Zhang Zeguang suppressed the exuberance in his heart and forced himself to read on carefully.
Several minutes later, he set down the materials and thought aloud, “So, as it turns out, there are a good number of ghosts still wandering about the surface of the mortal realm, and they can’t help but find themselves drawn to visitors from Hell who are returning to the surface…”
“But that’s not the biggest threat. The biggest threat lay in the hunting zones and predatory zones that are known to the mortals, and the rest of the evil ghosts that remain hidden under the radar. Their instincts tell them that the quickest way to advancement would be to devour one another, and incidentally, returning Yin spirits who carry traces of the Yin energy of Hell are considered one of the most nutritious sources of food they can possibly find. This is why every returning Yin spirit would have to be adequately protected on their way back.”
“Last, but not least, there are also special organizations and rogue cultivators who would kill on sight. Not only do I have to steer clear of their way, I’ve also got to keep an eye out for their magical artifacts and traps. For instance, a seemingly harmless copper coin could potentially contain so much Yang energy that it can instantly cause my soul to dissipate…”
“Even then, the risks are substantially mitigated by the presence of Hell’s bodyguards.” He shook his head and read on.
The rest of the document pertained to the code of conduct he had to adhere to.
“Number one. You may reveal Hell’s existence, but everything beyond that is considered strictly confidential. This would include details pertaining to the identity of all persons in Hell, their offices and stature, and even the organizational structures of Hell.”
“Number two. You shall not come into contact with any other human being other than the one you are returning to see. What’s the rationale for this? Ah, I see… so it turns out all returning souls are still considered a Yin spirit. It’s fine to interact with one’s loved one or relative, but any other human beings would naturally be affected by the returning soul’s Yin spirit, thereby triggering a supernatural incident.”
“Number three. You shall not overstay. Number four. You shall not bring anything from the mortal realm back to Hell with you. All things must be transmitted by way of burnt offering.”
Secretary Zhou waited patiently by the side as Zhang Zeguang continued scanning through the contents of the documents for another half an hour or so. When he was finally done, he looked up and sighed wistfully.
“Sorry for the long wait.” Zhang Zeguang smiled and nodded at Secretary Zhou.
“Not at all. Minister Zhang, have you decided? If so, I’ll relay your decision to Lord Qin immediately. The date of departure will be final and irreversible as soon as we lock it in.”
“I’ve decided.” Zhang Zeguang returned the document to Secretary Zhou, “Could you please trouble Yanluo Qin to arrange for my return to the mortal realm tomorrow night?”
Secretary Zhou nodded and left promptly. Zhang Zeguang lived somewhat near to the main building of administration in the inner city of the Mythic Palace of Reflections, and it didn’t take long for Secretary Zhou to return to Qin Ye’s office.
He knocked on the door, and then depressed the handle as soon as he was given permission to enter. He bowed deeply. But just as he was about to report back to Qin Ye, he quickly caught himself and waited patiently by the side of the door with a faint smile on his face.
A soldier dressed in ancient armor was seated on a chair right in front of Qin Ye’s table. Being Qin Ye’s personal secretary, he knew full well that anyone who could be seated across Qin Ye and speak with him without platitudes was naturally someone important. Thus, he knew better than to interject.
“You’re returning to the City of Salvation?” Qin Ye nodded softly at the soldier, “Is it urgent?”
“It just occurred to me that my father’s birthday is only a week later. Incidentally, it would be his first birthday ever since pledging allegiance to Hell. As his son, it’s my duty to return to pay my due respects to him.” The soldier spoke with a plain smile on his face.
“I see…” Qin Ye tapped his fingers lightly on the table, before giving his go ahead, “Then go quickly, and return swiftly. Now that the Yang Clan generals have all returned to the Felipinas, I’m counting on you for all military-related matters. After all, all battles must be fought in the absence of firearms, and you’re the most experienced here in that regard. The other generals who have submitted to Hell still have some catching up to do.”
“Yes.” The soldier stood up and bowed deeply, “Lord Qin, I’d like to depart tomorrow. My father also loved Cathayan tea back when he was still alive. With your permission, I’d like to take some with me.”
Qin Ye nodded softly and dismissed him with a casual wave of his arm. Just as the soldier was taking his leave, Qin Ye turned to Secretary Zhou and addressed him promptly, “Secretary Zhou, how was it?”
It was a simple query.
Qin Ye felt it was the right thing to do in the circumstances, because it was a natural follow-up to his earlier instructions.
