalcy he could muster, "Are you… staging an uprising?"
Some distance away, Arthis continually compressed the Yin energy in her body to the extreme, ready to explode at the slightest sign of trouble. She was prepared to do everything it took to save Qin Ye's life, even if it meant staking her life on the line like their earlier encounter with the Harken.
She had unwittingly already given Qin Ye her own seal of approval since a little while ago. After all that he had done for Hell thus far, she knew full well that he could rebuild Hell as long as he was alive. On the other hand, she recognized that there were many things he could do that she simply couldn't.
"This kid… actually isn't shaking in the face of such imminent dangers anymore… Not bad… Even if you're faking it, you've already improved by leaps and bounds…" A glint of satisfaction flickered across the depths of her eyes, but it quickly dissipated in her abstruse gaze of sobriety.
"Are you, or are you not?!" He suddenly exploded. His heart thumped wildly, and his throat dried up. He ardently resisted the temptation to keel over and collapse, only to realize that his back was already soaked through with sweat in that one single instant of outburst.
Please don’t say that you are… Because if you do, I’m really not sure what I’m going to do next…
Everything was still silent.
After a full minute, Liu Yu finally responded from his mobile residence, “Lord Qin, you’ve been here all along?”
In other words, he was taking a jibe at Qin Ye for being a Hellguard - an existence so low that he couldn’t make his presence felt at all…
“Your Excellency is the future King Yanluo of Hell?” The gruff voice chuckled, “Pardon me, I really didn’t expect you to be here. Apologies for the rudeness.”
“Your lordship must be joking.” Gao Changgong tittered with an effeminate laughter, “Hell’s doors have been closed to us for a hundred years on end, and we’ve come immediately as soon as we’ve received the summons, so how could we possibly be staging an uprising?”
That said, we’re simply here to request for our independence from Hell.
Now that they’ve done the flexing, it was finally time to negotiate their terms and conditions. Qin Ye didn’t press the point either. After all, he knew that it was pointless to do so, since they could always resile on the position that they had previously taken.
When all was said and done, Hell was simply too weak to be interrogating the feudal officials right now!.
The value of a single neighbourhood of theirs already exceeds the combined value of Hell as it stands right now. So on what basis was he going to allege unfairness?
Was he truly going to press the issue on those humiliating words of provocation earlier?
He would only be making a fool of himself.
“That’s good.” Qin Ye pretended to gloss over the earlier provocations as he continued, “It’s been a long journey for you esteemed feudal officials and your entourage. Come, enter the city together with me. Leave your troops outside. Any who disobey shall be indicted with treason.”
With that, he transformed into a nethergale and led the way back into the new Hell.
Enjoy this moment while it lasts, because as soon as you enter my territory… I’m going to make you eat your words, and then some!
Arthis promptly erupted with a judge-class aura and took to the skies, where she spoke coldly, “Everyone, please.”
Nobody said another word. Within moments, the twelve envoys, including the Lord of Hanyang, Liu Yu, followed after Arthis and made their way straight for Hell.
Liu Yu led the way, and the other feudal officials followed closely behind. Yang Jiye positioned himself at the front of the pack, while Yu Qian sensibly positioned himself at the very back. All of them, apart from Yu Qian and Yang Jiye, were dressed in splendid robes, and their bodies were covered with dark livor mortis spots.
Liu Yu glanced around at his surroundings before whispering to Chaghan, “What do you think the new Hell is going to look like?”
Chaghan was a typical Mongol, and he was dressed in a domed helmet adorned with a ring of felt hair, together with a set of lacquered black armor. He looked like a mighty, valiant warrior, and even had menacing red patterns tattooed across his face. Chaghan sneered, “How else can it possibly look? Do you remember what it was like when we were first enfeoffed? Everything was destitute, and there wasn’t even a single ghost in sight. How many years would you say it’s been since the new Hell has been established? Three years? It’s probably going to be worse off than when we first began!”
Gao Changgong concealed his facial features with a green ghastly mask, but that did nothing to hide the splendour of the jade crown on his head. He wore royal black robes embroidered with immortal cranes and the rising sun. He quipped, “Previous imperial court meetings would always be accompanied with a banquet or a feast. We wouldn’t be… left languishing in the woods tonight, would we?”
“Haha, I’ve heard that whenever new underworlds are established, the Heavenly Dao would always bestow upon them the basic amenities of a gate of sorts. Don’t worry, we’ll at least be offered a proper resting place.” “Oh? Would they even have chairs? I’m afraid this must be the most visitors Hell is receiving since its inception, isn’t it?” “So… Hell’s Gate is where parliament is located? How shoddy…”
The feudal officials didn’t even bother lowering their voices as they complained and took jibes at the new Hell. Yu Qian followed closely behind, and his expression grew icier with every denigrating remark that the other feudal officials made.
