Qin Ye skirted around Arthis’ questions. Instead, he began to pace about with his hands behind his back. After a long time, he remarked, “This is no more than a mere speculation on my part arising out of a single statement from Lord Ksitigarbha himself.”
He recounted Ksitigarbha’s final ‘gift’ to Arthis with a frown on his face, “Answers? What answers? What’s the next course of action I’m supposed to undertake? What could it possibly be? Lord Ksitigarbha had even mentioned that this was of far greater importance than the Yin Beast Bell itself.”
Arthis also revealed a grave expression on her face.
Suppressing her curiosity about Lord Ksitigarbha’s appearances, she lowered her head and mulled over the situation. Both sides had their brows knitted tightly together. Several moments later, Arthis finally shook her head, “Give me more details. How did you encounter Lord Ksitigarbha? What exactly transpired? What exactly did he say? What were your surroundings like? Don’t miss a single detail.”
Qin Ye nodded. This time, he recounted everything for a full fifteen minutes, pausing only to address Arthis’ intermittent queries. After that, she massaged her temples and paced about the room with some measure of frustration.
“I’ve considered many possibilities, and even though I don’t wish to admit it, but… I sincerely believe that Lord Ksitigarbha’s word of caution is likely directed at the upcoming eastbound expedition. But what exactly could it be? What could be of such great importance that it warrants Lord Ksitigarbha’s word of caution in person?” Qin Ye continued with great hesitance, “I’ve also looked into other ancillary matters. Martial City is neither a famous city nor the site of a great historical battle. In fact, it was only formally recognized as a county after the establishment of modern day Cathay as we know it. Under such circumstances… what could possibly be so pressing that it requires my urgent personal attention? Any thoughts?”
He was already aware that the dangers lurking in the eastbound expedition included the hordes of Yin beasts and the terrifying forces of nature. Under such circumstances, anything that deserved Lord Ksitigarbha’s personal word of caution must certainly not be taken lightly!
None of them said a single word.
Arthis continued to rub her brows in distress for several moments until Qin Ye finally couldn’t take it anymore, “Did you recall something?”
Arthis finally paused, but shook her head.
Then stop acting like you know something I don’t!!!
But before Qin Ye could even express his distress, Arthis promptly waved her hand, and a strand of white hair appeared in her palm.
“What’s that?” Qin Ye was puzzled - Are you trying to tell me that I’m getting old?
“Arya Sense, also known as the tathagata substrate.” Arthis gently blew on the white hair, causing it to drift up into the air, where it promptly burst into flames, “This is the last of the eight Buddhist consciousnesses. It’s impossible for anyone in the mortal realm to cultivate the Arya Sense, while only Judge-class Emissaries of Hell are able to even begin cultivating it… The Arya Sense allows a person to open his mind’s eye and perceive things that Yin spirits otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Furthermore… it can even predict the occurrence of an event in future.”
The strand of hair was consumed by the flames and reduced to ashes that scattered with the wind. Arthis turned to Qin Ye, “I used the Arya Sense earlier. The first question I asked was what level of danger you are going to encounter within Valley County.”
Qin Ye’s hair stood on end, “So--...”
“A black strand of hair turned white within twenty seconds.” The corners of Arthis’ lips curled up with a peculiar smile, “Kid, something dangerous lurks in the shadows of Valley County. We’re talking about something that can push an Infernal Judge to the brink of death. But… it’s not something that you can’t resolve. Because if it were a deadly situation, the strand of hair would have turned to ash instantly.”
“The second question I asked was what exactly is the relationship between Valley County and the eastbound expedition…” She nodded towards the ground, “Take a look for yourself.”
Qin Ye looked down, only to realize that the black ash from the burnt hair had actually formed a circle on the ground.
Arthis promptly explained, “This means that everything in Valley City is inextricably intertwined with the eastbound expedition. But what the hell does this even mean? I’m racking my brains, but I can’t seem to find the link!”
She stared intently at Qin Ye even as she spoke, and without realizing it, she subconsciously leaned close to within half a meter from Qin Ye’s face. Qin Ye leaned back with some measure of discomfort, “Don’t come so close. This distance… makes me feel like we’re lovers.”
“You’re still in the mood for jokes?” Arthis chuckled softly as she waved her hands, causing a screen of Yin energy to appear before Qin Ye.
It was a mirror.
Qin Ye gasped as soon as he saw it.
There was… actually a black mark on his face!
In fact, the mark was in the shape of a character - an ink-black Cathayan character for the word ‘水’.
When did this happen? Qin Ye couldn’t believe his eyes. He tried rubbing it off, only to discover that it wouldn’t come off no matter what he did!
“Do you remember when this happened?” Arthis asked.
Qin Ye thought about it for a moment, and his eyes flickered with a cold gleam, “Valley County train station. A steel beam fell from the roof of the building. Had I reacted any slower than I did, I would have become a meat skewer by now. That said… it did graze my cheeks earlier.”
Arthis nodded, but her expression remained as grave as ever, “I… remember this mark.”
“There were hundreds of top-rated clans and families back in the old Hell, most of which were formed from royal families and clans of nobility. Incidentally, the mark of your face appears to match one of these families.” There was a complex expression on her face. Qin Ye sighed softly and asked, “Who is it?”
Arthis responded placidly, “Confucius of Eastmount. Furthermore, I can tell from the nature of the seal that it’s something that is only used in Hell. In other words, this is a Confucian seal that is used in Hell.”
“If one were to say that there are different classes among the gentries and clans of Hell, then the Confucian Family would undoubtedly be ranked among the top of them all. The Confucian Family comprises seven main entities and their respective clans, all of whom were once disciples or descendants of Confucius himself. These include Mencius from the Meng Clan, Xunzi from the Xun Clan, Dong Zhongshu of the Dong Clan, Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi of the Cheng Clan, Zhu Xi of the Zhu Clan, and Zhou Dunyi of the Zhou Clan. All of them use this seal in Hell, so I’m not sure who it is who is after your life.”
Qin Ye’s back was covered with sweat. Confucius… It’s actually the Confucian Family!
What in the world is going on over here?!
He forced himself to calm down. There were just too many points of suspicion concerning the events to date. He shut his eyes and slowly sorted through his thoughts for the next ten minutes, before finally speaking up once more, “The celebrities of the Confucian Family should already have been whisked off to paradise by Lord Ksitigarbha during his ascension. After all, Lord Ksitigarbha had earlier mentioned that the only ones who slipped through the net are the three daolords and the twelve envoys. Besides, shouldn’t the Confucian Family be more tame and mild-mannered? And why are they targeting me in the first place?”
Arthis snorted, “This is an aristocratic clan you’re talking about. Do you think everyone within the Confucian Family bears the same values and principles as Confucius himself? Aristocrats have their own way of life. Go take a look at the status of the Confucian Family, the respect they were accorded and the luxuries they enjoyed. The ones who are after you may be members of the Confucian Family, but it need not necessarily be the head of the family himself. Anyone belonging to the family is entitled to use this seal to indicate their status and identity.”
“Then, how did he possibly escape from Ksitigarbha’s grasp during his ascension? Not even the daolords were able to prevent themselves from being whisked off into paradise, so what makes him different from the rest?” Qin Ye calmly analyzed the situation.
Just then, Arthis was suddenly struck with a brainwave, and she immediately blurted out without restraint, “Limbo!”
Qin Ye’s gaze flickered softly. He had a hunch that Arthis had just located the key to unlocking this mystery, and they were on the verge of a breakthrough.
“Limbo… used to be a land of the exiled. Whenever Hell banished someone to an eternity in Limbo, it would also cross out their names from Hell’s Records altogether. That way, the banished Yin spirit would be trapped in Limbo, fated to drift about aimlessly for the rest of eternity. It would only make sense if this was indeed the case, because Ksitigarbha wouldn’t have considered their existence in the first place. In other words, you’re talking about… the sinners of the Confucian Family.”
“As for your question on the identity of the culprit, it’s likely that the culprit is someone who has discovered something of great importance in Valley County, or someone who has done something of grave significance. Isn’t it a well-known fact that Valley County doesn’t have any cultivators stronger than an Operative-class expert? At least, that was the case before you showed up. In order to prevent you from foiling their plans, it would naturally be crucial to cut you down and nip the problem at the bud. Put differently… you’ve basically stepped into the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Qin Ye grew taciturn and simply stared at the roof thoughtfully. No… that’s not all. This isn’t the truth that Ksitigarbha was talking about. His intuition told him that he had not arrived at the answer. His intuition told him that there was more to be uncovered.
The clouds of suspicion were thick and dense, and it was only by pulling on each and every thread of clue that one could truly ensure his own safety.
After several minutes, Qin Ye suddenly muttered again, “Did you mention earlier… that they were exiles who were banished to Limbo?”
Arthis nodded blankly.
Qin Ye turned around and gazed deeply into her eye, “That’s the mantle we’re talking about. And if they’re in the mantle… how did they possibly arrive at the surface of the earth?”
“They’re undoubtedly Yin spirits who were once a part of Hell. It’s reasonable to guess that they were exiles who were banished to Limbo. After all, that’s the only way to explain how they managed to elude the grasp of Ksitigarbha. But… how does someone from Limbo enter the mortal realm?”
Qin Ye’s analysis was like a bolt of lightning that blasted away the clouds in Arthis’ mind. This time, even Arthis sensed that there was now only an inexplicably thin veil separating them from the truth.
Both of them grew silent in deep thought. Five minutes later, both raised their heads at the exact same time and cried out in unison, “Ksitigarbha!”
“I get it… I finally get it!” Arthis spoke hurriedly, “Lord Ksitigarbha is trying to tell us that the impact of Hell’s collapse must have breached the walls of Limbo and created rifts which allow passage between Limbo and the mortal realm! That’s right… do you still remember who Cao Youdao is? And do you remember the entrance to his lair?! It’s exactly there that we first discovered the Harken’s presence!”
Qin Ye’s eyes blazed with a raging inferno, “That’s right! The Special Investigations Department has also discovered the existence of Limbo, because they have also discovered the rift between Limbo and the mortal realm! It was our mistake not to have considered this point in greater detail at that time!”
“In other words, the criminals who were once exiled from the depths of Hell… might well be using these rifts to infiltrate the mortal realm once more! Arti, how many of these criminals do you estimate there to be?”
Arthis shook her head, “There are innumerable criminals since time immemorial… and only those convicted of the most heinous of crimes would be exiled and banished to Limbo. While I can’t remember the exact figures, I can still be sure that…”
She locked eyes with Qin Ye, “That there aren’t many who can survive such an ordeal! After all, Limbo… Well, it’s a realm that we’ll have to traverse through our upcoming eastbound expedition. You’ll see for yourself at that time. Those who can survive such an ordeal are definitely no mere simpletons!”
And with that, the pandora’s box was flung wide open.
The culprit was a former criminal of Hell, and a sinner of the Confucian Family. He was likely an Infernal Judge or slightly weaker than that. He was incredibly lucky to have been close to the rift in Limbo that was torn asunder during Hell’s collapse, thereby connecting the mortal realm and Limbo. It was only with such luck that he managed to escape through the rift and into the mortal realm. Today… for some reason best known to him, he had already begun to keep a close watch of Qin Ye as soon as Qin Ye entered Valley County.
“Do you want me to head over with you?” Arthis offered her help for the very first time. Previously, Arthis had always egged Qin Ye on in order to train his guts. But this time… Arthis knew better - the Arya Sense would never lie.
Valley County was still shrouded in thick mystery that neither of them were able to peer beyond.
“No… You stay in Hell.” Qin Ye responded gutsily, “If something happens to me, you can still think of a way out. I’ll hand you the Yin Beast Bell. Push comes to shove, you can always awaken the Harken--…”
Just then, he suddenly paused.
“What’s the matter?” Arthis was puzzled. However, Qin Ye promptly turned around and explained himself in a jiffy, “Once something happens to me? Tell me, what did I mean by that?”
Arthis pouted, “But of course… your damned sense of smell for danger is sharper than a rabid dog’s. You can even sense danger located eight hundred kilometers away, so there’s simply no way that anything untoward is going to happen to you…”
“That’s not what I meant! Do I look like the kind who needs reassurance in this regard?!” Qin Ye lambasted back with great exasperation, “Besides, since you know what I’m talking about, why don’t you just be more open with your mind like how you’re so open with your chest?!”
Arthis barked back, “What the hell are you talking about?! What’s wrong with a plunging neckline? It’s called flaunting your assets! Besides, is this really the attitude you should have when talking to someone as well-endowed as me?”
Recognizing that they were on the verge of digressing once more, Qin Ye promptly caught himself and reined them back to the agenda at hand. He furrowed his brows, “Let me ask you something, are all criminals exiled and banished to Limbo… no stronger than Infernal Judges?”
“That’s right… How did you know that?” Arthis stared back at Qin Ye with shock.
“Shut up! Let me ask you something else…” Qin Ye gazed deeply into Arthis’ eyes, “Since I’m also a Judge… why would I possibly experience a sense of danger?”
“What reason is there for Lord Ksitigarbha to personally make an appearance and issue me with a word of caution? On what basis is your Arya Sense saying that I should proceed with care and vigilance?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter