Zeng Shuai sighed wistfully, “When I fulfilled the Great Vow and ascended into paradise, the great collapse was so powerful that only the second King Yanluo could resist its effects. Not even the first King Yanluo of Hell was spared. However, he didn’t lift a single finger. He remained right there in his palace, watching my ascension with his hands behind his back. I was even pleading for him to resolve the problem that plagued the mortal realm and the netherworld. Unfortunately… his response was curt and simple.”
After a long time, Qin Ye hazarded a guess, “Without destruction, there can be no renewal?”
Zeng Shuai nodded, “You can’t even begin to fathom the situation that plagued the old Hell. The Infernal Judge that accompanies you right now has never seen the top secrets of Hell accessible only by the upper echelons of Hell. Not even the twelve envoys were privy to such information. To their minds, Hell was simply domineering and powerful. Only the Harken and other Yama-King level entities were aware that Hell was already on the verge of crumbling on itself. If… Hell sustained another invasion akin to the Eight-Nation Alliance that besieged Cathay some time back, then… Hell would truly be in trouble. Furthermore… Hell was already at the point of no return.”
“No matter how powerful the second King Yanluo is, it would still be impossible to resist a coalition formed by the top powers of the world, including Anubis, Thanatos, Yamaraja and Hades. Besides, there’s still the tens of billions of invading Yin soldiers to take into consideration. And worse still, I dare not fathom whether the imperial giants in Hell would even be willing to stand united with Hell when such an invasion occurs. Would they see the invaders as enemies? Or would they see it as an opportunity?”
I understand… I finally understand everything.
Qin Ye sighed wistfully. The second King Yanluo of Hell… was probably of the same mind as the latter Ming Dynasty monarchs - all of them would much rather destroy everything and rebuild it from the ground up than slowly excise the growing tumours in his body.
That said… not a single emperor has ever brought themselves to do something like that to date.
Ksitigarbha’s account had given him a brand new perspective as the second King Yanluo of Hell. For one, the second King Yanluo was not one who coveted the position of Yanluo in the first place. He might have been a cultivation maniac that is no different from the wuxia novels out there, but the one thing that Qin Ye was certain about was that the office of Yanluo was something he had merely casually assumed along the path of his cultivation journey. He couldn’t be bothered about politics, but he also knew full well that he couldn’t afford to completely turn a blind eye to the trouble that was brewing either. Unfortunately, his greatest failure was his inability to bring himself to do anything about it. Thousands of years of feudal dynasties, replete with thousands of heroes and heroines of their times had been woven into an inextricable, impermeable net of intricacies in the old Hell!
Who was he to move against first?
The Confucian Clan? The Mo Clan? Or the Hundred Schools of Thought?
Or perhaps the great Han gentry? The Tang gentry? The Sui gentry?
And then there were still the ghostly citizens and armies that were completely loyal to the charge of each feudal lord in Hell. Everyone expressly professed their undying allegiance to Hell, but was there any one of them who wasn’t aware of the great web of interdependence that existed among the clans and gentries? Making a move against a single faction would be tantamount to testing the hearts of others.
Even if the second King Yanluo were unparalleled across all three realms, the eruption of such civil strife would undoubtedly ruin Hell as they knew it. Besides… despite his indomitable strength, could he truly stand tall against a combined force of tens of billions of Yin soldiers all at once?
A force of billions was nothing to be trifled with.
Change required a catalyst.
And the best catalyst was naturally an external one, because everything within… was already in a complete deadlock.
It was no different from a pool of stagnant water.
The thousands of years of flowing feudalism had become so densely packed and interwoven that it had finally coagulated into a pool of stagnant ice - one so thick and impervious that not even the Yama-Kings of the Ten Palaces or the strongest entity across all three realms were able to break. This was ice that had been formed from the names of far too many historically significant entities, including Liu Bang, Zhang Liang, Li Shimin, Zhao Kuangyin… 
Thus… when he finally saw the power of Ksitigarbha’s ascension whisking away all Yin spirits of Hell to paradise, the second King Yanluo decided to go with the flow and bury the long legacy of Fengdu Necropolis together with the thousands of years of foiled feudalism.
Qin Ye was a man of great determination. But he simply couldn’t hold a candle next to the second King Yanluo of Hell. He admired the second King Yanluo for his willingness to stick to his deep resolve.
“So… you guys ended up searching for me instead?” Qin Ye’s voice was slightly hoarse.
Zeng Shuai nodded. His voice grew distant as the starry skies, “When I first learnt of King Yanluo’s inclinations, I’d already begun to make preparations for the future. Unfortunately… the fateful day arrived too quickly, and we were still underprepared.”
“Thus, I’d in my final moments entrusted Granny Meng with the tall order to hand the final Emissary of Hell token to the most suitable candidate. This was the most pressing thing on my mind at that time, and this was also why I hadn’t managed to bring away the three daolords and the twelve envoys to paradise with me. After all… next to the weight of Hell’s succession, they are… completely insignificant.”
“This was the only thing I could do for Hell back then. After that, I tried various means to re-enter the mortal realm, but… I didn’t have any opportunities to do so.”
“Why?” Qin Ye was befuddled, “With your strength, why do you need someone to invite you to manifest in their bodies? Couldn’t you just destroy the three daolords with a simple flick of your sleeves?”
Zeng Shuai smiled bitterly, “You should be aware that the premise of Hell is built on the foundation of faith. Fear of the unknown begets myths and legends, which gives rise to the system of gods and goddesses. In turn, faith in such systems is the precondition for Hell’s existence. In a way, one could say that the mortal realm is the foundation of the three realms. After all, it is only when Man believes that gods and deities can roam the skies freely. So long as there is no fear… mankind would slowly begin to reject the notion of gods and ghosts, following which we would slowly but surely be unable to enter the mortal realm any longer. Master Qin, think carefully about it. Do you think everything was really due to a careless omission on our part?”
Qin Ye was somewhat taken aback, because he finally understood what Zeng Shuai was getting at.
Hell would only flourish when mankind continued to fear, have faith and believe in the existence of gods and ghosts. So, when did such fear of ghosts and gods vanish?
It was the advent of science.
Incidentally, science was a concept that had only been propounded greatly in recent decades.
The study of science had pervaded Cathay ever since the nation had opened its borders to foreign lands. The advent of science had led to the diminishing of feudalism, but it also slowly encroached upon the footholds of theologies and beliefs. Although some say that the end of science is theology itself, the current state of science is simply too far away to be plausible right now.
Do Cathayans still believe in gods and ghosts?
90% of the population would probably say they still do. After all, it was better to be safe than sorry, was it not?
Unfortunately, such a cursory belief was hardly the same as faith. It was no more than a response borne out of convenience.
Qin Ye, too, had once wondered whether the notion of faith and belief was a good thing or not. His personal conviction was that it was a good thing.
Faith was a notion that was quite different from superstition. Faith begets principles and values through which a person would live life with conviction. But recent developments in the mortal realm appeared to show a growing inclination to the rejection of such notions, even to the point where all forms of spirituality would be censored from modern films and literature. Things were truly getting out of hand.
Such circumstances were no different from the mortal realm’s rejection of gods and ghosts, or the heavens and the netherworld. The Heavenly Dao was still a force that undergirded the world, but how were the gods and ghosts supposed to get by?
“So… you were unable to return to the mortal realm?”
“I couldn’t even display a fragment of my power in the mortal realm.” Ksitigarbha sighed softly, “I’ve got my difficulties as well. Causality undergirds everything around. The seeds that I’ve sown should naturally be handled by the sower himself. Fortunately, I’d managed to find the perfect opportunity to manifest in the mortal realm and meet you face to face, because… I also want to do something for the establishment of the new Hell.”
“You’re willing to help me out?” Qin Ye exclaimed in shock. His heart was suddenly stirring with joy.
“Of course. If Hell isn’t rebuilt, the Yin spirits would have nowhere to go. Speaking of which, haven’t you ever wondered how Cathay’s population still continues to grow?”
Qin Ye froze.
He didn’t quite understand what Zeng Shuai was getting at.
Zeng Shuai smiled softly, “The six paths of reincarnation are no longer in existence. Nobody is being reincarnated, so the population size should logically be dwindling instead. So why is the population of Cathay still growing?”
This was something that had just occurred to Qin Ye! Zeng Shuai placed his hands together and continued without missing a beat, “And I’m not the only one. Even the second King Yanluo of Hell isn’t willing to stand idly and watch his successor rebuild Hell with absolutely nothing. Thus, he has personally changed a part of the Heavenly Dao such that for the next three hundred years, the mortal realm can still continue to experience births and a growth in population, even in the absence of the six paths of reincarnation. However, due to the urgency of the situation back then, this was the only thing he had managed to do as far as the Heavenly Dao was concerned…”
Qin Ye’s eyes widened slightly - What do you mean this is the “only thing” he managed to do? Dear, venerable monk, don’t you think that’s a rather contrived description of what he’s managed to accomplish?!
Bloody hell… He has practically achieved the impossible! His achievements are practically in the realms of cultivation novels!
“Furthermore, he has also reinforced the Array of the Nine Gods so as to guarantee that Hell wouldn’t experience an external invasion for a period of two hundred and fifty years. In fact… from what I understand, he’d even personally visited the other underworlds and dealt each of their kings a heavy blow. Otherwise… think about it, the other underworlds might not be able to enter Hell due to the existence of the Array of the Nine Gods, but everyone can see that there is a problem with Hell from the problems manifesting back in the mortal realm. So why haven’t any of the other underworlds sent more darkfeathers?”
He continued gruffly, “Because nobody dares to risk offending the second King Yanluo.”
Qin Ye drew a deep breath, “Then… where’s the second King Yanluo right now? I intend to… invite him to be a patron saint of Hell or something. Why don’t I… cede control of Hell back to him? I’m perfectly fine settling for the title of a head of the military division or something…”
Their discussion suddenly took a turn for the weird.
Zeng Shuai stared back at Qin Ye, completely dumbfounded for the next five minutes, before finally responding, “Nobody knows where he’s gone. The strength of his cultivation means he’s not confined by the limits of the three realms altogether.”
That’s not fair…
Qin Ye pouted in dismay. He was filled with the urge to pull the second Yanluo back and smack him on the ass - “Do you know what you’ve done? How can you leave me with a bunch of socialists and just go about your own business like that? What’s the meaning of this?”
Just then, Zeng Shuai’s body erupted with brilliant light, and blood began to seep out of his seven apertures.
He froze for a moment, before sighing wistfully, “This body is far too weak. To think that god’s possession could only last for such a short period of time with his body… But, I guess that’s fine, because I’ve already said most of what needs to be said. Before I go, I’ve got two gifts I would like to hand over to you.”
We’re finally getting to the point!
A bell chimed in Qin Ye’s mind, and his entire body tensed itself up on end.
My big break has finally arrived! I’m going to be propelled to the top of the world! After all, how bad can something bestowed by Lord Ksitigarbha himself possibly be?
I wonder what it’s going to be? A small vial of priceless pills? A secret manuscript? A heaven-devouring gourd? A god-defying mount? …
A split second later, Zeng Shuai pulled out a bell.
An ordinary looking bell.
It was full of rust, so much so that it didn’t even ring when shaken.
Qin Ye stared at it without motioning to receive it.
The entire scene was suddenly filled with a sense of awkwardness.
“About that… did you pull out the wrong artifact?” Having noticed that Zeng Shuai was still extending the bell to him, Qin Ye tried to prompt him with a friendly reminder, “Don’t you have any artifacts on hand that can accelerate the growth of Yin flora and fauna? Or a gourd that wields the power to destroy the world with a single strike? Or perhaps even a wordless manuscript that can allow me to transcend the world? I’d be happy to accept it even if it were just another divine artifact…”
Zeng Shuai: ??????
Don’t you get what I’m trying to say?
Qin Ye continued to hint desperately to Zeng Shuai, “Look, there’s currently a multitude of things to do around Hell, so don’t you think Hell needs someone powerful to helm its operation? Lord Ksitigarbha, don’t you think I’m a suitable candidate for that? The bones of my body are well-aligned, and I’m a genius that’s only seen once every century or so. I only appear unassuming because an old fogey in my ring has been suppressing the fighting spirit in my body… In short… there’s no one more qualified than I am to receive the bestowment of a powerful legacy!”
What the hell are you talking about?!
Zeng Shuai’s temples throbbed uncontrollably, and his eyelids twitched as he responded, “This artifact… is called the Yin Beast Bell. I’ve been wearing it for the last thousands of years, and its presence is practically synonymous with mine. The Harken would only listen to the commands of the holder of this--...”
Qin Ye immediately snatched the bell from Zeng Shuai’s hands, and the atmosphere in the air changed once again.
How could I have forgotten something like that?! How could it have slipped my mind that the Harken was this old man’s pet? And wouldn’t all pets have their own favourite bell? Something like that… is simply too amazing!
With it, Hell’s bulwark will finally be complete! It will be utterly and thoroughly complete!
Who dares to invade Hell?
It’s not that I’m looking down on you guys, it’s just a fact that all of you are trash next to me!
Want to fight me? Say hello to my dear pet first!
“Excellent treasure!” Qin Ye began to caress the rusty bell with great affection, “I won’t hide it from you, but the Harken is currently resting below Hell, and it sees us as its mortal enemy…”
Zeng Shuai furrowed his brows, “The Harken isn’t a Yin beast that doesn’t listen to explanations… Did you guys… do something to it?”
Qin Ye was just playing with the bell in his hands when he suddenly paused and responded with an inexplicably natural expression, “How is that possible… Do I look like such a person to you?”
Yes, you do… Speaking of which, every successive King Yanluo of Hell seems to be getting more and more extreme… Zeng Shuai’s lips trembled slightly, but chose to remain silent.
“The next gift from me isn’t a Yin artifact. Rather, it’s a phrase. But this phrase contains far more significance than even the Harken itself.” Zeng Shuai stared intently at Qin Ye, “Do you know what the passage of Yin soldiers earlier signifies?”
Qin Ye shook his head.
“This is the answer.” Zeng Shuai looked him straight in the eye, and continued gravely, “Remember, if you’re going to reestablish Hell, you’re going to have to keep the ‘flow’ in mind. Those Yin soldiers earlier… are the embodiment of truth of the ‘greater flow’. This is why I’d brought you to this particular location in the first place!”
“Hell has collapsed. The mortal realm is changing, and so are the underworld and Limbo. The answers you seek cannot possibly be found back in the old Hell. You need real answers; you need to see the truth about the evil ghosts that still remain in the mortal realm to date. Valley County holds the key to these questions! In fact… it is so crucial that it will determine the next course of actions you’re going to undertake!”
2. The array itself was supposed to have lasted for 250 years, so I imagine he would have improved it by another 250 years. An alternative interpretation might be that Zeng Shuai was referring to it prospectively, meaning it would still be in force for 250 years from now, and that the second King Yanluo had merely extended it by 100 years.