They lowered their guns. The man in the suit took the lead and slowly made his way over. Midway through, the man glanced up at what lay beyond the iron doors, and his pupils immediately shrank.
He could no longer sense the Yin spirit emanating from the evil ghost within!
This… could it be…
How is it even possible? I can’t sense the presence of any true energy emanating from this young man. But what other possibility is there under the present circumstances, but for the fact that…
The hunting zone has been completely eradicated?
A hunting zone with a Hunter-class evil ghost was destroyed so swiftly and easily? And the man responsible for this is even walking out so casually? Doesn’t this mean that…
He’s a Hellguard?!
Both sides were silent. The expressions of the man in the suit changed vacillated back and forth between shock and disbelief, to amazement, and then back to shock and disbelief.
Qin Ye was far too young. He simply couldn’t believe that someone who appeared as young as Qin Ye could actually be an Anitya Hellguard!
“You are…” He drew a deep breath and fervently suppressed the elation welling up in his heart, “An Anitya Hellguard?!”
“Hellguard?!” The captain immediately gasped and grabbed the sleeves of the man in a suit, “He’s a Hellguard?! You’re telling me that we actually have a Hellguard-class expert rendering assistance to us at this god-forsaken county?!”
“How is that even possible…” The police officer who was smoking immediately froze in shock. The ashes from the cigarette fell onto his clothes, but his eyes were completely trained on Qin Ye right now. Then, the police officer dropped the cigarette altogether and exclaimed excitedly, “Really? Is it true? Is he really an Anitya Hellguard?”
This simple realization was like a bright ray of hope to the police officers amidst the dark night skies. Anitya Hellguard… An Anitya Hellguard has finally arrived! Doesn’t this mean that… Valley County is going to be saved?
Nobody dared to say a single word. Everyone could feel their hearts thumping wildly out of their chests as they stared transfixed at Qin Ye, waiting for his confirmation. On the other hand, Qin Ye simply furrowed his brows, “What’s going on? I’ve already cleared out the hunting zone on your behalf, so why do you still seem so concerned about Valley County?”
The officer and the suited cultivator exchanged a knowing glance, before they promptly opened the door to one of the police cars, “Sir, this way, please. We’ll talk along the way.”
Qin Ye glanced back at everyone, only to notice how everyone appeared to have an ingratiating smile on their faces. In all likelihood, the police officers were probably well aware that Qin Ye was only passing through, and yet they clearly still bore hope that Qin Ye would be willing to lend them a hand. Qin Ye didn’t say more, and promptly boarded the police car together with the rest.
The car drove straight into the suburbs of Valley County. It was now deep into the night, well past the time of the supernatural broadcasts. The entire county was brightly lit with streetlights, but not a single person could be seen on the streets.
That said, Qin Ye noticed a number of wandering spirits drifting about on the streets from time to time. The stores and even the hospital that they passed by were covered densely with talismans and spirit-warding bells. The eerie night breeze swept across the deserted streets, gently tossing about the litter on the ground as though they were paper money fluttering about in the skies of Hell.
Everything was silent and lifeless. It was hard to fathom that this was a county with a population size of hundreds of thousands. It was completely devoid of night life, whether neon lights, barbeque stalls or even supper snack carts. Everything was completely desolate. Not even a single cat and dog could be seen on the roads.
Ding-a-ling… Every household in the region had their own set of talismans and spirit-warding bells sealing off all unwanted visitors from their homes. It was clear that the citizens had all begun to take things into their own hands. Although the government hadn’t yet made things public with the supernatural outbreaks, it was clear that there was a tacit understanding of what was going on. The crisp jingle of the bells reverberated softly through the otherwise silent streets, yet it did nothing to liven the mood. In fact, it only filled the atmosphere with even more desolation than before.
The buildings that they passed by had their lights completely extinguished. Not a single one of them had their lights on at this point in time. As the police car rumbled silently down the streets, Qin Ye continued to glance out of the window - Is this really what the rest of Cathay looks like at this point in time? It’s practically… no different from the end of the world.
Everyone was clearly living in fear. It was clear that the only moments of solace were in the day, before 6.00 p.m. struck. And even then, nobody dared to linger for long in any dark places or corridors. Things were even worse after 6.00 p.m., when the entire family would huddle together under their blankets and silently pray to the gods of their faiths that they could make it through yet another night.
Most people passed the nights with their eyes wide open. Yet, there were always those less fortunate than others who would arise in the morning, only to embrace the limp bodies of the ones they had loved and lost.
“These are the sins of Hell…” Qin Ye murmured softly to himself, before slowly shutting his eyes.
Ksitigarbha… do you know what kind of chaos you’ve left in the wake of your ascension? How could you… leave the world like this?!
Aren’t you supposed to be benevolent?
Qin Ye’s voice was incredibly soft, but the driver clearly heard his words. The driver took a deep breath and forced a smile to his face, “Sir… may I know how I should address you?”
“Qin.” Qin Ye responded curtly with a muffled voice. He clearly wasn’t in a good mood in light of the thoughts in his heart.
“Mr Qin, where do you come from? To be a Hellguard at such a young age… I imagine you must hold a rather important office in the Special Investigations Department, don’t you?” The man in the suit seated behind continued, “Ah, where are my manners? My name is Zeng Shuai. I’m one of the ten members of the Special Investigations Department posted here…”
Clink… Just then, there was a soft, crisp sound at the windows. Qin Ye glanced up momentarily. Just as he was about to retract his gaze, he suddenly whipped his head around and did a double take what was outside the window.
“Mr Qin… Mr Qin?” Seconds later, Qin Ye was jolted back to his senses by Zeng Shuai’s voice. But as soon as he turned back from the side windows and looked ahead… he noticed that there was now a blanket of fluttering paper money covering the abandoned path that led away from the county.
Pale-white paper money.
Furthermore, the paper money appeared to be scattering from behind their car, almost as though the night wind were stirring them up and sweeping them forward. In fact, it almost appeared as though there was a mourning troupe following right behind their vehicle.
“These are probably just some mischievous ghosts that have strayed from the crowd.” Zeng Shuai sighed softly, “Every single part of the county that was once inhabited by humans are prone to strange occurrences like these. Don’t worry, they’re only slightly stronger than wandering spirits, and they would never dare to approach a cultivator.”
Qin Ye remained silent.
There was a very slight chance that his eyes might have been playing tricks on him, but he could have sworn that one of the sheets of paper money that was earlier stuck on the window earlier… had words written on them!
In fact, there was a phrase written on it - ‘come to us’.
Impossible… If this phenomenon had been caused by an evil ghost, there’s no way I wouldn’t be able to see them. Even if they were mutated spirits, I should still be able to detect their presence in the instant that they appeared.
But, how could there possibly be someone else around… Qin Ye chuckled listlessly as he shook off the ridiculous thoughts in his mind and slumped back into his seat. Then, as he casually glanced up at the rearview mirror, the hair on his back suddenly stood up on ends!
There’s really someone!
From the rearview mirror, Qin Ye could see a long trail of people wearing white mourning robes replete with long fluttering sleeves following right behind the car! They were even holding their palms tightly together!
Qin Ye’s year-long experience as the King Yanluo of Hell had exposed him to a plethora of things pertaining to the dead and deceased. Thus, he could tell that the clothes worn by the procession following their car were robes worn for the mourning of high officials of their times. The lapels of the robes were sewn up rightly, while the sleeves of the robes were incredibly wide. All in all, it was still an indescribably bizarre sight.
In fact what was most peculiar was the fact that even though he couldn’t actually see the procession with his naked eye, he could tell that there was not a single shred of Yin energy emanating from their bodies!
Nor was it true energy!
Rather… their bodies appeared to be shrouded with an aura that they had never felt before. What’s more, they appeared to be corralling their police car towards a particular location!
“You guys…” Qin Ye turned around, only to freeze in horror by what he saw. His entire back was instantly covered in cold sweat.
There was not a single person remaining in the vehicle he was in!
And notwithstanding the fact that he was the only one remaining, the vehicle continued to steer and shift by itself, as though it were driving him to a predestined location!
What in the world is going on?!
Cold sweat slid down the tip of Qin Ye’s nose. He subconsciously glanced at the window again, only to realize that… he could still see Zeng Shuai and the rest seated in the vehicle, pale and limp as dead bodies in a morgue. It was almost as though… they were currently trapped in a completely different world.
Nobody was controlling the vehicle, and yet it continued to move on its own. Qin Ye gasped, and his hair stood on end.
The only other explanation for this phenomenon was the fact that he was simply surrounded by Yin energy so overwhelming that it was practically omnipresent. A deathly glint flickered in the depths of his eyes. After all, he had once experienced such a terrifying sensation before.
When he first encountered the Harken in the City of Salvation, the incredible density of Yin energy had given rise to the peculiar phenomenon of the lady combing his hair in broad daylight. The intense fear that surged through every fiber of his being that day was once again coursing through the veins in his body. Back then, Arthis explained that it wasn’t that Yin energy was undetectable. Rather, it was simply that the opponent’s Yin energy was simply so massive that it was practically omnipresent, spreading through an entire province or even district as though it were as regular as air.
Could there be… a Harken-level existence hidden around these parts?
He didn’t dare entertain such thoughts any further. The only thought that was running through his mind right now was the notion of escape. He kicked the door hard, only to discover that it was bolted down tightly!
Just then, the procession of mourners began to chant an eerie song, almost as though they were sobbing and croaking up for the loss of a loved one. They sounded no different from a chorus of crows. Qin Ye turned around and stared at them in horror. The songs of the mourners in the darkness of the night did nothing to reduce the fear coursing through his veins right now. Instead, it only agitated and stirred his heart even more, like water that was added to boiling hot oil!
“What kind of ghost is this supposed to be?!” He gritted his teeth and turned back once more. And then, the car abruptly came to a halt.
Click. The door unlocked itself and opened up.
Whoosh...The night wind blew, scattering the fallen leaves on the ground with a soft rustle. He was currently situated on an open plaza that was surrounded by a number of partially-collapsed buildings. That said, there was a two-metre tall Buddhist statue niche that remained standing right in the heart of the plaza. Its presence lent the broken surrounding a sense of worn-out beauty.
It was clear that the wooden niche had seen its fair number of years. The paint was mottled and peeling on all sides, while the remnants of torn red silk fluttered about with the gentle night breeze. Fruits were placed at the statue as offerings to the gods, while the statue itself held two thick red candles that remained lit with a gentle glow. Under the faint illumination of the candlelight, Qin Ye could tell that it was the statue of… Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.
A procession of ghosts in the dark night, culminating in the encounter with a Buddhist niche bearing the statue of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.
Qin Ye paused for a moment, and then turned back, only to realize that the maddening procession of mourners had already vanished with the wind, almost as though it had never appeared to begin with.
The night was dark, and the desolate ruins around surrounded a single incense-rich Buddhist niche. The shadows that loomed all around flickered menacingly, almost as though they concealed innumerable ghosts that were waiting to strike. Qin Ye gulped nervously and slowly approached Ksitigarbha’s statue, “Not even the most reckless of ghosts would dare to impersonate you…”
“So… are you the one who called me to this place?”
Ten minutes passed… twenty minutes passed… Still, nothing. The time now was 11.50 p.m. Qin Ye stared intently at the stone statue, but there wasn’t a single shred of response.
Then, just as he decided to stand up, the stone statue suddenly opened his eyes!
The plaza was in ruins, while bells were jingling amidst the confetti of scattering paper money. In the stifling silence of the night, a stone statue suddenly awakened and locked eyes with a lonesome human being.
The darkness loomed all around them. Qin Ye could sense that the Yin spirits in the surroundings were crying out in fear as they retreated like an ebbing tide. But he soon discovered to his great dismay that… he was completely immobilized to the ground!
The stone statue revealed a pair of gleaming golden eyes so bright it was like nothing Qin Ye had ever seen before! Its radiance shone everywhere, and in such a dazzling manner that one couldn’t even tell the original colour of the statue’s pupils!
Moreover, there was neither hostility nor bloodlust in that abstruse gaze of the statue. Instead, it was only filled with compassion and empathy.
“What a pity.” The stone Buddha statue opened its lips slowly, “If only you were like either of your two predecessors, you would have been able to perceive my existence through your Eighth Consciousness, the Arya Sense, and realized who I was.”
It’s seriously Ksitigarbha?
Qin Ye’s jaws dropped slightly. He shook his head with great disbelief, and even took some steps back subconsciously. But as soon as he did, he found his sleeves caught by the statue’s zen staff.
“Get behind me.” The stone Buddha slowly spoke, “They… are almost here.”
1. The Eight Consciousnesses are derived from various Buddhist texts. From what I gather, they comprise five physical consciousnesses/senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste, together with three mental consciousnesses/senses that are loosely known as active thought (the sixth consciousness), disturbing emotions/attitudes (the seventh consciousness) and finally reflexive awareness formed from the basis of inferential cognition (the eighth consciousness). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Consciousnesses#The_eightfold_network_of_primary_consciousnesses