A pale old man sat by the window, clearly visible to all. He did nothing to avoid the sunlight, and simply preferred a seat that was located in the shade of the curtains.
He was an old man who appeared to be in his seventies. His face was covered with age spots, yet his hands were firm and steady as he took a sip from his teacup and sighed wistfully.
Just then, a placid voice called out to him, “Are you trying to get everyone to notice you?” The old man turned around, only to notice a young man standing before him.
The young man had striking brows, deep eyes and a sharp nose. He appeared young, yet the abstruse gaze in his eyes caused the old man to tremble all over. At once, the old man set down his teacup and motioned to cup his hands respectfully at the young man. But before he could even do so, the young man grabbed his hands with a faint smile and pulled him into a warm embrace.
“If you’ve lived the last fifty years like this, then I can only say that you’ve been incredibly lucky to remain undetected…” The young man whispered icy words into the old man’s ears, and the old man shivered softly. Then, the young man released the old man from his embrace and led the way into a more private booth.
Click… The door gently closed behind them. None of the other customers in the teahouse even raised their eyes to glance at the unremarkable interaction that had just taken place between a young man and an old man.
Kkkkrrr… The young man pulled the chair back and sat opposite the old man. Meanwhile, the old man couldn’t help but shiver uncontrollably, before finally cupping his hands respectfully and bowing deeply to the young man. He didn’t even dare to say a single word to the young man in that instant.
The booth was completely silent. Moments later, the young man shook his head, “Ghosts these days… tsk. Take a seat.”
“You’ve got to be mindful of the fact that you’re an infernal Judge! You’re an existence that is akin to one of the strongest experts within the mortal realm! And you can most certainly count on the fact that there will be surveillance devices trained on you so long as you remain in the mortal realm! So how could you remain seated openly in front of the window back there so placidly? Are you trying to get yourself killed?” The young man exploded, completely incensed, “This is Martial City! We’re talking about a city where a Judge-class expert is stationed, and yet you dare show up completely unguarded? How brazen of you to be seated out in the public seating area within the teahouse! Are you trying to declare to the world that we know each other? That we’ve got business with each other? How the hell did you manage to make it to a Judge like this?!!”
The old man was just about to take his seat when he immediately shot right back to his feet as though his bum had been pricked with a pin. His entire body began quivering in fear once more, “My Lord… it’s not like that…”
“It’s not like that?” The young man stared the old man dead in the eye, “Are you really that naive and complacent to think that you’d be able to avoid the scrutiny of the government should they start taking an interest in you? Let me tell you this - not even I would be able to elude the all-seeing eye of the state once they get a lock on me! Who do you think you are to be an exception to this?!”
“But--… Lord Qin, apologies for the oversight!”
Qin Ye finally sighed and made a pressing motion with his hand, “Fine. Make your report quickly so that we can scramble as quickly as possible. With your intellect, I’m afraid it’s going to take more than a stroke of luck if you were to advance again to become an Abyssal Prefect.”
“Yes…” The old man sat down apprehensively with his hands on his knees and his head hung low, “He’s… agreed.”
“But he would like you to personally make a trip to the Azurewaters City…”
Qin Ye shut his eyes and mulled over it for a moment, before finally responding, “Tell him that I’ll be there.”
“I want you to head back to Azurewaters City and tell Qin Hui that I’ll be there in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, before the clock strikes five. I’ll head over in a little while.”
“But My Lord, he’s an Abyssal Prefect!” The old man’s voice grew hoarse and drifty.
Qin Ye chuckled and grew taciturn.
So what if he’s an Abyssal Prefect?
He’d be sorely disappointed if he thinks that I’m still the same man that I used to be. If he’s going to treat me as such, then I’ll make sure to make a long, lasting impression that will completely renew his mind.
“Now, recount to me everything that was said in your meeting with him. Spare no detail. I want to know every word he used, and every expression he had, right down to the minutest detail.”
Whirrrr… An instrument made a soft whirring noise as it printed a photograph.