“Sir, Minister Zhang has already made his decision.” Secretary Zhou answered with a respectful bow, “He would like to return to the mortal realm tomorrow night. But, sir, might I ask who would be in charge of escorting Minister Zhang? We don’t seem to have any corresponding division for the dispatching of escorts at the moment.”
This is a problem indeed…
Qin Ye rubbed his temples. He was certain that 99% of all Yin soldiers in Ashmound weren’t aware of the proper procedures to undertake in such escort missions. Nobody knew these processes better than Arthis and himself. But were they really going to send him back to the mortal realm personally?
I’ve got to set up an escort division as soon as I’ve got the time… With that, he quickly shelved these thoughts and addressed his mind to the more pressing issue at hand. Within moments, his frown deepened.
There’s really no one to ask!
The dangers of such escort missions lay primarily in the evil ghosts back in the mortal realm. Hunting zones were now dime a dozen in the mortal realm, and a good number of them even harboured Hunter-class evil ghosts. The safest thing to do would be to send a corresponding Hunter-class expert as a bodyguard for the escort mission. This was the first time someone in Hell was returning to the mortal realm, and he naturally didn’t want anything to go wrong.
After all, this was intended to be a huge incentive to spur the other Yin spirits of Hell to work.
Unfortunately, most of his Emissaries were all working as death inquisitors back in the City of Salvation.
Then, after some moments of deliberation, Qin Ye finally made up his mind “I want you to go look for the man who just took his leave.”
“Yes, sir. May I know what his name is?”
“Oda Nobutada.” Qin Ye responded, “Tell him to escort Minister Zhang before heading back to the City of Salvation. It’ll delay him for a few hours, but we’ll make it up to him. Take him directly to Minister Zhang.”
Elsewhere, in a dark mobile residence.
Ghostly candles flickered faintly on the antique lampstands that stood on every side of the hall. A soft green veil hanging from the beams above danced about gently to the touch of the nethergale that swept through the hall. The silhouette of a man could be seen hidden right behind the veil.
The nethergale that swept through the hall carried faint traces of blood-curdling cries and ghastly wails. The atmosphere was absolutely chilling.
Shadowless lay prostrate on the ground with his head bowed as low as he could. Although he clearly didn’t dare to move a single muscle, his entire body was trembling profusely.
He didn’t even dare to look up at the faint silhouette hidden behind the veil. The terrifying Yin energy pouring out of the silhouette’s body was like the vast mountain and the boundless seas. It was so terrifying that Shadowless couldn’t help but tremble in submission.
After a tense period of silence, the man behind the veil finally spoke with a hoarse voice, “You’re telling me that an Emissary of Hell has asked you to relay a message to me?” Shadowless nodded respectfully, “Yes. He says that he’s come from the Hidden Sand Village, and his name is Sasori. I wasn’t a match for him at all.”
“Sasori… of the Hidden Sand Village?” The man behind the veil deliberated for a few moments, before snorting contemptuously, “What buffoonery. I’ve never heard of that name before. But the fact that a Shepherd of Souls is no match for him strongly suggests that he’s an Emissary of Hell alright.”
“My Lord…” Shadowless gulped nervously, “H-he said…”
The man behind the veil intently. He could tell that Shadowless’ eyes were flickering wildly. The next moment, Shadowless promptly kowtowed to the ground and gritted his teeth as he completed his statement, “He said that… he’s your old master.”
“What insolence!!” The man bellowed in fury, causing the veil in the hall to flutter wildly, revealing a man seated on a majestic throne with two scarlet spots where his eyes should be.
Like Lai Junchen and Li Linfu, this was a sign of the drying out of one’s soulfire after having been suppressed for far too long under the six paths of reincarnation!
“The old Hell is no more.” The man behind the veil ground his teeth as he snickered softly, “This is something that Liu Yu has personally told me… Haha… We may not be on good terms, but he would never lie about such things. Old master? Pfft… Do you think I’d be at large if the Second King Yanluo of Hell were still around? Or perhaps...”
Rustle… There was a series of soft rustles, and Shadowless’ eyes promptly erupted with flickering flames.
It was because countless hands had suddenly emerged from his clothes, hair and back! And the number was still increasing!
They were the hands of infants.
Yet they were also covered with livor mortis spots - spots that clearly signified death!
Then, with a great burst of Yin energy, the countless hands grabbed tightly to Shadowless, plunging their dainty yet destructive fingers right into his skin, eyes and lips! Shadowless immediately unleashed a harrowing scream as he squirmed desperately on the ground!
“My Lord… My Lord!! Mercy!!! Mercy!!” His screams filled the entire hall, but the man continued with a voice as placid as ever, almost as though he couldn’t care less about Shadowless’ life, “Or are you telling me that… you’re now one of Hell’s little lackeys?”
The excruciating pain tore away at Shadowless’ soul.
He could sense that the attacks were ebbing away at his soul, and the Yin energy leaked out of his body like a quickly deflating balloon. His voice quickly grew shrill as a result of the excessive panic that filled his entire being, “No… Stop, my Lord! Stop! I was simply told to deliver a message! I don’t want to die!!”
This was the might of an Abyssal Prefect.
It was the strongest existence beneath Yama-Kings. It was an existence that was easily in charge of an entire district of Yin spirits.
“I heard you… speak my name back in Martial City.” As Shadowless continued screaming his lungs out, he suddenly felt countless more arms emerge from within his throat and mouth! It was almost as though there was an evil ghost hidden right in the depths of his body, trying its level best to break out of the empty shell! It was an incredibly bizarre and terrifying sight!
“Urgghh…. Hurrrkk…. Cough cough cough!!” Shadowless shook his head desperately. His heart was stricken with fear, and his body trembled madly. Unfortunately, he could no longer even emit a single word because of the sheer number of infant hands that appeared to be reaching out of his mouth.
“I’ve told you before that I would know as soon as someone says my name. Yet, despite knowing this… you still called my name?”
“And to whom?”
“And you even dare to return to my palace despite your transgressions? Shadowless… do you really think that I wouldn’t lift a finger against you just because you’re an Infernal Judge?”
Just then, the man suddenly shrieked at the top of his voice. The pale hands tormenting Shadowless’ body vanished in an instant, and a dazzling golden light erupted from Shadowless’ chest with a resounding bang!
Whoosh… A brilliant radiance filled the entire palatial hall in an instant, illuminating the man’s figure for the very first time.
He wore a collared, scarlet robe with white embroidered flowers and a large matching belt. A jade sword with trailing brocade tassels hung by his waist. His face was unusually pale, almost as though there was no flesh and blood coursing through his veins at all. He was also practically skin and bones. There were only two tiny spots of red in his eyes.
In an instant, the man opened his mouth wide and hissed fiercely as he desperately sought to shield himself from the dazzling eruption of light, “SSSS!!!” Fortunately, the explosion of light was only fleeting. A split second later, the light converged right back into the center of the room, before promptly materializing a golden scale that remained suspended in the air.
“Haa… haa…” The fluttering veils drooped down once more, while he continued to clutch desperately at his chest, staring in shock at the scale that was floating in the sky. After a long time, he shrieked at the top of his voice, “Is this… the… the Harken?!!”
“How can this be possible?! Why is the Harken still around?! If he’s around, why isn’t he doing anything about us?! This is impossible!!”
He screamed and babbled on like a madman. The fear of the old Hell swelled up from the depths of his heart in an instant. It was a nightmare that he desperately wanted to leave in the past. He didn’t want to face something as terrifying as that ever again!
The old Hell had a vast ocean of Emissaries at their disposal, replete with numerous Abyssal Prefects, Yama-Kings of the Ten Palaces, as well as the Sixfold Ghost Kings who roamed the lands. Any one of these were entities that could easily put him right back into the ground where he was tormented for eons!
And this… was undoubtedly the scale of one of the strongest entities of the old Hell - Ksitigarbha’s beloved pet, the Harken!
T-t-t-t-t… His teeth began to chatter as he continued to stare intently at the single scale that was still suspended in the air. His entire body was hunched slightly, ready to make the final stand at the earliest sign of danger, almost as though he were a hedgehog that had encountered a ferocious predator.
He’d thought about escape, but he was unable to do so. Thus, he continued to stare intently at the golden scale for the next ten minutes, until he realized that all the scale was doing was merely emitting golden light. Then, he finally loosened the tension in his mind and slumped back down onto his throne.
But as soon as he did, his chest split open right down the middle, straight through his muscle tissues, nerves and bones, revealing a gaping cavity in his chest.
A grisly infant, drenched in corpse water, peeked out from within. His eyes shone with scarlet netherflames. With a shrill shriek, the infant opened his lips, and his tongue lashed out like a bolt of lightning, wrapping tightly around Shadowless’ neck and dragging him straight back to himself.
“What did he say?!” The infant gnashed his teeth, “Tell me word for word. And you’d best not leave any details out…”Previous Chapter Next Chapter