The intense sunset cast a striking red hue across the lands right outside the church, almost as though the grounds were stained with copious amounts of blood. At the same time, the radiant beams shone straight through the stained glass windows, lighting up the inside of the church with psychedelic beauty.
Jukseong Dream Cathedral, Gijang County. The governmental reports pulled by Lee Jung-sook had reported this to be the location of the first sighting of the living dead. In fact, dozens of living dead were reported to have marched out at the same time, some of which had orifices dripping with blood, some were without eyes, while others were just kneeling on both sides of the aisle within the church, flanked by two rows of red spider lilies and separated only by the crimson carpet that appeared to divide the church.
It was an indescribably bizarre sight.
Whoosh… whoosh… The waves nearby crashed endlessly into the shore. Silence. Qin Ye took a deep breath and marched right into the dragon’s lair.
It was the living dead everywhere he looked. The actions of the female living dead were sluggish, and their bodies were covered with livor mortis spots. They also wore traditional Daeian clothing, also known as hanbok, all of which bore some semblance to the outfits worn by women during the Cathayan Tang Dynasty, except that… all of their breasts were exposed.
It used to be a common thing that women of the common and lowborn classes would wear a breast-exposing hanbok with pride to show off that they had given birth to a son, and to even feed their children in public to make others envious. This practice continued for some time until the Nipponese conquered the Daeian Peninsula and imposed on them their own ideas of modesty. To think that Daeian dramas these days show their actresses completely covered like--... Qin Ye couldn’t help but chuckle in his heart. 
It was ridiculous.
“Indeed, I, too, find this somewhat ridiculous.” Rumyantsev walked alongside Qin Ye. Generally speaking, Infernal Judges would never walk side-by-side with an Abyssal Prefect. The only exception to this rule was an Infernal Judge of Hell.
“To think that a nation that had just learned the basics of civility is actually thinking of declaring independence… Is Hell only evicting them because you find their ways too barbaric?” He chuckled softly at his own joke, and then led the way straight into the church. Qin Ye followed closely after him.
As soon as he entered, he was immediately greeted by a chilling piece of music played by a band of skeletons dressed in tuxedos and wearing golden wigs.
The piece that they played was like a song of grouse. It was incredibly harsh on the ears, and even interspersed with howls and screams. Rumyantsev briefly introduced the piece, “The original Black Friday. Russian Underworld’s Theatre of the Red Square Collection. I’ve pulled out all the stops for my meeting with you today.”
They stood right under the statue of Jesus, beneath the tall stained glass window at the side of the church. The stark juxtaposition of the existence of the living dead and the representation of religion didn’t seem in the slightest bit dissonant at this moment. A banquet table was set up right beneath the statue in the hall, welcoming the arrival of emissaries of the underworld.
Four other Yin spirits dressed just like Rumyantsev were already standing in front of the banquet hall. As soon as they noticed Rumyantsev and Qin Ye entering the hall, they immediately raised their hands and bowed with great flair and poise, “Warmest greetings to the esteemed Emissary of Hell! You bring glory to the banquet hall this evening!”
“This is Valentin, our Records Officer.” “This is Igor, the Secretary of the current diplomatic mission of the Russian Underworld.” “This is Jakob, Diplomatic Consul.” “And this is Oleg, Diplomatic Attache.”
They all looked human, but it was clear to Qin Ye from the stiff expressions on their faces that they were nothing more than skeletons wearing the skins of human beings.
Abominations… Qin Ye glanced at them, and then turned away promptly.
Rumyantsev smiled genially and bowed back elegantly. Then, he snapped his fingers, “Everyone, please take your seats.”
Boom…. The heavy doors of the church shut behind them. The entire church hall was filled with music that was shrill and harsh to the ears. The otherwise glorious statue in the hall looked almost as though it were tilting its head in denial of the abominations that have crept into a once-sacred place.
As soon as the doors shut, there was the soft tingle of a bell. Moments later, a number of living dead attendants carrying silver trays walked out of the shadows and set them gently on the table, before revealing its contents.
Thankfully, what was served wasn’t dismembered body parts, but rather, a fist-sized kiwi-like fruit that was emitting faint traces of Yin energy. It was drizzled with a glistening, red sauce and accompanied by some white vegetables.
“Yinsnake Berry accompanied by Serpent Grass.” Oleg smiled and made a gesture of invitation, “The chefs have specially brought this all the way from the headquarters of the Russian Underworld to introduce the local delights back in the North. Sir, have a taste.”
Unfortunately, Qin Ye didn’t have the heart to indulge in delectables right now. The banquet was nothing more than a process for which both sides could continue to observe and scrutinize each other. He didn’t want to give them the luxury of time to observe his own actions.
After all, he wasn’t prepared to participate in these negotiations to begin with. The longer things dragged on, the more unfavourable the situation would be for him. The best thing to do right now would be to end things as quickly as he could.
Since he wasn’t able to meet them on their rules of engagement, he was left with no choice but to seize the initiative and throw them off their rhythm with the richness of his own experience.
Unfortunately, this was more easily said than done. From the onset, the Russian Emissaries had been dragging things out, buying as much time as they could to continue observing the Emissary of Hell before them. Qin Ye needed to broach a topic that would force them to talk. But what could he possibly say to achieve something like that?
Clang… Rumyantsev cut through the Yinsnake Berry, and scarlet juice flowed out onto the plate. He glanced at the beautiful sheen on his plate and smiled radiantly, “What’s the matter? Judge Zhong, do you find our hospitality lacking thus far?”
“150 years ago, when you accompanied Prefect An Daoquan of Yan Capital to the Tsar’s birthday celebration, you didn’t seem to be in such a hurry.”
They’d met Zhong Kui before?!
Qin Ye cursed in his heart. He didn’t lose his composure, but he knew that composure alone wouldn’t be able to tide him through the multifaceted problems that had arisen. He didn’t know the right words to speak, the right procedures for such diplomatic exchanges, or even the right etiquette for presenting himself! Given the circumstances, there was no doubt that the longer he remained here, the more likely he was to let the cat out of the bag!
“I’m not in a hurry.” Qin Ye suddenly smiled, “Rather, I’m more concerned that all of you might be in a hurry.”
Rumyantsev raised his hand, and a living dead attendant immediately walked up and handed him a silky white napkin. He wiped his mouth with great poise before addressing Qin Ye’s sudden remark, “A banquet isn’t the right forum to be discussing matters of business. It’s more important to enjoy the food now, is it not?”
“That’s right.” It was strange. Every cell in Qin Ye’s body was incredibly calm right now. But even then, his heart thumped hard against his chest, “King Yanluo’s army is on his way here right now, led personally by the esteemed Lord Harken. It might not be a bad thing to enjoy your last dinner slowly.”
Whoosh. At once, the evil ghosts seated around the table jerked their gazes over abruptly.
This was something that they definitely had to talk about!
No matter how they tried to couch it, they were still undoubtedly trespassing the fiefdom of another underworld without their consent. This was an encroachment on the sovereignty of a nation. Qin Ye’s angle of attack was spot on!
There was silence at once. The delegation of the Russian Underworld immediately set down their knives and forks. Meanwhile, Qin Ye drew a deep breath and continued to press the attack, “Daehan has always been one of the vassal states of Hell. We have never received any official correspondence from the Russian Underworld stating your intent, yet you chose to enter our territory in spite of that. Is the Russian Underworld planning to declare war on Hell?”
Qin Ye swept a deadly glare across each Yin spirit at the table, “Entry of ambassadors and a diplomatic delegation? Did Hell agree to this? Or does the Russian Underworld already think nothing of Hell after a hundred years of silence?!”
At once, the eyes of the Yin spirits at the table flickered wildly and their temples throbbed.
Ten seconds later, Valentin quipped back, “Sir, might you have failed to notice the fact that Liu Yu has already declared independence?”
“And what about before his declaration of independence? He would still have been under the sovereignty of Hell!” Qin Ye barked back, “His underworld hasn’t opened. The decree of independence has not been etched with the seal of Hell. He’s still benefiting from the Book of Life and Death, and even still going about his duties under the previous title conferred upon him by the previous dynasty of Hell! When did the Russian Underworld obtain the authority and consent for entry? No matter how much of a rush you’re in to supplant the authority of Hell, don’t you have to wait at least until the day Liu Yu officially becomes independent?!”
At once, there was silence.
Yet it felt no different from the silence concealing an incredible storm that was brewing beneath the calm facade of the ocean!
