Evening, at 6.00 p.m.
In the not-so-luxurious temporary lounge. Liu Yu had already changed into a spectacular robe that was embroidered with three majestic, flying dragons.
He held a folding fan and fanned himself gently. There were three eunuch-like Yin spirits that stood behind him, waiting on him. He was completely calm at this point in time. After all, he’d seen his fair share of such imperial court meetings. Furthermore, King Yanluo had personally given his word that the time that followed was an extension of the host’s obligation.
In other words, the time that followed was going to be a night of entertainment. Naturally, there was no reason to be nervous about something like that.
Chaghan had also changed into a scarlet robe - a typical uniform of Mongol high officials. When he saw Liu Yu, he immediately snorted coldly, “A lounge like this is worse than what I bestow upon my least favoured concubine. How dare he insult us with such terrible amenities?!”
Liu Yu responded placidly, “Are you really intent on comparing an underworld that has only been established for a year with the golden tent of your great grass plains? Save your strength and energy for the negotiations that are to come.”
He took a deep gaze at the large clock that hung close to the top of Hell’s Gate. It was exactly 6.00 p.m. He didn’t know what exactly the new King Yanluo of Hell had in store for him because he couldn’t make head or tail of the itinerary. That said, he could see that the program was simple, so what twists and turns could there possibly be?
Dong, dong, dong… Just then, the clock struck six. The twelve envoys, save for Zhou Yu, had already assembled in front of the auditorium. It was also at that very moment that the entire sky exploded with a brilliant display of fireworks.
The entire series of dazzling display was something that Ming Shiyin had constructed entirely out of Yin energy. In that instant, the previously dark canopy that loomed over Hell was suddenly decorated with innumerable purple and red explosions. The multitude of Yin spirits on the ground promptly looked up and gandered at the beautiful sight.
A fiery-red ball of light rushed up into the sky. A split second later, it exploded with a loud bang, sending a rain of sparks scattering in all directions, like the vast milky way splashed across an endless night sky. The dazzling light show caught the attention of the feudal officials around, and several of them immediately looked up at the sky in unison.
But before the scattering scarlet flames even landed on the ground, a second and a third salvo of golden fireworks shot into the sky, exploding in a concerted pattern from low to high, and then back down once more, almost akin to a dazzling fountain. Moments later, a colourful array of fireworks burst into air from every corner of Hell, blanketing the lands with a brilliant, multicoloured canopy.
“It’s beautiful…” Countless Yin spirits murmured as they stared at the amazing display. Several Yin spirits even closed their eyes and prayed softly to the trailing tails of the falling fireworks, “May Hell last forever and grow better with each year…” “I hope that we’ll see the development of a proper electrical grid by next year…” “May Hell reach the standards of modern day society soon…” “Dad… I miss you…”
The fireworks resulted in a moment of tranquility amidst the usual hubbub of Hell. The gloomy canopy of the skies suddenly became like a screen, rendered in vibrant, fiery colours that brought a surprising moment of solace to the hearts of the Yin spirits.
It was a beacon of hope for a better age.
Hell had come a long way from its days of destitution. It was clear that what awaited them was only days of prosperity.
It was a remarkable sight. An overture of the dead.
It was noisy but tranquil. Vibrant, but serene.
Such a massive display of fireworks even caused the distant money tree to be momentarily stained with brilliant colours. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to startle the twelve envoys.
It stood to reason. Fireworks were already in existence since the Tang Dynasty, and its use was greatly proliferated in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Everything was recorded in the annals of history. Although modern day fireworks were magnificent in their own right, they still weren’t sufficient to stir the hearts of the feudal officials at all.
“Child’s play.” Chaghan snorted, “Wouldn’t your time and effort be more well spent developing Hell in a more holistic manner? You don’t even have a proper residence for envoys to stay the night, so what’s the use of going through all that trouble to put on such a show? Is this a farce?”
But just as he spoke, spots of light suddenly lit up around Hell’s Gate.
These lights were soft and dim.
And it didn’t light up in a neat fashion either. It started with a single one, before slowly but surely spreading to the rest who were around. Then, almost as though inspired by the beautifully soft sight, every part of Hell, whether under the trees, in the construction sites, or even in the hidden recesses and corners of Hell, everything suddenly lit up with similarly soft lights.
It was akin to a phoenix that was bathing in soft flames, or an eagle stretching its wings. Innumerable spots of dim light lit up in a somewhat irregular fashion. Five thousand… ten thousand… thirty thousand… fifty thousand… seventy thousand… one hundred thousand!
Finally, the soft lights transformed into a beautiful sheen no different from a sea of flickering lights, reflecting the harsh fireworks in the sky with stillness and tranquility.
“This is…” Gao Changgong raised his eyebrows. These soft lights weren’t netherflames. They could tell that the spots of lights exuded warmth and heat. Are they… candle lights?
Indeed, they were.
In fact, it was a sea of candle lights that covered the lands, both hills and valleys! There were a hundred thousand lights in all!
Every single Yin spirit was holding onto a candle and basking in its warm glow. It was a soft tranquility, and yet the strange stillness and sullenness of the atmosphere was absolutely astonishing. Even the twelve envoys couldn’t help but be started by the discordant sight.
Zhou Gongjin watched this sight from the comfort of his own room, and he was immediately reminded of two lines of poetry he had once read. Life is explosive and vibrant like the blooming flowers in summer, and death comes soon after, quiet and still like the soft rustle of autumn leaves.
This is a ritual…
The overwhelming sensation of a ritual washed over the twelve envoys, silencing them in an instant. It was an indescribable feeling - inexpressible by words, but immediately understood by experience. The shimmering lights enveloped Hell with a peculiar wave of fragility, almost as though the slightest touch of it would shatter the sublime atmosphere in an instant.
Nobody said a single word.
All of the feudal officials were completely dumbfounded by the tranquil sight. They had never experienced such peculiar posturing before. Weren’t we promised a night of entertainment? It’s a light show, but why does it feel so… formal?
They were filled with an indescribable sensation of sobriety at this very moment.
Each of their underworlds was obviously more powerful than Hell. Yet in this very moment, they couldn’t help but feel… as though they had been defeated in a certain sense.
“Disarmed.” Zhou Yu shut his eyes and retracted his gaze from the majestic sight with a soft sigh. The fireworks in the sky and the soft lights on the ground were no different from a carving knife in his eyes. He was the only one who knew at this very instant that the new King Yanluo of Hell was breaking out his carving knife tonight for a powerful showing!
Just a grand showing of the difference in experience, foresight and knowledge.
This was the true form of Qin Ye’s dimensional strike!
“I sincerely hope that you… won’t be overwhelmed by what happens tonight…”
Back in the auditorium, Arthis stared at the twelve envoys with widened eyes. She was located within the auditorium, so she couldn’t personally experience the extent of the astonishment that the envoys were faced with outside. Thus, greatly startled, she turned to Qin Ye, “What’s… going on?”
“There’s a primal reaction which is buried in the depths of human emotions that courses through our blood and is etched into our marrows. Ever since the birth of man, we’ve always longed for the reverence of worship, and the rituals of offering sacrifices to gods of our faith. Till this day, we see this manifested in all forms of culture and heritage, whether it be grand parades, or funerary rites, and it constantly changes in accordance with the times and the age. But at the core of it all is the innate ability to overwhelm the state of mind of any individual…” Qin Ye explained, “It’s called a ritual.”
“The sense of ritual carries with it several important psychological implications. Amongst other things, it bears the power of self-suggestion, the notion of common identity, tugs at the heartstrings, and stirs one to action. If the ruling authority knows how to make full use of rituals to its advantage, it would give rise to… almost mythical effects. For instance, one of the most proliferated ancient rituals of any dynasty would be the imperial court meetings. Such rituals elevate the status of the emperor to that of a mythical existence. It has to be mentioned that us Cathayans possess the strongest inclination to rituals in the entire world. We’ve lived under the feudal system for far too long, and that had led to rituals pervading every part of our human lives, be it in films, television serials, or even other forms of media. In fact, it’s such a pervasive force that it affects us without us even realizing it.”
He raised his eyebrows as he continued, “For instance, think about the national flag raising ceremony that is conducted in grand public plazas. Think about the emotions that you felt when you first watched it slowly ascend to the top with your very own eyes. Then, consider the other groundbreaking ceremonies that pervades all major enterprises in Cathay. Use it well, and you’ll find that… those who enter your territory would practically be dancing in the palm of your hands. You’d even be able to elevate your status by several notches on end. It’s all very interesting. You can probably read more about this in books and treatises, although I can’t recall exactly what branch of psychology it belongs to. Anyway, the point to note here is that rituals pervade every part of society, and it serves to remind us that there’s more to life than meets the eye. Furthermore…”
He coughed softly, “It reminds us that the future is meaningless and perfunctory.”
… There seems to be something wrong about this statement… Arthis blinked vacantly, “How in the world do you know of these things?”
You’re like the typical student who mucks about with credits in college in a desperate bid to get by… so since when are you so learned in the fields of psychology?!
Did I get the wrong King Yanluo of Hell?
Qin Ye flushed slightly, “Well, it’s also because I was once adopted by a certain perverted psychiatrist when I was trying to get by…”
“And what happened after that?” Arthis’ interest was suddenly piqued. There’s actually something as juicy about you that I didn’t know of? There’s got to be something about mouth gags, clubs, leather whips, spikes and the like, isn’t there? There has to be!
“I ended up going insane… Hang on a minute! We shouldn’t get sidetracked with these inconsequential things! Our guests are arriving!”
The feudal officials were only momentarily dumbfounded.
But they quickly returned to their senses.
Even though they weren’t sure about the source of the problem, they trusted their intuition, and their intuition had been blaring with alarms, warning them that something was amiss. And right now, all of them had even begun to look at Qin Ye somewhat differently. That said, it was involuntary, and barely perceptible.
Boom… Just then, the auditorium doors opened wide with a bang, and rows of dozens of palatial maiden-like Yin spirits drifted out, half-kneeling on the ground as they lit up a passageway into the auditorium with the exquisite palace lanterns in their hands. Everything from the manner of kneeling to the height at which they toted the lanterns were perfectly aligned. All of the feudal officials, each accompanied by two or three of their own Yin spirit attendants, drifted into the auditorium.
Qin Ye was located right in front of the main stage. His hands were behind his back, and he smiled faintly as the twelve envoys made their way into the auditorium.
Liu Yu was the first to enter. As soon as he did, his eyes immediately shrank.
Everything was completely different from what he had seen before!
In fact, it was completely different from all of the other underworlds. The room was constructed like terraced fields, and rows of seats occupied each terrace. He immediately understood the benefits of such a design. The main stage in the center was clearly the lowest part of the room, and yet it was also undoubtedly the intended centre of everyone’s attention.
But that wasn’t the point. What struck him the most was the fact that the hall was shaped like a semi-circle, almost as though half a giant bowl had been placed on the ground. The surrounding walls were constructed out of stone, but every single part of the stone walls bore countless sculptures that appeared to depict legendary myths and stories!
There was the story of Goddess Mother Earth transforming into the six paths of reincarnation. There was the story of Nuwa mending the skies. There was even a tall figure of the King Yanluo of Hell walking amidst everything, almost as though it were portraying a truth that he transcended time and walked through the long rivers of history. The fact that such a small space could portray all of these stories simply blew him away. It even stirred an excitement in his heart… and caused his heartbeats to quicken!
Gorgeous, exquisite, magnificent!
Three words immediately surfaced on his mind.
It was different from any of the other buildings he had ever seen before. The exotic style of the building opened a crack in his otherwise firmly sealed heart. No. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the brand new experience had pried open that little bit more of the gateway to the sea of light in his heart. He was truly and utterly blown away. It was the kind of shock that accompanied the discovery and realization of a completely different culture. This was an innate reaction of any human being. It wasn’t something that could be controlled. Besides, they were caught completely off guard.
This was an experience no different to that of a Cathayan stepping into the gorgeous Galerie d’Apollon of the Louvre, and taking in the great amazement and awe of the fine reliefs all around and the endless frescoes above. It was also no different to the grand feeling that overwhelms the foreigners whenever they step onto the Great Wall of Cathay for the very first time, or when they stand on one of the watchtowers and take in the endless wilderness surrounding them.
Qin Ye stared intently at the twelve envoys, taking in each and every one of their expressions. Then, he nodded subtly to Arthis. She waved back discreetly, muttering underneath her breath with a stern and somber tone of voice, “We’re starting… Are you sure these little tricks of yours are going to work?”
1. The wikipedia page has some pictures, but I’d encourage you to go google the Apollo Gallery of the Louvre. It’s pretty darn remarkable. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galerie_d%27Apollon