He naturally appreciated the significance of the present imperial court meeting.
It was a declaration to the rest of the East Continent that the Cathayan Hell was still in existence. No matter what the outcome, this was an undeniable outcome of the imperial court meeting.
But, having witnessed the envoys flexing their military might and bullying Qin Ye, another worry soon surfaced on his heart.
How’s the new Hell?
If the new Hell possessed the former glories of the old Hell, then there would most certainly be no need for the new King Yanluo of Hell to personally welcome the feudal officials back. Thus, he knew that the new Hell was probably a far cry from what the old Hell used to be.
Feasts, bestowments and other forms of luxurious treatments were all only possible with societal development, and it was therefore unlikely that Hell would be equipped for these as well.
What Liu Yu and the rest are saying sounds terrible, but… there’s a good chance that this would be the reality of what we would be faced with.
After all, the development of an underworld is something that would take hundreds of years on end, so what could the new Hell possibly have to show for it? Yu Qian knew it all too well - Aimless, lifeless ghost citizens, barren mountains and a lonely gate to the underworld. In fact, Hell’s probably no larger than the size of a village. A ceremonial welcome is probably out of the question…
“I just hope it’s not too bad…” He shut his eyes in dejection, “Hell’s Gate should at least not be in disrepair. Otherwise… even I wouldn’t know what to say in Hell’s defense…”
Each of the thirteen Infernal Judges had their own thoughts and assessments as they stepped through a great vortex. A second later, a completely different world opened up in front of their very eyes!
Qin Ye stood atop a soft red carpet, observing them coldly as they each arrived through the portal. A soft, luxurious red carpet that stretched into the horizon was laid out right beneath their feet, while countless black-armored, pylon-like Yin soldiers lined the entire length of the carpet.
These soldiers were clearly elites!
That much was clear with a single glance. The feudal officials could tell that the Yin soldiers lining the length of the red carpet were by no means putting on a pretense. The auras emanating from their bodies were qualitatively different from the usual Yin soldiers. It was clear that these had been true elites in life, and were powerful, evil ghosts in death. They carried thick polearms that were stained with copious amounts of blood. Their cracked armor didn’t look weak or tattered in the slightest. Instead, it only accentuated their identities as ferocious, seasoned warriors.
“This is… the Black Armored Troops!” Guo Ziyi immediately recognized their existence, and a great sense of disbelief surged from the depths of his heart.
He actually has the Black Armored Troops under his command?
How could the new Hell… rein in such a powerful unit? It seems like… they’re not as weak as we’d thought…
However, this was only the beginning.
As soon as they entered, the maidservants lining both sides of the red carpet immediately bowed in unison and lit the palace lamps at the exact same time. Whether it was the angle of their bow, or the height at which they carried the palace lamps, everything was done in perfect unison! In fact, they even lit up the palace lamps at the exact same time! It was a marvelous display of a ceremonial welcome!
“This is…” Yu Qian felt somewhat confused by the discordant sight he was greeted by.
After all, an all-rounded person like him who appreciated the culture and the arts, as well as martial prowess, knew all too well what the present sight meant.
This was… societal development!
It was impossible to master such ceremonies until a civilization reached a certain extent of societal development. After all, would anyone be bothered to engage in such trifles if everyone was busy looking after their own survival?
The assurance of basic necessities was the foundation for secondary matters of virtue and etiquette. He knew the truth of this statement. After all, he could still remember the time when he first received the fiefdom. At that time, not even imperial envoys were willing to make the trip down to his fiefdom. From there, it took him a hundred years - quite possible a hundred and fifty years - before he finally developed his own ceremonial guard, otherwise known as the honor guard.
And yet… to think that the new Hell has already developed a ceremonial guard after merely two years of its establishment.
Is this the extent of societal development he has managed to achieve?
Has the new King Yanluo… already resolved the issues of motivation to work? And the problems with entertainment? Without these things in place, it’s only a matter of time before the immortal ghostly citizens of Hell rebel and riot!
The natural woods that they had anticipated were nowhere to be seen. There was a brief moment of dead silence, before the thirteen Infernal Judges looked up from the ceremonial display to the rest of Hell.
The incredible sight turned their view of the new Hell topsy-turvy.
This is Hell?
You’re telling me that this is the very same new Hell that was established not more than two years ago?
Are you kidding me?
Do you think I haven’t built my own underworld from scratch before?
1. The original version makes mention of the official of Sindhu, Gao Jianli. However, that mention appeared to be the only time his name was mentioned. Even the calculation of the envoys thereafter seemed to have excluded his existence. Thus, we’ll take it that he hasn’t been invited instead.