Qin Ye’s expressions grew completely solemn.
Based on what Sha Xiangzu was saying, it was clear that Qufu… was an incredibly developed city!
Historically, the greatest battles never took place in the wilderness. Rather, they all pertained to the siege of a city. A mighty, developed city was generally synonymous with a golden fortress. If Qufu was indeed built as such, then… there was a high likelihood that their losses would be great even if they launched a sneak attack on Qufu itself!
“Forty square kilometers?” Qin Ye asked with a burning gaze in his eyes. That was already twice as large as what Hell had initially predicted.
Sha Xiangzu shook his head.
Qin Ye gasped, “Sixty?”
Sha Xiangzu continued to shake his head.
“At least a hundred.” Sha Xiangzu’s expressions were incomparably solemn, “It’s almost like the sprawling cities we see on modern day television! It’s built in the pre-Ming Dynasty style. In any case, the entire city is massive! It’s almost as though--... almost as though the entire city had been in existence for over hundreds of years by now!”
A hundred square kilometers!!
Qin Ye’s pupils shrunk as he glanced at Arthis, only to realize that her expressions were just as grim.
We’re no longer just talking about great losses over here… It could practically even be a bloodbath!
Such a massive city… The number of troops garrisoned at the city must be no less than four hundred thousand!
This was because they wouldn’t even be able to patrol the streets of a city that size without that many troops around.
Yang Yanzhao, Oda Nobutada, Mu Guiying, and the rest were all deep in thought. None of them were smiling any longer. It was as though the prospects of victory had just slipped completely out of their grasp. Qufu’s development was completely outside of their expectations! Granted, if they were able to take down Qufu, the entire city would be theirs. But besieging a city that size was something far more easily said than done. In fact, it was a mission that was nigh impossible!
Sha Xiangzu continued, “When I first answered the call to join the alliance, I was still puzzled as to what kind of alliance it would be. But it was only when I showed up in the city that I first learnt that their alliance controlled both Eastmount Province as well as Breakwaters Province. I was also surprised to see eleven other Judges apart from Kong Mo gathered there!”
“I was the twelfth Judge to join the alliance. I asked the other Judges about Qufu City, but… their answers were completely mind-boggling to me!”
His breath grew somewhat ragged, “Some of them had been to Qufu before, and they told me that there had never used to be a city at Qufu to begin with. And then, one of the other Judges continued recounting that the great city in Qufu… simply appeared one day, almost as though it had just fallen from the sky!”
“Reflection Palace?!” Arthis suddenly exclaimed in shock.
“What’s that?” Qin Ye asked.
Arthis reeled in shock for the next few moments, before slowly murmuring to herself, “How is this possible… How can something like that be with a great sinner of the Confucius Family?”
Without missing a beat, she promptly went on to explain herself, “Hell used to classify its Yin artifacts from grades A through D. Grade A Yin artifacts are few and far between. Apart from Yama-Kings, and some Abyssal Prefects, only top-class gentries such as the Confucius Family would be given access to these artifacts. The Mythic Palace of Reflections, otherwise known as the Reflection Palace, is one such grade A Yin artifact!”
“It’s able to take a snapshot of one of Hell’s cities, and then reproduce the city in whole at a location of the user’s choice! That’s right… if memory serves me well, this might well be the only object that can possibly cause a city to appear out of thin air! But… an artifact like this wouldn’t even be easily found in the possession of a direct descendent of the Confucius Family, so how could a great sinner of their family have his hands on something as precious as that?!”
Qin Ye’s eyelids throbbed uncontrollably, “Could this be an instance where your memory doesn’t serve you well?”
“Impossible! The Mythic Palace of Reflections is the only artifact that can achieve such effects!” Arthis responded with categorical determination.
Everyone was instantly rendered speechless.
Both Qin Ye and Yang Yanzhao immediately noticed the crux of the matter.
Kong Mo… The Confucian Family might well have had other plans for exiling him into Limbo. Incidentally, Hell collapsed, and he serendipitously gained access to the mortal realm. What kind of other treasures could someone like that have on him?
That’s right… This must have been how he landed his hands on the Peach Blossom Lantern in the first place.
“He’s dangerous.” Yang Yanzhao raised his head and looked Qin Ye straight in the eye, “Incredibly dangerous. My Lord, I would strongly advise against the risks of participating any further in this campaign. Kong Mo might only be an Infernal Judge, but we cannot consider him as we do any other Judge-class Yin spirits!”
