A month and a half later.
Back in the underworld. A 100,000-strong army was resting in a huge cave located in the valley of a mountain range. The corpse of a monarch Yin beast lay completely motionless at the side of the cave. It was a nascent Judge-class Yin beast that didn’t possess any particularly outstanding abilities. In all likelihood, it had probably only become a monarch beast a little while ago. That would explain why it decided to make the barren mountain range its own territory, far from the dwelling of any other monarch beast nearby.
But it was unfortunate.
There were indeed no other monarch beasts around, but it had instead stumbled upon the great army of the new Hell, who happened to be seeking shelter from the rain outside.
Qin Ye stood at the entrance of the cave, staring at the rain outside. The rain of the underworld was terrifying indeed. It poured straight down, perfectly perpendicular to the ground. Wherever it fell, it would plunge straight through the surface, leaving nothing more than a needle-sized hole in the ground. Qin Ye shuddered to think what would happen if something like that struck their own bodies.
The entire cave was dead silent as the Yin soldiers rested against the walls of the cavern. It had been two months since the commencement of the eastbound expedition, and they were immeasurably close to the edge of the Eastmount Province right now. It wasn’t a particularly long time, but they had grown by leaps and bounds in their experience and exposure.
The assimilation of the additional 30,000 Yin soldiers had also gone smoothly and uneventfully. Since then, they had been part of two encounters with monarch Yin beasts, and they were able to move in formation and fight just as seamlessly as any of Hell’s other Yin soldiers. Due to the success of these encounters, the morale of Hell’s forces only grew. Perhaps it wouldn’t be right to say that they had assimilated completely, but at the very least, there weren’t any issues with insubordination at all.
That said, all of them knew better than to let their guards down or grow complacent.
After all, they could all sense that this was the final stretch. They were approximately only ten days away from Qufu. They could smell blood in the air, and their hearts were thumping wildly.
Shanhai Pass, otherwise known as First Pass Under Heaven. There were 820,000 Yin soldiers garrisoned there, and over 8,000,000 citizens. Qin Ye sighed, “How vexing.”
This was Hell’s first war of expansion. It was more symbolic than anything. It was a declaration to the citizens that there will be war in future. Qufu was a strategic location that would enable Hell to hold three provinces in its control. Not only would they be able to commence trade talks with the mortal realm, they would even have an entire district to work with! It was also the stepping stone for the inauguration of Hell’s sea port and trade routes. The implications were far too great. Qin Ye could hardly imagine what Hell would do if the eastbound expedition were to end in failure.
This was undoubtedly the battle which would determine the fate of Hell.
Just then, Yang Yanzhao’s voice jolted Qin Ye back from his reverie, “My Lord, Lady Arakshasa is awake.” Qin Ye relaxed his brows, and immediately followed Yang Yanzhao back into the depths of the cave.
The Yang Clan had stationed an entire row of their personal guards around Arthis, who was resting on a flat stone bed. Arthis was sitting on the side, with a large stone table that was right in front of her. She waved her hands about gracefully with a grim expression on her face, manipulating a mound of sand to create camps in the forest that surrounded a great, wide wall. There were even multiple pavilions located within the walls itself.
The Yang Clan generals were staring at the table with an equally grim expression. Oda Nobutada stood by the side as well. Qin Ye hurried over, and everyone promptly made way for him. He walked right up to Arthis and murmured softly, “Any results?”
Arthis was unusually focused on the task at hand. She nodded gently, and responded after mulling over her words for some time, “Legend has it that Shanhai Pass was the last pass taken by the first King Yanluo of Hell. Back then, these lands, together with Hanyang, used to be under the charge of the nameless god of death. The Shanhai Pass was also a place where all Anitya Hellguards would have to pass through.”
“Why?” Qin Ye asked curiously.
Arthis waved her hand once more, before promptly glaring at Qin Ye, “A rite of passage. A pilgrimage of sorts, understand?”
Loud and clear. To think it would be a place of historical significance for the purposes of ideological and political education…
Arthis focused her mind once more on the sandbox creation, and continued explaining without peeling her eyes off the tabletop, “I’ve only been there once, and the reason is precisely because of this pilgrimage. To recall these memories, I’ve had to resort to poring through my memories using the Rippling Waters, Moon Reflection technique. Unfortunately, given how old such a memory was, it’s taken me a full month of searching before I finally managed to locate it and return to my senses. The good news is that I was able to recall exactly what I saw in the past, and I’ve reproduced it from memory right here. There you go.”
