Not a single person felt that Qin Ye was being an alarmist right now.
Having witnessed the devastation brought about by the thunderstorm earlier, everyone was filled with awe and respect for what lay hidden within these uncharted lands. The conditions of their campaign meeting were as humble as it got, but none of them minded this one bit. In fact, everyone could feel the adrenaline coursing through their veins as they continued to listen to Qin Ye.
After all, trials and tribulations were akin to a rite of passage for all superpowers that have existed since time immemorial. Incidentally, these were also the best times for any nation, when the leaders and subordinates were united in heart and mind as they worked towards the very same goal.
“Perhaps… we can trek through Limbo instead?” Huyan Chijin suggested.
She was of the minority race. Her hair was tied up neatly with pigtails, and she was dressed in a full outfit of leather. She sported a high nose bridge, deep eyes, and a tall figure, all of which made her look like a foreigner.
That said, she was by no means a weak and frail lady. This was quite apparent from the two long swords that slung over her back.
“I disagree.” Qin Ye immediately frowned, “First, and foremost, quite apart from the goals and outcome of our eastbound expedition, there’s one other thing that we have to do faithfully - and that is to rewrite the entire Annals of Hell including every bit of headway that we’ve made thus far. To my mind, these records are no less important than the goals of our eastbound expedition itself.”
“Corrections - this is an expedition that absolutely must succeed!” Arthis promptly interjected, “Its implications are too far-reaching. We’re talking about the inaugural battle of the netherworldly warring states era. We’ll need to seize the first mover’s advantage. Sure, it may be possible to lay low with a view of taking down our enemies later on, but they’re just going to get stronger as well! It’s undoubtedly going to be an uphill battle! The ability to find one’s footing amidst the chaos means that we will be able to seize more resources and opportunities for ourselves, while forcing other emerging underworlds to submit to us!”
“Secondly, should we fail to establish the sea port city, we’ll forever be landlocked and bound by the natural geographical constraints of the City of Salvation. Lord Qin, please be mindful that our true enemies aren’t the twelve envoys or the three daolords. Those are just some appetizers before we get to the main dish. Our true enemies lie well beyond our borders, and they are the true gods of their lands, including Thanatos, Anubis and Yamaraja. We’re nothing more than a speck in their eyes right now. It’s only by devouring other emerging underworlds that we can truly rise from the ashes and become a force to be contended with!”
Yang Yanzhao gazed deeply at Qin Ye. He could clearly recall the conversation that he had with his father Yang Jiye before he answered Hell’s summons. Back then, his father had told him that Qin Ye was a very interesting King Yanluo of Hell. Then, when Yang Yanzhao first arrived in Hell, he felt somewhat disappointed by what he saw. Nevertheless, he pressed on with the eastbound expedition, only to be surprised by Qin Ye’s true colours that were hidden beneath the surface. Qin Ye was finally baring his fangs for the very first time.
“Are you confused?” Oda Nobutada was keen to learn a thing or two from Yang Yanzhao, and he had been keeping a close eye on Yang Yanzhao’s expressions all this while. Thus, when Yang Yanzhao revealed a puzzled expression, he immediately leaned over, “Lord Qin might have unorthodox means, and might even seem childish at times. But my father readily swears on his heart that he’s as reliable a leader as it gets.”
“He’s willing to delegate and trust his people, and he hardly even postures to those whom he’s familiar with. Most of all… he’s never made a wrong decision concerning Hell’s future thus far.” He paused for a moment of deliberation, and then continued, “According to Father, Lord Qin’s attitude towards the circumstances is highly dependent on the level of danger that he’s faced with. In other words, he would habitually joke around and be cheeky with others so long as he’s snuggled up in the arms of safety. But as soon as danger rears it ugly head, he, too, will show his true colours.”
Yang Yanzhao nodded with understanding. But of course… Everyone has their own masks in this world. Even the most honest person in this world would react differently when their emotions kick in.
The only difference was that Qin Ye’s wealth of life experiences had taught him everything he knew about controlling, manipulating and even concealing his emotions as he saw fit.
Nobody paid any heed to the private conversation going on at the side. Arthis stood up and tapped on the screen of Yin energy, and it immediately zoomed out and transformed into a map of Cathay, “Everyone, please take a look at this. Once we take down Eastmount Province, we’ll be able to bide our time for the right opportunity to take down the three eastern provinces in the northeast. Down south, the City of Salvation will continue to act as a bulwark for all of our operations. The daolord of the hungry ghost rules over three great provinces surrounding Pearl River Delta in the heart of Cathay, and his existence is still very much a variable for now. But even if he can breach the tight defenses around him, the City of Salvation would be able to stem his approach. In other words, we’d have control over Eastmount Province, Breakwaters Province, Insignia Province and its adjacent Fulling Province. We’d have an entire district in our hands!”
Yang Yanzhao nodded deeply. He was adept at war strategy, and he could naturally tell that Eastmount Province and Insignia Province were both strategic locations in their own rights. Anyone who controlled both would undoubtedly also control Breakwaters Province that was sandwiched between. Even the next province of Fulling would be well within their reach at that time. Moreover… all of these provinces were considered relatively rich and prosperous back in the mortal realm!
Yin and Yang were all inter-related. Prosperity in the mortal realm naturally meant a wealthy pool of talents for the picking! That would be exactly what the new Hell needs at this point in time!
After deliberating for a short moment, Yang Yanzhao added, “That’s not all. The mouth of the Yellow River is located at Eastmount Province, while the mouth of the Yangtze River is located at Breakwaters Province. So long as we have control of these provinces, we’ll be able to access and even raid the other surrounding provinces through the rivers. From there, we’ll slowly conquer more and more of the coastal regions, and that will set us up to march inland for the rest of the nation! The big picture would be complete!”
And this was especially when such a course of action would require them to pass through Southriver Province, the most populous province in all of Cathay!
This was naturally another key objective they needed to take if Hell was to overtake the rest of the emerging underworlds!
Arthis nodded softly and went on, “Thirdly, it’s only with these provinces that we’d finally be able to commence our sea trade. In the absence of any flying Yin beasts right now, especially those that are capable of international flight, we simply must seize control of all seaport cities.”
“Finally…” She paused for a moment, “I’m not able to say with any certainty whether this is still applicable or not, but back when the old Hell was still in existence, the monarch beasts would always gravitate towards locations where Yin energy is the densest. These are also locations where one is most likely to see the appearance of rare artifacts and priceless treasures. Even if we can’t dispose of these Yin beasts as yet, we can still take down the location of their dens and nests, before returning to claim our prizes in future. In turn, these artifacts and treasures may be used to accelerate Lord Harken’s recovery. And once he reawakens and officially joins the ranks of Hell’s forces, Cathay’s internal strife will be as good as completely resolved!”
“Therefore, I, too, am not in favour of marching through Limbo in lieu of the underworld. Although it would indeed be less dangerous, but… we all know that danger is synonymous with opportunity.”
Arthis’ explanation was the final nail in the coffin as far as the first item on the agenda was concerned.
Oda Nobutada consciously took on the role of the scribe and recorded everything furiously. Qin Ye thought about it for several more moments, before finally nodding, “Alright, then that settles it. We’ll continue to forge forward. The second item on the agenda is this - how do we deal with Qufu?”
“Our advantage lies solely in the element of surprise. They don’t have any knowledge that we’ve got a seventy thousand strong army marching for them right now. Furthermore, we’re marching for them through the core of the earth, and not the mantle, which is where they’re located. They would never be able to detect our approach.”
“That said, our disadvantage lies in the fact that it’s going to take us at least three months to traverse several hundreds of kilometers before we finally arrive at Qufu. Add any encounters with monarch beasts and natural phenomena, and we’re bound to have casualties along the way. The entire journey is going to take a toll on our limited weapons and resources as well. General Yang, do you have any thoughts on this?”
It was only natural to leave such matters to the professionals. This was Qin Ye’s usual practice in any event.
As a leader, it was his duty to know who to use, and when to use them.
Yang Yanzhao immediately stood up and went to the large map and cupped his hands respectfully at the rest of the meeting, “I’ve thought about this before, and I firmly believe that our best bet is to launch a sneak attack on Qufu!”
Nobody interjected, so he promptly continued, “We’ve brought four Yin beasts along with us - the Nine-Eyed Siegebeast, the Scarlet Lotus Beast, the Yin-Footed Beast, and the Cloud Devourer. All of them are capable of mass destruction. Once they enter the city, all hell will break loose. We can take advantage of the opportunity to slaughter the enemy forces and capture Qufu in one fell swoop!”
Mu Guiying finally spoke up, “Sneak attack… Are you saying that… we’re no match for them in a full-on confrontation?”
“Yes.” Yang Yanzhao pointed at the map and responded with a deep voice, “Lord Qin has apprised us of some of the crucial facts which he’d gleaned back in the mortal realm. Firstly, Kong Mo’s influence extends well into the Breakwaters Province! This tells us that the entire Eastmount Province is already under the control of Kong Mo’s alliance by now. This is the only reason why he would consider moving beyond the boundaries of Eastmount Province to consider Breakwaters Province in the first place. Moreover, we’ve got to take into account the fact that there have been instances of civil strife within Eastmount Province over the last hundred years. In other words, there’s no dearth of Yin spirits for his taking over there!”
“Beyond that, whilst Valley County is admittedly a strategic location for an alliance like theirs, the fact that they were willing to deploy sixty thousand troops there suggests that there can easily be ten times this number back at Qufu, hometown of the Confucian Family! And we’ve not even considered the existence of military formations at their disposal… Lord Qin, we cannot underestimate things like military formations. Even the previous King Yanluo of Hell would find it troublesome to deal with Yin soldiers imbued by the effects of military formations! The fact that you were able to return to Hell under siege by an army of sixty thousand Yin soldiers empowered by military formations is already a great feat in and of itself.”
Qin Ye leaned over and asked Arthis curiously, “Is that so?”
Arthis responded solemnly, “That’s right. Military formations and spell arrays are the foundation of every underworld’s fighting force. The crux of how certain underworlds are able to seize control of large territories from the onset lay in their command over these formations and arrays. These are all information that have been recorded in the Annals of Hell. Unfortunately, we have neither the luxury of time nor capacity to delve deeper into a study of these details. For starters, these are matters that require a foundational knowledge in Yin Talismanology. To that end, your best bet is to wait for the experts from SRC to pass on and enter Hell before having them pound out something more easily digestible on our end. Not even I can do something like that.”
“Each and every military formation and spell array you accumulate under your belt is no different from having another trump card hidden up your sleeves…” She gazed deeply at the sky outside, watching as the dark clouds in the sky slowly dispersed, “Kong Mo comes from the lineage of one of Hell’s top gentries. This was how he was able to get his hands on something like military formations in the first place. Unfortunately, there are limits to how much Emissaries of Hell can instakill evil ghosts of the same cultivation level as them. Do you really think that a single Netherworld Operative would be able to take down an army of a hundred thousand all by himself?”
Qin Ye rubbed his chin, “What kind of ratio are we talking about?”
“One is to thirty. And this is on the basis that there are no other variables involved, and that all things are equal. For instance, say you encounter someone else just as weak as you are… cough, cough, cough… I mean, someone like you who doesn’t have any extraneous means of saving themselves, you’d be able to stand toe to toe against thirty of them all at once.”
Qin Ye glared fiercely at Arthis. Bloody hell… I heard you! That’s a Freudian slip right there! I finally know exactly what you think of me right now!
You bloody ingrate! Don’t you even have a single word of compliment for me? What’s the use of keeping you around?!
Don’t you know that my true value lies in my brain?!
Arthis deftly avoided Qin Ye’s accusatory gaze and continued placidly, “But if we factor in military formations, we’re talking about a ratio of approximately one is to ten. In other words, a single genuine Yin soldier of Hell would be able to kill ten rogue Yin soldiers of the same cultivation level as him. If we factor in spell arrays, then… we’re talking about a ratio of one is to one.”
“Think about it - were you able to instakill Kong Mo back then when you squared off against him? With the Peach Blossom Lantern in hand, he was even able to threaten your life so long as you slipped up in the slightest!”
So that’s how it is.
Everything was now crystal clear to Qin Ye. He deliberated over these things for the next few moments, before turning back to Yang Yanzhao, “Do you think that the number of soldiers garrisoned in Qufu would number greater than seven hundred thousand? Sufficient to consume our army?”
Unexpectedly, Yang Yanzhao shook his head.
With a faint smile on his face, he continued, “My lord, this is our greatest advantage.”
“They don’t even know that we’re coming! The Beacons of Light are things that only the citizens of Hell can see! Over the last hundred years, Eastmount Province must have seen the rise of tens of millions of Yin spirits. A part of Qufu’s Yin soldiers would already have perished in the skirmishes against the daolord, but Qufu still wouldn’t have any issues mustering a force of at least a million soldiers. That said…” He hammered heavily on the Yin energy screen, “They couldn’t possibly all be at Qufu!”
Everyone’s eyes immediately lit up at the same time. They immediately understood what Yang Yanzhao was getting at.
Qufu was hidden deep in the hinterlands of Kong Mo’s territories. It was accessible by neither sea nor river. For someone like Kong Mo who was desperately searching for ways to expand the far reaches of his influence, gathering troops in the hinterlands would most certainly be the last thing he was willing to do.
A daolord lies just north of Eastmount Province!
How could he afford to leave the bulk of his million Yin soldiers garrisoned in Qufu?
Even the consolidation of his forces earlier garrisoned in Valley County was undoubtedly largely due to the pressure he was facing from the daolord to begin with! What reason was there to be fortifying his capital? Was he simply going to allow the daolord to encroach upon his territory until the daolord surrounded his capital?
Qin Ye immediately understood everything, and his eyes flickered with wild passion.
That’s right… And if that’s indeed the case, then the possibility of taking down Qufu would be far higher than expected!
And once we succeed, Kong Mo’s alliance would find themselves completely sandwiched between a rock and a hard place. With the daolord in front, and us behind, it would only be a matter of time before they’re completely swallowed up!
“Perhaps… we can even consider extending an offer of cooperation to the daolord.” Qin Ye licked his lips as he rubbed his chin sinisterly, “An enemy of an enemy… I wouldn’t have any reservations turning my back against them in future anyway. Well, it’s decided then!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter