Nobody had the power of omniscience. All were but sojourners on the path in search of omniscience, but nobody had ever reached the pot of gold at the end of this path.
Qin Ye wasn’t the Second King Yanluo of Hell. He had come to Daehan with a mind to learn. He wanted to know how to perform the most important function only known to masters of underworlds. Naturally, it didn’t occur to him that this trip would also trigger his very first informal meeting with an ambassador-at-large. No matter where one went, ‘dinner banquets’ between national representatives were synonymous with ‘informal meetings’. Anything he said or did would allow the Russian Underworld to gain a better insight into Hell’s strength and weaknesses.
This was by no means a meeting between two emissaries, because each of them was clearly clothed with the authority to represent their underworld. There was much to be considered, and much to deliberate about. In fact, the complexities of such interactions were arguably even greater than that of internal governance.
For instance, right now.
He wanted to intercept Liu Yu’s harvest and plunder the faith of more than 60 million mortals living in Daehan. Fate has already confirmed that his success here would undoubtedly propel him into the ranks of an Abyssal Prefect. Therefore, the best way to approach this meeting would undoubtedly be to take a step back and work towards a common goal.
This would entail agreeing to the request of the Russian Underworld, and disregarding their trespass into a fiefdom of Hell. That way, these newfound “allies” would finally let down their guard, and he would be granted the opportunity to slip right into the heart of Gonjiam Asylum and be given the opportunity to intercept Liu Yu’s harvest of faith.
That said… Are these things that Hell would do?
Just look at Arthis, the Harken and even the Second King Yanluo of Hell! How would each of them have reacted to the situation? What would they have done? Hell’s standing in the netherworld was no different from Usonia’s standing in the mortal realm! Refuse to comply? I’ll sanction you, raise tariffs, and then send guards to protect your territorial borders. Oh, by the way, you have to repay us for these protection services, whether in cash or in kind.
If Qin Ye chose to bow down in submission, he would most certainly be crushed to death upon his return, or at least incapacitated in several regards…
So retreat is out of the question, and hard ball is the only remaining option.
But, how hard? If he pushed too hard, it would only increase the rift between Hell and the Russian Underworld. How should he craft his response such that they would feel intimidated, but not as though Hell were being unreasonable? How hard should he push to get the desired effect of deterrence? How hard should he push so that they would give in without putting up a fight?
Soon, a multitude of thoughts flooded Qin Ye’s mind. Rus and Cathay shared a substantial part of their territorial borders. Then, there was still Hindustan to contend with. If things with the Russian Underworld went south, then he would practically be surrounded on all sides. Rus above, Hindustan below, and then there was even one of the other top underworlds, Aegyptus located slightly to the west…
Qin Ye’s throbbed in pain. The coachman was still waiting for his response, while Rumyantsev was clearly awaiting his arrival within the carriage. His vast, boundless Yin energy was just like the rushing waters of a mighty river that swept away everything in the vicinity, rendering the surroundings so quiet that not even animals could be heard.
“Why does he have to be an advanced Prefect-class Yin spirit at that!!!” Qin Ye massaged his temples in frustration. Rumyantsev would never step out of the carriage for an Infernal Judge. In fact, he was already being courteous by inviting Qin Ye to board the carriage of an Abyssal Prefect. Just then, Rumyantsev smiled faintly and his voice boomed from within the carriage, “What’s the matter? Do you scorn Abyssal Prefects from the Russian Underworld?”
“Not at all.” Qin Ye didn’t have the luxury of time to mull over his position any longer. This was the first diplomatic contact between the new Hell and a foreign underworld. There was simply no room for retreat. Thus, taking a deep breath, Qin Ye plastered a smile on his face and responded placidly, “It’s just that I didn’t expect the honor of Marquis Rumyantsev’s presence himself. I am thoroughly flattered.”
Persona. Watch the persona. You are now Zhong Kui, not the Third King Yanluo of Hell.
With that, he immediately turned and whispered to his companions, “Don’t follow me. Just wait here. If you detect any problems, immediately contact Lee Jung-sook and have her send you guys back home immediately and notify Brother Xu as quickly as you can.”
“Understood.” Both men nodded in unison. They both knew that a banquet in such contexts was never just a banquet. After all, loyalties between nations were fickle, and everything depended on the price of betrayal.
With that, Qin Ye opened the door and drifted out in his Hell’s Emissary state.
Zhong Kui’s name clearly preceded him. As soon as he got off the car, the four skeletal horses immediately neighed loudly and kicked up their front hooves. Rumyantsev exclaimed softly, “It’s you… To think that these trivial affairs in the far-flung lands of Hanyang would deserve the attention of Judge Zhong himself. Please.”
Qin Ye walked straight into the carriage, maintaining a prideful and domineering attitude as he imagined Hell to have a hundred years back. It was only when he arrived by the carriage door that he noticed how large it actually was. The interior of the carriage was decorated with scarlet carpets and skeleton couches covered with soft fur. Even the lanterns hanging from the roof of the carriage were finely carved. A man dressed in the garments befitting of a 17th century marquis lifted his cup of black tea and smiled faintly at him.
Rumyantsev had a large frame. He was approximately 1.9m tall, and he wore a blond wig - a necessity for nobility of their times. He wore a fitting waist-coat tuxedo ensemble made of blue materials and red stripes for accents, and the frills on his inner shirt peeked out of his suit. His knight’s boots were decorated with a scarlet cross pattern and buckled in place with brilliant gold buckles.
To that end, Qin Ye could even tell that the head of the gold buckle was carved into the shape of a brown bear’s head. It was exquisite. That said, he could tell that the man he saw right now was nothing more than a rug of human skin worn over the skeleton beneath. The telltale signs were the slight misfit, as well as the deep cavities in his eyes from which two clumps of scarlet netherflame blazed. Everything looked incomparably bizarre.
Qin Ye looked at Rumyantsev, and his heart sank at once.
Rumyantsev was wearing his formal attire, as any governmental official would in a formal meeting. Qin Ye didn’t know much about European history, but he still knew that the people of Europa didn’t wear wigs because it was aesthetically pleasing. Rather, it was because they didn't have shampoo in the past, and their hair would be full of lice.
Thus, they would all cut their hair short.
And wigs were born for this reason. They were only taken out and worn during particularly formal occasions.
In other words, Rumyantsev was undoubtedly treating this banquet as a formal meeting with him.
Rumyantsev made yet another gesture of invitation at Qin Ye. Although he didn’t speak, Qin Ye could sense that his eyes were incisive as knives, cutting and scraping against Qin Ye’s skin as though he were trying to peel off the layers of pretension to seek the truth hidden beneath.
Damn it… are you trying to force me into a corner?
Gritting his teeth, Qin Ye seized the initiative, “Does Marquis find my attire lacking somewhat?”
Rumyantsev hadn’t expected Qin Ye to speak first. At once, he retracted his deadly gaze and shifted his posture, before responding with equally fluent Cathayan, “You can say that I hadn’t expected you to show up without observing any formal etiquette.”
“I’d thought that Judge Zhong had come to Gijang County because Hell finally wanted to come to the table for formal discussions. And since you appeared to be poised for a formal meeting, I… thought we’d both be showing up with the usual formalities and etiquette.”
“Judge Zhong, are you looking down on this Marquis?”
They were exchanging words for the very first time, and yet Qin Ye was already filled with great vexation and exasperation.
He could tell in an instant that Rumyantsev was a veteran who had been forged through the sands of negotiation.
Neither of them had ever discussed the rules of engagement, including how to meet, and the agenda for their discussions. Both sides were simply probing at each other and testing each other out. It was only when Qin Ye first stepped beyond the peripheries of the script of death and approached the core of it all in Gijang County that the Russian Underworld finally decided that they had to meet in person. Rumyantsev’s first statement might have at first blush seemed like a mere exchange of pleasantries, but the truth of the matter was that he was masterfully alluding to the fact that Hell was pushing too hard, and that he had no choice but to meet with them instead. Then, his second statement suggested that Qin Ye wasn’t prepared to come to the table officially as representatives of their underworlds, and sought clarity on whether this was intended to be a private meeting instead.
And riding on those presumptions, he directly rebuked Zhong Kui for his presumptuousness in deciding this to be a private meeting. Truth be told, he would never dare make such bold statements in a bilateral meeting between underworlds. Instead, this was simply a test to determine where Hell was right now. The actual nature of this meeting rode on how Qin Ye responded to these seemingly benign statements.
This old fox… Qin Ye’s mind spun rapidly as he desperately sought the right words to speak.
Several seconds later, with palpitations in his heart, Qin Ye steadily took his seat, “Then, perhaps Marquis should just treat this as a private meeting, nothing more.” Qin Ye’s fingertips were trembling profusely. It was unbelievably daunting dealing with an Abyssal Prefect that appeared to be restraining his overbearing might. The fact that Rumyantsev could make minced meat out of him in an instant caused his back to be filled with sweat.
After all, Abyssal Prefects were entities that could move at supersonic speed. In other words, Rumyantsev could instantly take his own life right now if he so desired!
And for that matter, if he so dared.
Qin Ye appeared to move unhurriedly, but the fact of the matter was that he was desperately attempting to conceal the cold sweat in his hands, “There’s still one month until the opening ceremony of the Hanyang Underworld. Given that the Russian Underworld had arrived earlier than the patriarchate itself, I’ve had no choice but to come pay a visit to you.”
“That’s right… the opening ceremony of the Hanyang Underworld.” Rumyantsev gently sipped his black tea, “Hell has flourished for over three millennia now. How could you possibly accept Liu Yu’s declaration of independence?”
Qin Ye was just about to respond when Rumyantsev gently set down his teacup and revealed an ugly smile, “But, that’s Hell’s personal affairs. It’s not in the place of the Russian Underworld to go probing at the affairs of others. Why don’t we… adjourn to the banquet hall? The other ambassadors are all eagerly awaiting your arrival. They’re anxious to see the majesty of a top underworld after such a long hiatus.”
Unfortunately, Qin Ye had no choice but to nod faintly in acknowledgment of Rumyantsev’s suggestions, pretending to be indifferent about his suggestions - He’s clearly trying to seize the initiative in these negotiations… Without doing much, he’s actually gained the upper hand in dictating the rules of engagement moving forward.
The carriage door slowly closed, and the skeletal horses outside began to gallop off under the direction of the coachman. One man and one ghost sat in the carriage silently, each filled with their own thoughts. Qin Ye shut his eyes, pretending to rest while he desperately thought about how the real Zhong Kui would react in the current situation.
They remained silent the entire way. When the carriage finally came to a halt, Qin Ye discovered to his surprise that they were already standing by the beach, with a church steeple towering over them.
It was the Jukseong Dream Cathedral!
The church wasn’t large. It had a red roof, white walls, and grey brick edging.
That said, it was situated by the beach, and for that reason known to be home to one of the most beautiful sunrises on the Daeian Peninsula. It was a church that was built for the purposes of a television drama, and was now a pilgrimage spot for countless netizens.
Had this been any other time in the past, one could easily see countless tourists wandering about the vicinity and taking photographs with their favourite poses. Unfortunately, the Jukseong Dream Cathedral was now located right in eastern-Pusan, deep in the hearts of the red zones. Qin Ye looked to the entrance of the church, only to notice a monk covered in scars that was lying prostrate on the ground.
The banquet… is actually going to be held in the Jukseong Dream Cathedral? Is this a reminder? Or perhaps a threat? Are they warning me against going any further?
Mukov’s presence told him that they were aware of Qin Ye’s investigations. It was also an expression of confidence, declaring that they weren’t afraid. Moreover, it was also warning him against going deeper, almost as if to say, “Since we’re not afraid of letting Mukov’s identity out of the bag, we’re likewise not afraid of forcing someone who’s overstepped their boundaries to remain here forever.”
These were negotiations of the netherworld.
They weren’t limited to the ambit of words, but could take place even with actions, locations, conduct and even presentation of situations and scenarios. It was like walking on a tightrope across cliffs - a single misstep would spell instant disaster.
“Greetings Marquis Rumyantsev and esteemed Earl!” Mukov kowtowed heavily to the ground, “Your humble servant, Mukov, sincerely welcomes the arrival of both lords. Your presence will make the Jukseong Dream Cathedral shine with radiance! Please!”
At once, a row of female attendants marched out from within.
There were approximately 20 female attendants, each of which were holding onto scarlet spider lilies and dressed in their hanboks as they bowed respectfully on the two sides that led right up to the entrance to the church. 
However, none of them were breathing.
They… were all zombies!
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