All eyes turned straight to the stone table in front of her.
There was now a foot-high sandbox model that occupied the entire table. It was a quadrilateral city surrounded by magnificent city walls. The city within was ostensibly bustling with activity and exuded great prosperity. But nobody paid any attention to the interior of the city. Instead, the generals’ eyes were all staring at the top of the city walls. Their pupils immediately shrunk, and the netherflames within their eyes flickered wildly.
Arthis’ reproduction of the Shanhai Pass was truly exquisite. Her eye to detail naturally also meant the reproduction of all forms of colossal ballistae that were mounted on the top of the battlements and city walls. These ballistae were located every thirty meters apart, and each of them were armed with two sets of firing mechanisms able to launch over ten bolts all at once. Each bolt was as large as a human being!
“Winstrike Ballista.” Yang Yanzhao recognized them at a single glance, “These are long-range weapons that can strike targets over three kilometers away. Its strength… is no different from a modern-day heavy tank.”
Qin Ye gasped as he turned to look at the city walls once more. There were easily thousands of such crossbows mounted everywhere along the city walls. Doesn’t this mean that any region within a three-kilometer radius of the city would be considered its absolute domain?
We’re talking about thousands of tank firing all at once! How can we possibly stand up against these ballistae?
Wouldn’t all of our 100,000-strong army turn to fine dust even before they reach the city walls at this rate?
And that wasn’t all.
The ends of each section of the city walls were clearly marked by battlements. However, these battlements appeared somewhat… different. It was bizarre because they looked akin to mechanical beasts that could be mounted and operated from within.
The twelve zodiac… He counted them all. There were a total of twelve battlements. Intuition told him that this was by no means a good thing.
“The Mohist Mechanical Beasts.” Arthis looked at him and took a deep breath, “These beasts can be mounted and operated from within. I recall being told that every scale of these Mechanical Beasts can be lifted and opened. It’s no different from a system of bunkers within. Do you know what a honeycomb looks like? The Mechanical Beasts were inspired by that design. They protect their own bowmen from receiving damage, while allowing them to strike at their opponents from safety.”
Holy shit… Qin Ye gasped. But Arthis clearly didn’t intend to give him the luxury of time to even catch his breath, “And that’s not all. Do you see the mouth of the Mechanical Beast?”
Arthis gently tapped the table, and one of the Mechanical Beasts opened its mouths.
A terrible premonition instantly surged from within Qin Ye’s heart. He gulped nervously, “And what’s this supposed to be…?”
“Karmic Fire Cannon.” Yang Yanzhao sighed, “If necessary, it possesses the ability to create a moat of Karmic Fire below to stem the approach of any other Yin spirits.”
Even Oda Nobutada couldn’t help but tremble in fear.
It might well be an understatement to describe Qufu City as a fortress.
Silence. Qin Ye slowly shifted his gaze to behind the city walls, desperately searching for signs of where the city was lacking, yet only to realize that Shanhai Pass was located along a slope. It was only then that he noticed a hundred coffin-like objects perched right at the top of the slopes.
He had finally seen something that he personally recognized. Unfortunately, that did little to lighten his mood at all. Having noticed anything else of interest, he finally spoke with great sullenness, “Everyone, I’d like you to speak your mind. There’s no need to hold back right now.”
Everyone glanced at each other awkwardly, before Yang Yanzhao finally took the lead, “One thing is certain - any approach from the outside is no different from a suicide mission. It’s no longer a matter of numbers at this point in time.”
Qin Ye’s eyes flickered. The use of such a conjunction after a terrible premise would, logically speaking, be followed by words that were music to their ears.
“But, what lies within is just equally as bad.”
Qin Ye glared at Yang Yanzhao - Yo, good lad, how dare you mess with my mind? Do you even know the proper rules of parlance?
“Cough…” Having noticed Qin Ye’s death glare, Yang Yanzhao immediately coughed dryly, “Lord Qin, did I say something wrong?”
Qin Ye secretly rolled his eyes at Yang Yanzhao, “Not. At. All. Continue!”
Yang Yanzhao simply couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was something strange about Lord Qin right now. However, he couldn’t care more to delve any deeper into this line of thought. After consolidating his thoughts, he continued, “First of all, let’s look at the road within the city. Have you noticed it? If everything is built according to scale, these roads must at least be a hundred meters wide. But, why?”
Qin Ye rubbed his chin and mused, “To facilitate the march of their troops?”
Yang Yanzhao nodded, “Not just any army. We’re talking about cavalry! These roads are designed this way precisely to allow cavalrymen to build their momentum before emerging from the city gates. We all know how terrifying a stampede of cavalry charging at full speed can be. Take a look at the city gates. They’re exactly the same width as the roads within. This tells us that as soon as a battle breaks out, the cavalry can immediately rush out of the city!”
“And herein lies the problem.” He traced his finger along the wide roads, “The cavalry would naturally be dispatched from a military camp. But all of the roads appear to point to a particular location.”
The generals around watched as his finger slowly stopped at a single location.
The heart of the city!
It was very bizarre.
The city centre was usually where a landmark was erected. But, not here.
What lay in the middle of the city was instead a series of architecture that covered an incredibly wide area. There was even a row of walls surrounding the series of architecture that was about two-thirds as tall as the outer city walls. Yet what was perhaps most astonishing was the fact that the space occupied by the inner walls was approximately one-tenth of all lands within the city!
It was a city within a city!
“Is this the… military camp?” Mu Guiying stared intently at the sandbox for a few moments, before her eyes soon brightened up, “Did they build the military camp right in the heart of the city itself?”
“There’s no doubt that the Mythic Palace of Reflections is located right there.” Arthis suddenly interjected, “The city would take bearing from the Mythic Palace of Reflections’ physical location, and then unfurl around it. Furthermore, the stronger the Yin artifact, the more Yin spirit stones required to support its operations. It’s hardly surprising that they would guard the heart of the city with such a large army.”
She straightened up and turned to everyone, “As long as we can breach these inner walls and shut down the source of Yin energy that is powering the Mythic Palace of Reflections, the rest of the defenses around the city would immediately become crippled! That’s the only way we can take the city. Otherwise… if they can buy sufficient time for Kong Mo’s forces to return before we can conquer Qufu in its entirety, then we will definitely lose!”
Yelu Jiner interjected, “Mythic Palace of Reflections… I’ve only heard legends about it. To think it actually exists… But once we get hold of it, then it would be no different from having control of the entire Shanhai Pass in our hands! With its defenses, not even ten million Yin soldiers would be able to threaten us at all!”
She sighed softly and stared at the sandbox, “I’m not even sure whether I should be thanking Kong Mo or holding a grudge against him.”
Knock, knock, knock… Just then, Yang Yanzhao rapped loudly on the table. He was an interesting general who was clearly born with a knack for controlling the morale of troops on the battlefield. And he was even bold enough to make a move despite Qin Ye’s presence right now.
Perhaps it was precisely this devil-may-care attitude of his that led to his persecution… Kudos to me for being such a wise leader and giving him such a wide latitude… Qin Ye couldn’t help but smile to himself.
The thickness of one’s skin was most objectively defined as whether one could make it shine from any perspective, anytime and anywhere…
“Everyone has made some good points. But everything hinges on whether we can take Qufu or not.” He placed both hands on the table and leaned over with a glint in his eyes, “Everyone, didn’t you notice the crux of what you’ve all alluded to earlier?”
He drew a circle around the center of the city, “Whether we shut down the Mythic Palace of Reflections, or seize control of it, everything requires us to capture the heart of the city. And if that is the case, it naturally lends credence to my postulations that the heart of their military and economy are both located in the core of the city. In other words… this must be the barracks of the 820,000 troops!”
“The only advantage that we have right now is that we can descend directly into the inner city. But if we do that, then the entire city would be able to mobilize their forces against us all at once. Sure, we might have a chance of taking such a fight, but everything still hinges on the fact that we can defeat the enemy forces! We’re treating it as a battlefield in the wilderness, and not a siege of a city!”
“What happens if we’re trapped within the inner city walls, and unable to seize or deactivate the Mythic Palace of Reflections? What contingency is there left for us? Just those few Yin beasts that we’ve brought along with us?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter