Martial City. Wu Wenqing smiled at Qin Ye as he greeted him, “Mr Qin, you’re back? Sorry to have disturbed you that late at night, but the top brass has called for a meeting that all Infernal Judges were to attend. There’s no way--...”
“It’s fine. We’re all doing our work here.” Qin Ye smiled. It was already 7.00 a.m. by the time he returned, and he immediately rushed over to the office of the Special Investigations Department as soon as he had his breakfast.
Wu Wenqing flipped through the form in his hand, and then smacked his head, “Ah, that’s right. I’ve forgotten to tell you something. Over the last few days, a Yin artifact has been unearthed within Martial City, and I’m afraid I’ll have to trouble Mr Qin to take a look at it. The person in charge of those operations has already arrived, and is waiting for you here in the city hall. Investigators at my level don’t have the requisite clearance to know what’s going on.”
“Take me to him.”
Wu Wenqing led Qin Ye to the lobby of the city hall, where a fidgety middle-aged man was seated. At once, he stood up and marched over with a great sigh of relief, “Chief Wu, you’re finally here! And who might this be?”
“This is Mr Qin. He’s Martial City’s leading experts in archaeological findings.” Wu Wenqing introduced Qin Ye with an amiable smile on his face, “Mr Qin, this is the deputy general manager of Prosperity Developers, Yu Changle. He’s the one in charge of the worksite that has unearthed the Yin artifact.”
Qin Ye nodded and took his seat, before beckoning to Yu Changle, “Have a seat.”
Yu Changle complied, before taking a deep breath and explaining with great anxiety, “Mr Qin, here’s how it happened. We’ve recently won the tender for the redevelopment of the Lush Garden Acres, and construction works have been ongoing for a month now. Then, something happened yesterday - something indescribable…”
His hands trembled as he lifted his teacup to his lips as though he was about to drink from it. But he didn’t. Instead, he bit down hard on his lower lip as he continued hoarsely, “The government has specifically instructed that should anything of this sort occur at the worksite, we have to report it to the government. So, here it is - yesterday, at 5.00 p.m., the workers at the first Lush Garden Acres worksite… all fell abruptly into a state of coma.”
Almost as though he recalled something horrific, Yu Changle shut his eyes and continued with a quiver in his voice, “We’ve sent people down to check, but… everyone who even came close to the worksite… all passed out as well…”
“In fact, the excavation works on the first worksite revealed that… everything below was completely hollow, just like a massive underground cavern!”
“In fact, anyone standing a hundred meters away from this hole would be able to hear eerie moans from below, almost this was a portal leading to the gates of Hell!”
His entire body trembled so much that the tea in his teacup spilt out and burnt his hands. Yet he appeared completely oblivious to that. Instead, he simply stared Qin Ye dead in the eye with bloodshot eyes, “We’ve invited Taoist priests and venerable monks, but every single one of them passed out even before they could come close to the pit…”
Just then, Qin Ye raised his hand, “Did you say that… they simply fainted?”
“So, they’re not dead?”
“No. Not a single one of them is dead! They’re all in the First City Hospital right now! The monks and the taoist priests were the first ones to regain consciousness, and they immediately informed us that if they were powerless to do a single thing about the pit down under, then we absolutely have to report it to the city government. This is why I’ve come to make the report as soon as the first light struck today!”
Qin Ye nodded. Then, he turned around and asked Wu Wenqing, “Are monks and taoists even blessing worksites now?”
“This has been the case all along.” Wu Wenqing chuckled, “The groundbreaking ceremony of any worksite is an auspicious occasion, and most construction companies have always invited monks or taoist priests to bless them with safety and prosperity for the time to come. But these days, most construction companies have been willing to shell out far more cash than before to have the monks and taoist priests conduct rituals, rather than blessings.”
So desune… It looks like the outbreak of supernatural incidents have given businesses founded on superstitions and the supernatural a new lease of life. Even if things in Hell don’t work out for me, I can still make a name for myself back in the mortal realm… Qin Ye rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
Naturally, these are but childish thoughts of mine…
He knew full well that if he ever said something like that, Arthis would be the first to strangle him with the venomous locks of hair on her head, while the Harken would be waiting next in line, poised to give Qin Ye a tight slap across the cheek.
Ah, and there’s still Lord Zhao Yun’s spear tip… I’m almost certain that even an inanimate object like that wouldn’t hesitate to plunge straight through my heart if I even came close to saying those words…
With that, Qin Ye promptly shelved the unhealthy thoughts on his mind and turned to Wu Wenqing, “Have you taken a look at it?”
“No. Didn’t I say earlier that I was waiting on your decision?”
“Alright, I’ll--...” Qin Ye’s voice trailed off, and then he suddenly froze. His eyebrows were even knitted tightly together, as though he were attempting to sense something.
Just a moment ago, he felt his consciousness appear amidst the boundless starry skies, where endless images of people praying were scattered everywhere. That said, 99.99% of them all were gray in colour, save for one that appeared brilliant and colourful.
Someone’s praying to me right now?
He glanced about in interest. Having responded once to such prayers by Kim Jae-huan, he knew full well that prayers to the King Yanluo of Hell were hardly as simple as placing one’s hands together and shouting blessings aloud.
Rather, it was something that was only possible through elaborate rituals, strict offerings, a devout heart and precise prayers.
Unfortunately, not even Qin Ye had once heard of anyone making prayers to the King Yanluo of Hell in all hundred years of his life.
On the contrary, the ones more commonly spoken or preached about are the prayers to the Goddess of Mercy or the Taiyi Zhenren .
He didn’t have any ideas where Kim Jae-huan even began learning about these things.
Regardless, Qin Ye’s first inclination was to ignore the prayers. After all, he wasn’t quite in the right situation to be responding to prayers. And then, he saw who the person praying to him actually was.
Whoosh… He opened his eyes back in the city hall and abruptly turned to Wu Wenqing, “I suddenly recalled something urgent that I’ve got to attend to. Let’s head over to the worksite at noontime instead. This way, we’d be sure that Yang energy would be at its peak as well.”
With that, he promptly marched out of the city hall with quick steps.
Qin Ye naturally wasn’t aware of the presence of several men in black suits typing furiously away at their keyboards in a particular villa within the city. Zhou Xianlong sat on the sofa with an abstruse gaze in his eyes, while Mo Changhao sat right beside him, “He’s left.”
Zhou Xianlong remained silent. Mo Changhao continued, “What have we learned?”
“There are two points to note.” One of the men in black suits turned around and responded to the query. He looked learned, just like an archetypical teacher, save that he also proudly wore the insignia of the albatross on his collar.
He adjusted his glasses and spoke in a well-considered manner, “Firstly, his actions cohere with our earlier speculations of him.”
“Mr Qin is likely to have some means of receiving information that we are unable to intercept or detect. We didn’t detect any fluctuations of true energy or Yin energy earlier, but he still left abruptly none the same, just like the earlier incident back in the teahouse.”
“Secondly, he’s truly unaware of what Prosperity Developers has unearthed. In fact, if I might hazard a guess, he probably hasn’t even read the latest dossier released by the Special Investigations Department. Otherwise, he couldn’t have reacted with such calm and indifference.”
Zhou Xianlong finally opened his eyes, “Are you able to track what he’s doing right now?”
“Unlikely.” The bespectacled man shook his head, “He acts with great caution. There’s no way he will act without ensuring that he’s isolated from any possibility of audio or visual surveillance. Such caution is not something generally seen in young men his age. But that only strengthens our inference that he’s a man of many secrets.”
“As a human Judge, he’s entitled to make any demands as he deems fit. After all, Infernal Judges are second only to the three Prefect-class experts in the mortal realm. There’s no reason for him to be so cautious around us at all.”
“And that’s not all.” Just then, another man turned around and crossed his arms, “He’s also… adept at maintaining a low-profile.”
“Low-profile?” Mo Changhao chuckled, “How could you call someone advancing so quickly low-profile?”
The man shook his head, “Mr Mo, we’ve been scrutinizing Mr Qin’s dossier over and over, and we’ve discovered something interesting about it.”
“And that’s the fact that his cultivation realm advances every time something big happens.”
He turned back and pressed a button. At once, lines of words began to show up on the computers in front of Zhou Xianlong and Mo Changhao, “He was only a Soul Hunter when he first entered the First Academy of Cultivators. Then, shortly after the incident with Mr Gu Qing’s funeral, he broke through to the realms of Anitya Hellguard. Following that, he advanced yet again during the Yin spirit rebellion back in Valley County.”
“Most pertinently, he was always alone at the time of his advancement.” Another albatross chimed in, “Furthermore, we’ve noticed that he rarely even displays his abilities in public. We posit that… he might already have been an Infernal Judge when he enrolled with the First Academy of Cultivators to begin with. The reason for withholding his strength was precisely because he was afraid of being exposed. Instead, the two abrupt turns of events had simply forced him to reveal some measure of his strength. Such reasoning would cohere with some of the inexplicable things that we’ve been trying to find answers for.”
The bespectacled man adjusted his glasses once more, “It’s impossible not to leave traces in the path one has taken. In the very worst case scenario, his so-called advancement to an Infernal Judge might have been a move calculated to erase any traces of his past. Unfortunately… it’s backfired on him.”
“He’s taken a huge risk with this. If he succeeds, nobody would suspect him ever again. But humans aren’t creatures that should be judged with absolute rationality or common sense. Otherwise, Deputy Director Zhou wouldn’t be here right now.”
Zhou Xianlong chuckled bitterly.
His first instinct was to protect and defend Qin Ye’s dignity and honour.
However, he held himself back.
It was because he didn’t know what he could say in the circumstances.
“Carry on with what you were doing.” He snorted coldly, and waited patiently until all albatrosses had returned to their tasks at hand, before finally turning to Mo Changhao with a hushed voice, “Who else knows of the truth about what Prosperity Developers have unearthed?”
“There’s just the old chief, you and I.” Mo Changhao whispered back, “Last night, the Yin energy within exceeded the levels of an Infernal Judge. You and I both know full well that Qin Ye wasn’t in Martial City last night, so he clearly wouldn’t know anything about this. In the interim, I’ve personally gone down to take a closer look at what has been unearthed, before finally sealing it up. And since we’re putting on pretenses, we may as well go all out. I’ve already taken the liberty to send word to the top to have them send the best archaeological team over.”
Zhou Xianlong nodded, “So, what exactly did you find down there?”
Mo Changhao glanced around warily, before waving his hand surreptitiously, instantly erecting an invisible barrier surrounding the two Judges that sequestered them from the rest of the world. It was only then that he retrieved a photograph from his garments and handed it to Zhou Xianlong.
Zhou Xianlong’s eyes narrowed as soon as he took a glance at the photograph.
It… wasn’t a stone tablet.
Rather, it was an ancient sculpture that was completely intact!
And it was a life-sized sculpture at that!
Furthermore, the image of the sculpture bore an uncanny semblance to Qin Ye’s features. In fact, it was best described as an exact replica of Qin Ye! There was also a small line of text engraved right at the base of the sculpture that read: ‘King Yanluo of Hell, born in 1938, of Liu Er Mound Village, Gazi Gully, Tang An County, Qingguang City’.
There was no date of death!
“The appearance is a 100% match.” Mo Changhao spoke in a deep voice, “Furthermore, it’s incredibly fortunate that Qingguang City is located in the western autonomous region, where the records of ancestry are well-kept and intact. I’ve already sent someone there to investigate further. We should have a response by 15 August!”
“Very well.” Zhou Xianlong shut his eyes somewhat wearily, “Then, let’s wait and see…”
“We’ll wait for Lin Han and Su Feng to arrive, as well as the response from your agents…”
“15 August… isn’t too long away after all...”
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