Martial City, midnight. BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! The alarm of the Special Investigations Department went off frantically
“Alert, alert. Ultra-high Yin energy detected in the city. 10 million… 11 million… 13 million… Warning, Yin energy readings have surpassed 15 million Yin. Evacuation is advised if the situation escalates further…”
Whoosh… Wu Wenqing was just tinkering with the equipment in the room when he suddenly glanced around in horror. The scarlet warning lights were dazzling and bright, and he immediately froze upon hearing the warning that was broadcast over the announcement system.
15 million Yin…
The Yin energy reading has reached 15 million Yin in just ten seconds?!
He wasn’t the only one who froze in horror. In fact, practically every other investigator in their office right now stopped what they were doing as they attempted to process the news that they had just heard.
“Alert, alert…” When the warnings began to repeat themselves, Wu Wenqing immediately snapped back to his senses and rushed out madly, intending to call upon Zhou Xianlong and Mo Changhao at once.
But he was soon startled to find Zhou Xianlong and Mo Changhao already standing right outside his door.
“Sirs…” Wu Wenqing’s voice trembled just as much as his lips were quivering, “S-something massive is going down…”
“Don’t panic!” Zhou Xianlong spoke with a grave expression. Nobody expected such a seemingly ordinary midnight to be no different from a death knell in Martial City. The rift to Hell opened wide like the jaws of death. Dense Yin energy poured out from beneath the surface of the ground, intensifying only as time went by. Everything happened like a bolt out of the blue.
“Have we ascertained the location?” It clearly wasn’t time to care about Qin Ye. As the deputy director of the Special Investigations Department, Zhou Xianlong’s primary duty to the country naturally preceded his responsibility to investigate an individual.
“It’s impossible!” One of the investigators seated right in front of a monitor immediately turned back and responded with great anxiety, “The entire city… is in the midst of an outbreak! Take a look…”
With the click of a button, his screen was projected to a far larger central screen in the room. At once, it displayed the map of Martial City as a whole, and the entire city… was tainted with a scarlet hue!
It wasn’t formed by the overlay of a massive red dot over the map of the city. Rather, it was tainted red due to the convergence of dense red dots that appeared to be populating every single corner of Martial City as a whole!
Bzzt… Just then, the electric lights overhead suddenly flickered and fizzled. Seconds later, the entire branch office was thrown into complete darkness.
At once, Wu Wenqing roared at the top of his voice, “Where’s the backup generator?!!”
“There’s no response.” Another investigator typed rapidly on his laptop and soon brought up the live surveillance footage of the major landmarks and important areas in Martial City. And it was exactly at that time that the screen-in-screen footages began to go out one by one.
Black Bamboo Road, North Misty Road, South Misty Road, National Highway 27, the City Hall, the Poly Centre… Not a single one of them was spared from the fizzle out of footages. Wu Wenqing shut his eyes in despair.
It was a city-wide blackout!
And one that took place at midnight marking the start of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Even a fool would realize that this was a foreshadowing of greater things to come. Something massive was looming right over their heads!
The entire room fell silent at one. The only sounds that could be heard were the increasingly ragged breaths of the investigators in the room. An unspeakable sense of terror bound their hearts tightly like a boa constrictor, causing them to scream wildly in their minds. It was no different from walking alone in the streets at night, only to sense a third hand gently running across one’s cheeks.
The sudden inexplicable darkness in the city sent their minds spiralling down with the most terrifying thoughts. The silence was unbearably stifling. Just then, one of the investigators spoke hesitantly, with great trembling in his voice, “I-I recall having once read that i-i-if the Yin energy exceeds a certain breaking point, then it would affect even the existence of mortals in the region… And this breaking point i-i-is… generally understood to be exactly half of the living in the city…”
Suddenly, the alarm sounded again, “The backup generators have encountered an unknown failure. Forced start-up has been activated. Time remaining: one minute. The city’s power map is displayed on all screens. Kindly comply with the government’s instructions and prepare to evacuate…”
Bzzt… The computer screens that had all gone out immediately lit up once again, only to reveal a map of the city.
This time, it was a map of Martial City’s power lines.
The golden areas on the map depicted the areas with access to light. Layer by layer, the golden areas slowly spread from the heart of the city to the peripheries in an orderly fashion. But exactly a minute later, the entire city plunged into darkness once more.
Bzzt… The computer screens went out in an instant. Meanwhile, a mechanical voice reported through the public broadcasting system, “Yin energy readings have officially exceeded 20 million Yin. This is the fourth highest recorded eruption of Yin energy in Cathay’s history. City-wide evacuation recommended. The Vault of the Sky system has now entered a dormant state…”
“Damn it…” Mo Changhao ground his teeth - 20 million… That’s Yin energy readings of 20 million Yin! That’s an amount that exceeds the strength of an Abyssal Prefect! This isn’t an outbreak that Infernal Judges like us can deal with at all!
What in the world is going on here in Martial City? Is this happening in other cities as well? Is every other city out there facing the same problem?
“Immediately activate the supernatural perimeter!” He gnashed his teeth and barked through his teeth, “Locate the epicenter of the outbreak! No matter what… we have to see this through to the very end! This is our duty!”
“Sir… we’re unable to pinpoint an epicenter to the outbreak!” One of the investigators working on his laptop typed rapidly, before soon revealing a bitter expression on his face, “Martial City has already begun to show signs of Yin-Yang Symbiosis. Without the Vault of the Sky in operation, it’s simply impossible to pinpoint the source of the supernatural outbreak! Even the main frame has been forcibly shut down as a result of the city-wide blackout!”
“Damn it!!” Mo Changhao slammed his fist onto the wall beside him. Just then, a golden sheen peered through the darkness and appeared in front of their very eyes.
It was a sword.
A broken sword.
It was incredibly old, with countless seals and runic symbols affixed to it. Only a small part of the blade was exposed at this very moment, and yet it revealed countless images that flickered by, before it finally paused on a single image.
It was an image depicting the Lush Garden Acres.
Zhou Xianlong heaved a sigh of relief as he respectfully cupped his hands towards the person holding the sword in the darkness. Then, he turned around and addressed the rest of the investigators waiting for orders, “All Hunter-class investigators and above are to follow me to the Lush Garden Acres. All investigators lower than the rank of Hunters are to be deployed throughout the city to protect its citizens as much as possible! Stay vigilant! All who retreat without reason shall be court-martialed as deserters!”
At once, there was a mad scramble of footsteps as the rest of the investigators took to their tasks. Zhou Xianlong stepped forward and set his hand on the handle of the main door to the city hall. He pushed hard… only to realize that it didn’t budge in the slightest!
“Hmm?” He paused for a moment, and then pushed hard once more. Yet it still didn’t move!
“What’s going on?” Mo Changhao walked over. He was just about to reach out for the handle when everyone suddenly took a step back in unison, almost as though they had just been manipulated by a master puppeteer.
“What’s this…” Mo Changhao and Zhou Xianlong froze as they glanced at the figure that had suddenly appeared at the doorway. It was a man with a black cloak concealing most of his appearances. All that could be seen was his old jawline and a scraggly beard.
“Who might you--...” “Shh--.”
At once, the black-robed man made a shushing gesture as he pointed outside the door.
The room instantly fell silent, and every single investigator pricked up their ears. And that was when they heard… rustle, rustle… It was the sound of someone sweeping the floor.
It was midnight, and yet someone appeared to be sweeping the floors outside the city hall right now.
This would at any other time have been an incredibly ordinary sound.
Yet the context in which they were hearing it made the hearts of the investigators bristle with fear.
Who’s there? Who’s sweeping the floor on the midnight of the Hungry Ghost Festival, right in front of the floor-to-ceiling glass panels?
The sound drew closer and closer. Three seconds later, an elderly woman dressed in a high-viz attire walked past the door without even attempting once to look inside.
Gulp… The investigators inside city hall gulped nervously.
“Auntie Li?” One of the investigators gasped softly, “Didn’t she… pass away last year in a city hospital?”
“Shut up.” The man standing in front of the door reached his hand out and placed it right on top of a panel of glass.
A dense white cloud of true energy suffused outwards, only to reveal that... there were actually a series of figures standing right outside the door!!
They were dressed in all kinds of clothes and standing at the entrance--... Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they were floating at the entrance, because not a single one of them had their feet touching the ground right now!
Each ‘person’ stood with their backs to the city hall, carrying a lantern, almost as though they were waiting for the arrival of a hearse. Then, as soon as the true energy began diffusing out from the city hall, their necks swivelled around stiffly, and they all turned to look into the city hall through the glass panels.
They came in all shapes and sizes, whether young or old, male or female. Yet the one feature that they all shared was the fact that their eyes were blazing with two spots of jade-green netherflames, and the fact that their bodies were covered with dark purple livor mortis spots!
These were corpses!
In other words, a large group of corpses had at some point already gathered around the entrance to the city hall, obstructing any of their way out!
It was completely dark outside. The gathering of corpses looked all the more menacing under the dim glow of the moonlight. Separated by only a thin wall of glass, a gathering of humans and a gathering of corpses stared intently at each other.
The silver lining was the fact that the ones gathered in the city hall were all courageous and bold investigators. Anyone else would have fainted from fear by now!
“Interesting…” The cloaked old man lifted his hand from the glass panel, and the image outside vanished at once, “The Hungry Ghost Festival… Over the last hundred years or so, records would show that we’ve not had any outbreaks of supernatural occurrences during the Hungry Ghost Festival, save for the usual slight increase in Yin spirit activity. But a gathering of ghosts right outside the city hall is something quite unprecedented. What’s going on in Martial City?”
As he spoke, the front door to the city hall exploded into smithereens, and the cloaked old man stepped out boldly. Moments later, dozens of talismans appeared from nowhere and began to fold themselves into paper cranes, before falling into each person’s hands.
Each investigator froze in horror as soon as they saw the paper crane in their hands. Then, with a great shudder, they took several steps back.
Everything… had changed.
Yin energy was flowing everywhere outside the city hall like a dense fog, indistinct yet vigorous.
But this was nothing like the greenish wisps of Yin energy they were more accustomed to. Rather, it appeared completely black in colour, almost as though a tank of pure Yin energy had exploded and contaminated the entire city.
The dense fog of Yin energy flowed about slowly, occasionally parting just enough to allow scarlet flowers to peek through its veil. This flower was one that had inverted spiny petals, that were pointed upwards with beautiful, fine arcs.
It was delicate and beautiful; demonic and moving.
“These are… lycoris radiata… otherwise known as the red spider lilies of Hell!” One of the investigators murmured with great incredulity, “Is Martial City… going to become a living Hell…?”
After all, it was only in Hell that one could see such solitary red spider lilies instead of several of them blooming in a bed of flowers. Legend has it that every red spider lily that bloomed represented an aggrieved soul that was dying to enter Hell but unable to do so. And in this moment… they could clearly see that the number of such flowers peeking out of the dense fog of Yin energy… was clearly in the thousands!
And if that was all, then it still wouldn’t have spooked the investigators so.
What was truly terrifying was the fact that the Yin spirits were all toting a white lantern that was lit with a scarlet netherflame within. And one by one, in an incredibly orderly fashion, the Yin spirits were all hovering in place with their feet just off the round, waiting patiently for the hearse of Hell to receive them with open arms.
This was clearly the sign of the jaunt of a thousand ghosts!
1. For those who need pictorial reference - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lycoris_radiata