Rumyantsev had already tightened his fist so hard that his spoon was completely bent. He drew a deep breath and turned to Zhong Kui, “Previous dynasty?”
You finally speak again… Qin Ye’s garbs were already damp with sweat. Even then, he glanced around coldly at the Yin spirits at the table, “That’s right.”
He knew that it was only a matter of time before Hell had to give a reason for its sudden silence. And since that was the case, now was a better time than any other to disclose the reason for the same. After all, it was the perfect bombshell for the purposes of seizing the initiative.
“Hell has just undergone a dynastic change over the last hundred years. The Second King Yanluo has stepped down, and a Third King Yanluo has succeeded his mantle of authority.”
Like a boulder crashing into the still lake, this single statement completely swept everyone away, causing all of the Yin spirits at the table to shudder violently.
This is news to us… This is phenomenal!
The three thousand years of Fengdu has finally given way to the Third King Yanluo of Hell!
What’s more, this was an incredibly heavy statement, laden with implications - What’s the new King Yanluo of Hell like? Is he a hawk or a dove? Zhong Kui has mentioned that the Harken is personally leading troops and marching for Daehan right now… Is he… trying to make an example of the Russian Underworld to the rest of the netherworld?!
Rumyantsev hung his head low. The netherflames in his eyes flickered wildly. His rich experience told him that something seemed strange about the Emissary of Hell, and he wasn’t prepared to bring the discussion to that of official matters until he could pinpoint how exactly Zhong Kui appeared strange. Unfortunately… he didn’t have a choice now!
This wasn’t a topic of discussion he could just sweep under the rug and ignore! These words were probably false, but even in the 1% off-chance that this was true, he couldn’t fathom what kind of implications this would bring to the rest of the netherworld! As an ambassador-at-large, he didn’t answer merely to his own actions. He was answerable for the actions of the Russian Underworld as a whole!
“Who would’ve thought something earth-shattering like that could have occurred over the last century…” He clasped his palms together and spoke with great excitement, “I’ll immediately notify the Tsar so that he can royally welcome the new King Yanluo of Hell on his succession to the throne!”
However, Qin Ye simply turned and gazed deeply at Rumyantsev, “Mr Marquis, there’s no need for adulations where none is sought. Furthermore, you needn’t even think about entering Hell to scout Hell out. If there’s something you must do, then perhaps you should turn your attention to something that the preceding King Yanluo of Hell had tasked me to hand back to the Russian Underworld.”
As he spoke, a dagger encrusted with precious stones immediately landed on the table.
“This is--...” The Russian delegation froze, and then immediately shot to their feet!
Rumyantsev trembled as well. The netherflames in his eyes gleamed brightly, and his breath even grew ragged as he stared intently at the dagger.
Humiliation… This is a disgrace!
That’s Tsar Arturo’s dagger!
Rumyantsev was keenly aware that the First King Yanluo of Hell was the one that defeated all of his competition and raised Hell as a superpower, and the Second King Yanluo of Hell was the one that allowed Hell to stand on top of the world!
He simply couldn’t fathom how terrifying this man was, especially since the legends had it that just a hundred years ago, he travelled around the world, challenging the masters of every major underworld, including Anubis, Thanatos and so on, and yet… emerged victorious among all the competition, completely undefeated!
He’d naturally also heard that the Second King Yanluo of Hell had once challenged Tsar Arturo, save that… he hadn’t heard anything about the Second King Yanluo taking the Tsar’s dagger with him! And to think that this dagger was actually tossed onto the table like that under the hand of a mere Infernal Judge!
What a disgrace!
But over and above the humiliation they were facing, Rumyantsev was filled with deep scorn and resentment for Hell right now.
Why did they have to invite him to a dinner banquet and treat him well even though he’s prying at the core of our script of death?
And why didn’t they dare to invade the Daehan Peninsula despite silence from Hell for a century on end?
It was all because of the entity behind this dagger - the underworld that represented infinite strength!
The Yama-Kings of the Ten Palaces, the Sixfold Ghost Kings, the dozens of Prefects, thousands of Infernal Judges, and a multitude of other Emissaries of Hell that were sufficient to fill an ocean…
The words “By Hell’s Dictum, all rabble shall disperse” that have resounded for ages throughout the netherworld would never fade simply because of the passage of a hundred years!
1. The breast exposing hanbok is actually real?! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanbok