The mythology of Hell isn’t something that only exists in name.
None of the other countries in the East Continent apart from Cathay and Hindustan possess their own set of mythology or religion that they can call their own, much less possess an established system of an underworld. And without a proper system, what basis would they have for the various offices and amenities of Hell, including the Yama-Kings of the Ten Palaces, the Mirror of Eminence, the Book of Life and Death, Three Births Stone, King Yanluo’s Seal, and other similar artifacts?
And what purpose do each of these divine artifacts serve?
The Book of Life and Death’s effects permeates all lands under the charge of Hell, be it Cathayan territory or a foreign garrison or vassal state of Hell, and it reveals all particulars to do with any living being’s life and death, including their remaining life span and their fate to come. Infernal Judges and higher ranked beings can even begin to influence a living being’s fate under the right set of circumstances.
There’s nothing much to it, right?
Perhaps, if it were only to a mere Emissary of Hell. But what about Hell itself?
The loss of something like that would be no different from pulling a veil over the eyes of King Yanluo himself. Hell would no longer know when a person is passing, or predict the occurrence of an epidemic. Without the aid of the Book of Life and Death, how many more emissaries would an underworld need to mobilize in order to cover the loss of function in that regard? How much of their city would need to be rebuilt? What kind of expenses would they incur in order to beef up their surveillance efforts, both to draw in new Yin spirits and to keep any Yin spirits from escaping? What if a judge-class entity suddenly escapes from their underworld years later?
On the other hand, the Mirror of Eminence is the final arbiter of all mysteries surrounding a particular entity’s life records. The Book of Life and Death may be detailed in certain regards, but it most certainly does not journal each and every single thing that a person has done in his entire life, such as how much bribe he took in an incident in the remote past. At this very moment, the Mirror of Eminence need only shine brightly on the entity to be investigated, and everything would immediately be made clear. How much investigative work does that save an entire underworld?
“Lord Qin!” Liu Yu immediately spoke up, “The Book of Life and Death and the Mirror of Eminence has always been supporting the vassal states! How can you withdraw their support just like that?!”
Qin Ye flicked open his folding fan and smiled faintly back at Liu Yu, “Then, does Hanyang still consider itself a vassal state of Hell?”
Liu Yu gulped and grew taciturn.
International negotiations were always filled with twists and turns. Even modern day state negotiations generally end up with both sides compromising a little before an outcome satisfactory to both parties is reached.
After all, if only one party gained from such negotiations, then it might as well be called an invasion, rather than negotiations.
This time, even if Qin Ye had already obtained benefits amounting to 3.6 billion Yin spirit stones, what he was trading away was control of seven vassal states all at once! If they continued to pay tribute to Hell in accordance with the laws of the old Hell, would Hell only be entitled to 3.6 billion Yin spirit stones? No! That would be no more than a drop in the ocean!
That said, this masterstroke which Qin Ye had just pulled out of the bag was something that not even Liu Yu and his group of defiant officials had thought of!
“And if you’re not a vassal state, then why should Hell continue to watch over you?” Qin Ye snorted softly, while the dozens of scribes behind recorded the proceedings furiously, “Besides, let’s get it right. It’s not just the Book of Life and Death and the Mirror of Eminence that will be withdrawn from you. What is to be withdrawn will include all of Hell’s new artifacts and research and developmental information as well. None of these can be shared with a vassal state that has now declared independence. That said, once we’re done sorting out our own affairs, and subject to your agreement, we will be looking to establish the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we shall be setting up foreign embassies for the improvement of diplomatic relations between independent states.”
This final strike was like a sharp blade that plunged straight into their carotid arteries, drawing copious amounts of blood at once.
It was such an explosive blow that they could practically sense gunpowder in the air. Liu Yu and his faction glared at Qin Ye - Are you revealing your cards right off the cuff? What are you trying to make us agree to? What’s your true purpose in this?
Ma Fubo drew a deep breath, “Lord Qin, what if we agree to the resumption of tributes to Hell?”
“Oh?” Qin Ye fanned himself gently, as though casually entertaining the hypothetical question, “Then, everything depends on your show of sincerity.”
Liu Yu responded, “Standing taxation system of the old Hell, where the state would take a 50% tax from the produce of its lands of which a fifth of such tax would be set aside for Hell as tribute. What do you think?”
“Of course…” Qin Ye smiled faintly, before slamming the nail into the coffin, “Not!”
“You were once fiefdoms, and it’s only natural that a portion of your taxes should be returned to Hell. Nothing in there contemplates the future rent and use for the Book of Life and Death and other artifacts of Hell! Besides, how do I know how much your fiefdoms have produced during this period of time?”
“We can consider showing you our green papers.” Gao Changgong frowned slightly. It finally dawned on him that the present King Yanluo of Hell was truly difficult to deal with. When the imperial court meeting first started, Qin Ye had maintained a poker face throughout the proceedings, and they couldn’t tell what he was feeling from his expressions at all. But it didn’t take long before they were blasted back from the recoil of their own actions. And now that Hell had finally bared their fangs, they would sink their teeth into any advantage that they can get, and then cling on with great persistence.
Hell’s military might wasn’t something to be concerned about just yet. In fact, there was the possibility that Hell was so weak they weren’t even able to withstand the slightest buffeting of winds. That said, Hell had still found a way to trip them up at every step of the way, so much so that Gao Changgong never wanted to deal with Qin Ye again if he could help it.
He found Qin Ye both unscrupulous and annoying.
“Just your green papers? Heh, it looks like Lord Gao knows a thing or two about modern day matters.” Qin Ye leaned back into his chair, “White paper, blue papers, yellow papers, and green papers are all outward facing papers intended to persuade other stakeholders or promote a viewpoint. In other words, this is merely a different form of saying the exact same thing right now. You want me to tell you my bottom line? Sure, we can revert to the old system of taxation of the old Hell. But you’ll have to grant me access to all of your white papers, and allow our embassy personnel full access to peruse the archives of your underworld.”
Ma Fubo was on the verge of being unable to hold back any longer, “Lord Qin, how could you be thinking of embassies given the current state of Hell right now? Aren’t you thinking too far into the distant future?”
Bloody hell, we’re still in the era of steam trains, and yet you’re already thinking of exploring the moon?
Qin Ye laughed.
He stood up and leaned forward slightly with an increasingly aggressive stance, “I can guarantee that as soon as you leave, and diplomatic relations between both underworlds have been established, our embassy will arrive as scheduled.”
Wouldn’t it be more prudent to increase your population size to 100 million first? It was clear to everyone that Qin Ye was exaggerating the abilities of Hell right now. Even Yu Qian couldn’t help but purse his lips together. Yet, not a single feudal official at the table called his bluff.
Zhou Yu’s gaze grew deep and abstruse, yet he simply continued to fan himself softly because he didn’t want to get dragged through the mud. More than anything, he was curious about Qin Ye. Incredibly curious.
Ban Chao had already apprised him of everything that had happened last night, and he had already pretty much drawn his own conclusions. Furthermore, he could tell that Qin Ye belonged to the type of person who didn’t care about his own appearances.
He never once gave a proper response to any requests made by Liu Yu’s faction. Instead, his responses were all full of empty promises that weren’t possible to fulfill within the next fifty years.
So, did that make Qin Ye useless?
No. Zhou Yu had also entered the mortal realm, and he had previously spoken to several diplomatic ambassadors before. What Qin Ye was doing was to force Liu Yu’s faction to take to his stride. Furthermore, what Qin Ye was truly seeking was hidden underneath the facade of these embellished words, yet they remained so deeply hidden that nobody knew exactly what it was just yet.
Are you really no older than twenty years of age? Zhou Yu lowered his eyes and grew introspective.
“So, what exactly does Hell want?” Liu Yu asked with great patience. This was the first time he had done so in death. After all, when did he ever have to enter negotiations with the old Hell while it was still in existence?
Non-compliance would mean summary execution. That was the way of the old Hell.
Qin Ye finally revealed a sincere smile on his face.
That’s more like it.
You’re the one making requests, so you should carry yourself that way.
The loss of seven vassal states was definitely a loss to Hell, no matter what deal was struck. But keeping them around was no different from maintaining a tiger in one’s backyard. Since that was the case, the best middle ground was to obtain as much as one could before letting it run wild.
“Supplies.” Qin Ye finally retracted the smile on his face as he continued, “And I want the special produce of each of your lands. I’ll be sending an envoy of darkfeathers after you as soon as you leave, and I expect a response within six months’ time. You need the Book of Life and Death? Sure. Trade your special produce for its services.”
This time, not a single person spoke.
Liu Yu rubbed his chin as he mulled over the request, while Ma Fubo stared blankly at the potted plant in the room. Gao Changgong leaned back into his chair with his arms crossed, while Chaghan swept a cold glance at Qin Ye in silence.
Yin spirit stones were fine!
But such supplies were the only thing that none of them were willing to compromise on!
“Since everyone appears to need some time to consider these propositions, let’s take a break for now.” Qin Ye looked at the time - it had already been an hour since the conference first began, “Let’s reconvene twenty minutes later.”
Everyone nodded, before promptly taking their leave.
As soon as Liu Yu and his four attendants left Hell’s Gate, they immediately heard Chaghan snorting, “What a tricky and slippery brat! We’d all started out with nothing. He’s already done so well at the start, and he still wants more supplies to expedite his growth?!”
“At this rate, we might not even have a proper army before he comes knocking on our door!”
“Not necessarily.” Ma Fubo mused, “Who says that he’ll be able to overtake our military developments? With just Yang Jiye alone? Besides, does that mean he’s going to forgo the Luzon fiefdom? Is he going to bring Yang Jiye back from Luzon and send someone else to take his place instead? Yang Jiye might be mild mannered, but not even he might be able to contain his anger if he were stripped of his position just like that.”
“Brother Ma.” Gao Changgong sighed, “He might not be able to train a strong army, but they can still overwhelm us with sheer numbers.”
Ma Fubo grew silent.
He immediately understood what Gao Changgong was getting at. How many people were there in Cathay?
So long as they could reclaim even a single province within Cathay, the sheer number of Yin soldiers they could muster would be sufficient to overwhelm them in a drawn-out battle of attrition.
After some time, Liu Yu finally chipped in again, “Supplies are non-negotiable. Let’s think of something else. Let’s use that as leverage instead. It’s something that I had intended to use later when he broaches the topic of armament trade.”
Chaghan gritted his teeth, “Are you really going to raise it now?”
“Do you have a better solution?”
Chaghan sighed, “Fine. Anyway, our last resort is to retreat to the lands of Australis. That said, the only thing about that is that it’s some distance away.”
Twenty minutes passed in the blink of an eye. When everyone reconvened under the towering statue of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva once more, Liu Yu took the initiative to provide an update, “Lord Qin, we’ve thought about it, and perhaps you might be satisfied with this counter-proposal of ours.”
“I’m all ears.”
Liu Yu drew a deep breath and gritted his teeth, “For the next hundred years, we won’t knock on Cathay’s borders, and neither would we send darkfeathers into the lands of Cathay!”
Qin Ye eyes abruptly lit up.
Wasn’t this the same as a hundred-year peace treaty?
Just then, Arthis leaned over from behind him and whispered softly into his ear, “You can agree to these conditions.”
“Why?” Qin Ye whispered back, “I think we can still fight for more. Even if they wish to come knocking on our borders, they’ll still have to get through the hurdle of the daolords that stand in their way. They might not want to interfere with the internal affairs of Hell and its vassal states, but do you really think they won’t panic when tens of thousands of Yin soldiers march across their borders? Especially when they haven’t got a firm foothold in the region for now? Twenty-fourth strategem - obtain safe passage to conquer the State of Guo. ”
“No.” Arthis responded gruffly, “They can still gain access to Hell through a different route. The Hanyang underworld might have their access obstructed, but Chaghan and some others still have a direct access route to Cathay. And the fact that they share a border with us means that they can continue to plunder our Yin spirits. Since we can’t do anything about it now, there’s no harm in acceding to these requests of theirs so that the Yin spirits in these places can survive for now.”
“Now’s not the time to be discussing these things in detail. If you still wish to have your sea port and trade routes after this trade conference, I’ll apprise you of everything.”
Qin Ye nodded, and then turned back to the table and responded, “Done. When do we sign the agreement?”
“We’ve already drawn up a term sheet.” Liu Yu responded as though he weren’t surprised by this fact at all. He turned his head, “Dao Hai, have the draftsmen take Hell’s draftsmen through the term sheet and verify the terms, and then give me an update.”
“Hang on!” Just then, someone interjected. Han Qinhu slowly rose to his feet and spoke, “Since when did the Lord of Siam, the Lord of the Khmer Empire and myself say that we wanted to break away from Hell?”
Liu Yu’s heart was practically dripping with blood. You damn opportunists aren’t reliable in the slightest!
“Then, are you suggesting that you’re being held hostage by me?” He glared intently at Han Qinhu, “Lord Han, you’d better have evidence to back up your claims. Your words carry weight. If you hadn’t had the heart to run with our suggestion earlier, would we possibly have been able to persuade you to stand on our side?”
“Indeed, I had the heart, but I’m not prepared to go through with it!” Han Qinhu snorted coldly, before turning to Qin Ye and cupping his hands respectfully to him, “Lord Qin, please strike out the names of the lords of Siam, the Khmer Empire, and Sanfotsi.”
Haa… Liu Yu drew a deep breath and forcibly suppressed the burning killing intent in his heart as he shut his eyes.
Qin Ye’s heart also skipped a beat. He lowered his eyes promptly, concealing the brilliant glint in his eyes, “The three of you must think it through properly. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you may be passing up.”
“If you don’t go now, you’ll forever be known as a Cathayan Yin spirit for the rest of your lives!”
1. Green papers are tentative reports used for consultation purposes. It represents the best that a government can propose on an issue without being committed to anything. It sometimes culminates in a white paper that is a more authoritative stand on an issue. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_paper https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_paper