It was the picture of Qin Ye embracing the old man in the teahouse.
Zhou Xianlong’s fingers trembled violently as he held the photograph gingerly. And then, he shut his eyes with an agonized expression.
“According to reports, the Yin energy… emanated from him…” The man in black reported back with a hushed voice. He had been in service for decades now, yet this was still the first time he had personally witnessed something as bizarre as this. This was a long-drawn war between realms. Countless brethren had perished in the line of duty, and not a single one of his humankind brethren have been ever known to have betrayed Cathay at all!
Yet this was living proof of an embrace between a Judge of the mortal realm and a Judge of the netherworld.
“Why?” Zhou Xianlong shut his eyes so tightly that even his eyelids were trembling. His voice was incredibly hoarse and filled with great disbelief.
His headset was still switched on, and it naturally transmitted his voice to the ears of all albatrosses and other elite investigators involved in this top secret mission.
Nobody said a word.
If not for the incontrovertible photographic evidence, not a single one of them would have believed this to be even remotely possible. After all, how could a living person be locked in an embrace with an evil ghost?!
This was the clearest sign of betrayal.
It was the betrayal of one man against all of mankind!
In that instant, they were almost certain that Li Jixi must have died by Qin Ye’s hands!
Their eyes gleamed brightly as they swept a glance throughout the map of the city, almost as though… the entire city had just transformed into a massive hunting ground. Armed with the authority of the state and shouldering this hefty burden of responsibility, each agent subconsciously tightened their grips around their weapons.
They had their own means to deal with traitors like that!
Back on the rooftop. One of the albatrosses shut his eyes and basked in the afternoon breeze that gently tousled his hair. It was still slightly past three, and the sun was still up. Yet, his heart felt immeasurably cold and frigid in this very moment, “Leader.”
“Should we… take action?”
A few seconds later, the leader of the operations gave his firm response, “No.”
Back in the apartment. Zhou Xianlong appeared incredibly haggard and torn. He silently set down the photograph in his hand, “He’s not caused any harm to the mortal realm just yet. Let’s wait a little while longer…”
“I’m for it as well.” Mo Changhao seconded Zhou Xianlong’s opinion as he sighed wistfully, “Each and every Judge is precious to Cathay - especially one with talents as high as his. We cannot afford to act hastily or with presumption. Sir… the A754 monuments are going to be unearthed soon. By their last estimates, it’s not going to take longer than a dozen or so days. Preliminary scans reveal that… Qin Ye’s name has also been etched on the surface of the stone monument.”
“When will that take us till?” Zhou Xianlong responded.
“Approximately 15 August.”
Zhou Xianlong nodded, and then finally opened his eyes, “Tell SRC that the date of excavation shall be fixed for 15 August.”
“Such news is to be embargoed from the target. We’ll notify the target on the 15th itself. This will be his final opportunity to prove himself.”
“Yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!”
Night. Fate had once started to move again. Each of Qin Hui and Lee Jung-sook’s incomplete names had a few more strokes added to them.
T minus 15 days.
Special Investigations Department, Azurewaters City.
Dong… Dong… It was midnight. The investigator on duty was seated right in front of his computer, and he yawned lazily as he turned to his colleague, “Shall we go out for a smoke?”
The Special Investigations Department always had investigators on duty regardless of what time of the day it was.
“Let’s go.” The colleague stretched lazily and followed the other man to the smoking room. There, he pulled out a box of cigarettes and tossed it to the other man, “Hey, any ideas what the hell happened yesterday?”
Shk… The lighter clicked on, and the investigator lit up his cigarette and took a deep drag, “Who knows?”
“First, we detected the Yin energy from two sources, one Infernal Judge and one Anitya Hellguard. And then, at 1.08 a.m., there was an eruption of Yin energy with energy readings well above the ranks of Judge-class Yin spirits. To be completely honest with you, my first inclination is to think that our instruments have malfunctioned.”
His colleague chuckled bitterly, “I certainly hope so. If a Yin spirit stronger than that of an Infernal Judge shows up undetected in Azurewaters City… then we’re completely screwed--…”
Just then, the lights went out.
A second later, both investigators stood up in unison and flicked on their lighters in the dark for some light. Both men could see the astonished expression in each other’s eyes.
Impossible. The Special Investigations Department has backup generators that guarantee round-the-clock power. Even if the entire city suffers from a power outage, we’d still be able to keep things operational. So what the hell is going on here?
They froze for two seconds, before rushing right out of the smoking room and back to the surveillance room. Meanwhile, they had begun pulling out their cell phones to make the necessary calls.
“H-hey… It’s me… Can you get us back onto the power grid? What’s going on? You don’t know? What? The power is also out in your neighbourhood?”
Bzzt bzzt… As soon as they got back to the surveillance room, the lights flickered and came back on. The surveillance monitors also switched back on with a soft buzz, and it was only then that both investigators heaved a sigh of relief.
“Haa… That scared the hell out of me…” One of the investigators slumped down into his seat with a bitter smile on his face, “I’d actually thought that we’ve personally encountered a supernatural incide--...”
He didn’t finish his statement.
Both men had slumped down into their seats, only to jerk their heads up at the monitor with great surprise, so much so that even the expressions on their face were completely frozen.
Bzzt, bzzt, bzzt, bzzt… All of the light sources across the entire Azurewaters City was flickering out, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and street by street! One by one, every building and every street, regardless of size and significance, were going out!
Within a minute, the entire city was thrown into an oppressive darkness. A spine-tingling chill instantly filled their hearts and minds!
Ever since Cathay began to be plagued by supernatural incidents, the first thing that the government did was to stabilize the energy supplies. Thus, it was practically impossible to experience power outages on such a large scale!
This naturally left them with only one other possible explanation…
The arrival of an evil ghost!
And an incredibly powerful one at that!
The outrageous incident that both investigators were discussing earlier immediately surfaced on their minds, and they promptly whipped out their phones and attempted to make some calls.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the response they were expecting.
The calls got through, but it wasn’t the usual rings that one would hear from a dial tone. Instead, the sounds that they heard were that of a series of sornas, gongs and chimes, almost as though a procession were taking place!
Dong, dong… Clang!
The crash of the gong appeared to shatter the remaining facade of peace in their hearts. Both men trembled and nearly dropped their phones. Yet, a split second later, an indescribably sorrowful voice whimpered from the other end of the line.
“A building in front of the hearth, built on the cornerstone of silver and gold. Four doors to the four corners of the world, and single path to heaven. Brilliance shines from heaven, illuminating the Golden Palace of Jade. The scent of incense fills the air; the dragon and phoenix tent covers the earth. The sun and moon hang high in the sky, next to the clouds of rainbow…”
It was a funerary song!
Thud! One of the cell phones fell onto the ground. Even the dumbest of fools would be able to tell that this was the onset of a large-scale supernatural incident in Azurewaters City!
Just then, the surveillance room was suddenly filled with a red hue.
It didn’t come from the lights above. Rather, it came from all of the surveillance monitors around!
To be more precise, the red hue emanated from lanterns.
The surveillance monitors displayed various images of streets and homes in the city. Unbeknownst to them, scarlet lanterns had at some point appeared at every corner of the streets and in front of each and every home within the city, and they all lit up in unison at 12.01 a.m.! It was like a constellation glowing with a foreboding omen in the dark night sky!
Whoosh… A nethergale carried with it a shower of paper money that filled every street in the city, almost as though to lay a bleak carpet of paper snow on the street.
Similarly, the paper money fluttered eerily above the national highway, dancing wildly with the wind and softly reflecting the scarlet hues of the lanterns everywhere around. Meanwhile, a procession of people appeared out of nowhere and half-knelt to the ground in the direction of the national highway.
These… were all humanoid paper effigy!
They comprised both men and women paper effigies. Some blew on the sornas, while others clanged on the gongs or played the chimes, almost as though they were declaring the arrival of an important guest.
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