“Kong Mo is one thing…” Arthis bit down on her lower lip, “What I’m more concerned about is… which city did he reproduce in Qufu?”
She turned to Sha Xiangzu, “Do you recall if there was anything unique about the city in Qufu?”
Sha XIangzu frowned deeply for a minute, before finally shaking his head, “It’s too big. I haven’t had the chance to go around the city at all. Whenever we go to Qufu, it’s always for an official reason, and we’d always be escorted to specific locations for our meetings. Kong Mo would never allow us to visit other parts of it… Ah, that’s right!”
He suddenly snapped his fingers, “That’s right, I remember it now! There was a stone stele within the city!”
“The stone stele is very old ,but there are some words that have been inscribed on the stele. I can’t remember the first two lines, but the latter two lines are… umm… yes, it’s this - Through Elm’s Pass by night, to barren deserts in the morrow.”
Qin Ye and Arthis both frowned. Just then, Yang Yanzhao spoke up with a grim voice, “Trailblazing generals, forces arrayed against the Mongols. Through Elm’s Pass by night, to barren deserts in the morrow…”
Both Qin Ye and Arthis immediately turned to Yang Yanzhao at the same time, “General Yang, you know this?”
Yang Yanzhao’s face was somewhat bitter as he responded, “I know that this is called the ‘Village Pass’.”
“Village Pass?” Qin Ye furrowed his brows. It was an unfamiliar name. But before he could go on any further, Yang Yanzhao promptly stood up and smiled bitterly, “The only reason why I called it the Village Pass is because I hesitate to say its other name. I’m afraid that its other name might… cause us all to feel more hopeless than we already do…”
Qin Ye gulped nervously, “What… is it?”
Yang Yanzhao grew taciturn. Seconds later, after much deliberation, he finally muttered, “Shanhai Pass.” 
Qin Ye stared dumbfounded at Yang Yanzhao for three full seconds, before finally responding with great trembling in his voice, “Are you sure?”
Yang Yanzhao nodded again, “This poem was written by General Qi Jiguang, entitled ‘Out of Elm’s Pass’. I’m positive.”
After an inordinate amount of time, Qin Ye finally shot to his feet, “Well then, Lady Arakshasa… our army seems well-rested enough. Shall we begin preparations to return to Hell?”
“My Lord!” “Lord Qin!” “Your Excellency!”
A number of voices called out at once. Mu Guiying took a step forward and cupped her hands respectfully at him, “The Shanhai Pass might be nicknamed the ‘First Pass Under Heaven’, but it’s still only a small part of the great wall! Kong Mo would probably only have replicated a fraction of it! It’s impossible to replicate the entire great wall! Our hearts are in the right place, and the morale of the troops are high. Under the right circumstances, we might just be able to take this entire city for ourselves!”
“That’s right!” Arthis added with a deep voice, “We’re travelling through the underworld. After ascertaining our position, we’d be able to emerge from within Shanhai Pass itself. Shanhai Pass is a pass designed to keep intruders out. I refuse to believe that its internal defenses are as solid as gold!”
“My Lord, I’m willing to be the vanguard for the siege!” “My Lord, I’m prepared to march with the troops!” “My Lord, I’m willing to lead the cavalry!”
All of the generals stepped forward and cupped their hands earnestly at once.
Qin Ye felt his temples throb uncontrollably.
This was a battle that would dictate the course of Hell’s future. Once they managed to take down Qufu, the returns would be immeasurable. But no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn’t turn his mind’s fixation away from the terrifying words, ‘Shanhai Pass’!
This is Shanhai Pass! The first pass under the heavens! Do you think Kong Mo would be replicating something as terrifying as that if he didn’t have an agenda hidden up his sleeves?
Granted, it’s true that even a good city requires good soldiers for a proper defence. But… a city like that would undoubtedly have defensive establishments, bunkers, crossbows and bolts, and the like, wouldn’t it?
Bloody hell, we’re in the warring states era, and you bring to the table a space fortress?! What the hell are you trying to do over here?!
Gritting his teeth, Qin Ye turned to Sha Xiangzu, “What’s it like within the city walls? How do the industries and amenities look? How many citizens are there? What number of Yin soldiers are we looking at?”
Sha Xiangzu responded in earnest, “Your Excellency, the industrial development… doesn’t seem very much different from that of ancient times. It seems to have everything it needs. As for the population… I recall at my last visit that there was a report saying that their population has hit 8,000,000 Yin spirits in total. This is also the limit of what the city can accommodate. Of these, their army numbers 820,000 in all.”
Shanhai Pass, 820,000 Yin soldiers, and a mysterious presence otherwise known as Kong Mo… Shouldn’t we pack up and get going right now?
Qin Ye rubbed his temples with a pained expression. The only silver lining was the fact that they had discovered this early on. Otherwise, if Hell’s forces were to discover these things only at the siege of the city itself, they might very well lose their fighting spirit all at once.
“The Umbral Mount Tai Alliance of Darkness… was something proposed by Kong Mo, right?” Qin Ye hurriedly changed the subject, for fear that he might very well make the call to retreat in a heartbeat. He thought for a moment, and then added, “What’s the aggregate strength of the alliance? Where are the other troops situated?”
“My Lord, there are 820,000 Yin soldiers located in Qufu. Apart from that, the alliance has under its charge another 1,500,000 or so Yin soldiers, and they’re currently…” Sha Xiangzu paused for a moment and gnashed his teeth, “Along the coastal areas of Eastmount Province, duking it out against a monster…”
The daolord… Qin Ye and Arthis exchanged a tacit glance.
“How’s the situation there?”
“Not great.” Sha Xiangzu shook his head, “Had it been going well, we would not have chosen to mobilize all of the Judges and Yin soldiers in their fiefdoms. While we might not have seen it before, that monster scares even Kong Mo himself.”
That much is obvious. We’re talking about one of the strongest fighting forces across Cathay after all. It would be more peculiar if Kong Mo weren’t afraid of him in the slightest.
Qin Ye was incredibly vexed at the situation, so much so that he wanted to spit and complain, or at least do something to relieve the stress that was weighing heavily on his mind.
What should I do…
He couldn’t help but turn his gaze to Sha Xiangzu - He’s just about right for my purposes right now… Qin Ye coughed dryly, “Well, Lord Sha, I’m about done with all the questions I have.”
Sha Xiangzu heaved a sigh of relief.
Henceforth, he would be considered an official of Hell. He would be imbued with the strength of Hell’s Emissaries. Moreover, he would--...
“Take him out.”
“Yes, ah--... NO!!! Lord Qin! Lord Qin!” Sha Xiangzu promptly collapsed to his knees, “What’s going on? Are you going back on your word?! Didn’t you say--...”
But before he could finish speaking, Arthis hair crept all over his body like a poisonous viper, instantly binding up all of his limbs. Sha Xiangzu watched with great astonishment as he was firmly held down. Then, he looked up at Qin Ye and gnashed his teeth, “You’ve tricked me… You’ve deceived me!!”
“How can you call something like that cheating?” Qin Ye smiled as he quipped back, “It was an arm’s length negotiations after all. Didn’t I address you as Lord Sha earlier?”
“But you’ve promised me… You promised not to kill me!!” Sha Xiangzu screamed hysterically.
Qini Ye stared at him as though he was seeing a ghost, “When did I ever say I wasn’t going to kill you?”
“You…” “I’ve only asked you whether you were willing to accept Hell’s conferment of title, didn’t I? Are you deaf? Can you really say I haven’t held up my end of the bargain?”
Of course I can!!!
Unfortunately, Sha Xiangzu’s mouth was already completely sealed by Arthis’ hair. He stared at Qin Ye with bloodshot eyes, making whimpering sounds as his body trembled profusely.
“And then, the king decided to sentence his subject to death. There’s no flaw in the logic here, is there?” Qin Ye gently patted Sha Xiangzu’s cheek, before turning away, “Tsk, look at how excited you are right now…”
Then, he leaned over and whispered in Sha Xiangzu’s ear, “Remember, there’s only one place for the evildoers in Hell.”
“And that is the depths of the abysses of punishment.”
“Do you think you can get away with death after committing the crime of genocide? Far be it from that. All evil that goes unpunished in the mortal realm shall be paid in full in Hell. Don’t you still recall the slew of unsolved murder mysteries with headless victims? That’s great…”
He straightened up and finally turned to leave, “You can pay the price of penance with your soul.”
“Drag him out and subject him to the sky lantern punishment.”
2. It’s one of the major passes of the Great Wall of China. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanhai_Pass