Time passed by in the blink of an eye. After a brief moment of catching up with one another, the two King Yanluos of Hell finally entered another period of succession training.
The knowledge that the Second King Yanluo was soon about to leave for good, and the fact that he would have no choice but to stand alone made him extra dedicated and serious about learning the ropes about being the King Yanluo of Hell.
In fact, he practically learned from the Second King Yanluo around the clock, delving into the details of Hell’s history, culture and other mainstay features of Hell. Meanwhile, the Second King Yanluo also did his level best to guide Qin Ye along as he slowly but surely expanded his perspective and understanding of the spiritual realms.
Without even realizing it, they had already drawn close to the end of the month of intensive learning.
“Eight areas in Hell - Temples of the Lands, Yellow Spring Road, Wang Xiang Tai or Home-Viewing Pavilion, Feral Dog Ridges, Mount of the Golden Rooster, Palace of Lost Souls, and Fengdu Necropolis. Discuss how they are affiliated to each other, and how the new Hell should deal with each of these districts.” Qin Ye carefully read through the question set out on his test paper. Today was the day when he took the written examination set for him by the Second King Yanluo of Hell.
Granted, it had been impossible to impart everything he knew to Qin Ye, especially since most things could only be learnt through practical experiences. That said, they still focused on the more important aspects that were crucial to his role, such as the composition of Hell, functions and distribution of official positions, key locations in Cathay, dangerous locations and potential pitfalls, and so on and so forth.
Qin Ye looked at the scroll filled with a series of peculiar questions, but he didn’t even have to think much before responding to them.
“Answer - Unrelated. They are aspects of Hell that are specifically designed to strike fear and awe into the hearts of Yin spirits. All of them can be subsumed under the Courts of the new Hell. Therefore, there is no need to consider these aspects at all, much less bother to rebuild them.”
The Second King Yanluo nodded softly behind him.
Qin Ye continued with his test paper, “Discuss the relationship between City Gods, Emissaries of Hell and Lords of the Land. Answer - They are different on a qualitative level. Even though the City Gods can broadly speaking be considered a type of Emissary of Hell, they are in charge of the affairs of the mortal realm. Their role is to inform Hell as soon as they discover anything amiss in the mortal realm. Not only do they act as the ears and eyes of Hell in the mortal realm, their role even extends to prevention of disasters that result in great attrition of numbers in the mortal realm, such as the flood of 1998, the earthquake in 2008, and so on and so forth.”
“In fact, ever since the SARS outbreak in 2002, the authority of the City Gods has been further enhanced, and their jurisdiction expanded. So long as they even detect the slightest signs of the incipience of a similar incident, they will immediately report back to Hell.”
“On the other hand, the scope of authority of an Emissary of Hell is far more restricted in that they would only be called upon to reap a soul when a person is knocking on death’s door. Their authority lasts only for a period of seven days, or until the soul steps onto the Naraka Bridge, whichever is shorter. In reality, this might even be something that takes only one day. Previously, Emissaries of Hell would treat their soul-reaping assignments as a publicly-funded trip to tour the mortal realm. Even though things now are slightly different, I don’t see a need to ban such frolics. After all, if everything is done in moderation, the delay might give the souls in the mortal realm some time to say their parting goodbyes to their loved ones. Meanwhile, the only thing we need to do on our end is to instill some integrity on the part of the Emissaries and prohibit publicly funded food and drinks during their travels. Some Emissaries of Hell…”
It seems like I’m digressing… Qin Ye struck off the last few words and immediately moved onto the next question.
Meanwhile, the Second King Yanluo simply sat behind, observing everything Qin Ye had written and nodded repeatedly in approbation. His wealth of experiences told him that Qin Ye was already starting to show signs of lateral thinking, which is one of the necessary features of a good King Yanluo of Hell.
After four hours, Qin Ye finally heaved a sigh of relief, shook his hands and turned back, “Second King Yanluo, don’t you think I should be given 100 marks for--... What the hell?!”
As soon as he turned back, he was astonished to see that the Second King Yanluo’s body was slowly but surely beginning to turn transparent.
Everything happened too suddenly and without any warning. Qin Ye paused for a moment, and then asked softly, “Are you… leaving?”
“That’s right. It’s time to go.” The Second King Yanluo glanced longingly at his surroundings, “The Green Lotus Cave will vanish together with me. You’ve done well on the written test. You’d at least be awarded 80 marks for all of your answers. There are no problems with your basic theory. The only area you might need some work in is your understanding of the actual practice of these theories.”
Qin Ye’s lips parted as though he were about to say something, yet he only managed to find a few simple words, “That quick, huh…”
“All good things must come to an end.” The Second King Yanluo smiled, “As a King Yanluo, you’ll have to get used to living with the vicissitudes of life. This is part of the Heavenly Dao, and it is also how these Three Realms work. This is but farewell. There’s nothing to be sad about.”
“Truth be told, my time was already up yesterday, and I’ve only clung on till today. But I guess not even the Heavenly Dao likes such a detestable oaf like me, huh…”
Qin Ye felt a lump swell up in his throat. He wanted to crack a joke to cut through the somber atmosphere around them right now, but he couldn’t help but speak his mind, “You know, you’re actually alright, despite your tomfoolery at times… Sigh…”
Qin Ye sighed softly, “Will we ever get a chance to meet again in future?”
“I’m afraid not. I don’t belong here in the Three Realms. Alright.” The Second King Yanluo raised his hand to pat Qin Ye’s shoulder, only to realize that his hand went straight through Qin Ye’s body. He paused for a moment, and then chuckled softly, “As a King Yanluo, you’re not allowed to reveal such weak expressions. Listen well, I’ve got a few parting words for you.”
The Second King Yanluo retracted the smile on his face, “Allies can never be trusted - no matter how close they appear to Hell! The netherworld is an even more cutthroat place than the mortal realm. Betrayal is but part and parcel of international politics!”
“Secondly, your succession couldn’t have come at a better time. You’re on the cusp of change - a point of inflexion for Hell. Unfortunately, the mortal realm isn’t seeing a commensurate change in regime, so you will have to work hard at the changes you wish to see.”
“In other words, the responsibility of creating a new Hell rests entirely in your hands. Remember this - you must not be soft-hearted! Kill all who you need to kill, regardless of who it may be! Besides, the examinations and tests may be over, but the heavenly realm, including the Jade Emperor and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, are still watching you.”
Qin Ye nodded.
“Thirdly…” The Second King Yanluo suddenly smiled, “Do you still recall how… Ashmound City still hides a secret?”
Qin Ye’s eyes brightened up at once - That’s right! I’d almost forgotten all about it!
“Whenever you feel confused, open it and take a good look at it. I believe… it wouldn’t be long before you might need it…” The Second King Yanluo revealed a mysterious smile on his face, “Last but not least, always keep in mind the ironclad rules of Hell.”
“An instance of infraction, a life of requital; an instance of ignominy, an eternity of penance!”
Whoosh… With that, his body abruptly transformed into a bright light and beamed away. Meanwhile, the entire Green Lotus Cave began to shake violently.
At once, a mysterious force expelled Qin Ye out where he was. However, Qin Ye wasn’t in a rush to leave. He sighed softly and took in his surroundings for the very last time, and his lips trembled softly.
“I, Qin Ye, Third King Yanluo of Hell, will live up to your expectations!”
Whoosh… Yin energy swirled around madly, and a rift suddenly tore open in the void. When Qin Ye opened his eyes again, he suddenly discovered that he had already been transported right back into the great hall.
It was the Golden Hall, replete with the familiar vermillion pillars and Torch Dragon lampstands. He took in the sight, and he couldn’t help but wonder how things were like back then when Fengdu dominated the entire netherworld - Was it just as magnificent and luxurious as this back then?
No. In fact, I imagine that it should’ve been larger and even more opulent.
Truth be told, he had long since wanted to get out of the abyss of endless tutoring under the Second King Yanluo of Hell, so he should have been delighted at his graduation from the same. However, he couldn’t bring himself to celebrate.
He swept a glance around the great hall. There wouldn’t be anyone here at this hour. That said, there was a dog lying on the ground.
“Where did this stupid dog come from?” Qin Ye shook his head and remarked under his breath. Then, sighing, he began to mull over how he was planning to tell Arthis and the Harken about the Second King Yanluo’s departure.
“I’m sorry for being stupid.” Just then, the dog suddenly looked up with a mildly haughty look, glaring at Qin Ye.
Is this… your true form?!
“Hahaha… What I meant was, where did this stupendous, beautiful dog come from? It’s beauty is out of this world, and its lovely coat has captivated my eyes.” Qin-witty-Ye coughed dryly and changed tacts instantly.
“Speaking of which, you look like you’ve recovered even more. I mean, you’re able to reveal your true form… I mean, you can shapeshift now? Did the Second King Yanluo help you with your recovery?”
The dog took a step forward and raised its paws. Then, it raised its head proudly.
Qin Ye: ???
Just like that, a man and a dog stared at each other for three seconds. After that, the dog barked coldly, “Do you not know what a hug is?!”
Qin Ye: #^*$&@#?!
… You want… a hug?!
“Can’t you see that I won’t be able to keep up with the pace of your feet with my tiny paws?! A pooper scooper like you should have the self-awareness befitting of a pooper scooper!” Before Qin Ye could even react to the situation, the Harken immediately showered him with insults. Qin-no-dignity-Ye immediately rushed over and held up the Harken in the air, and patted it on the head lovingly.
“Alright, alright, don’t get mad, don’t get mad… Let daddy take you out for a walk, alright--... Holy shit!!! Let go, let go!!!”
The Harken bit down on his arm ferociously, “Daddy?! Hmm?! A walk?! Hmm?! You should be glad I haven’t swallowed you up at once, understand?!”
“Let it get through this thick skull of yours that you’re no more than an automated wheelchair to me!”
After a painful tussle, the man and the dog finally managed to come to a ceasefire. Incensed, Qin Ye picked up the dog and walked outside. At once, the splendour of Ashmound City filled his eyes, while the netherwind howled softly, easing his heart.
“Every time I stand here and take in the sight of Ashmound City, I feel like all my effort to date hasn’t been in vain. This is the validation of my role as the King Yanluo of Hell.” He gently scratched his head and exclaimed with great emotion.
Sure, it might only have been a fragment of the glory of the ancient Hell, but he could still see ghastly figures drifting about everywhere he looked, like a vast network of constellations drifting about in their own axes in the skies.The bright light from the sea of pavilions out there appeared to a silent chorus, singing praise to their king, declaring themselves loyal subjects to their only king. This was his city. This was his kingdom.
The Harken took in the sight as well. After a long time, it finally chuckled, “I’ve got to admit that it is somewhat decent.”
“But you haven’t actually witnessed the old Hell. Fengdu was orders of magnitudes more prosperous than Ashmound City could ever be. We’re talking about the sheer sight of interweaving civilizations from various dynasties, from Xia, Shang and Zhou, to Tang, Song and Ming. There was even the celebration of the culture of foreign underworlds in various parts of Hell, including churches, Buddhist temples, Taoist Temples, as well as other lesser-known sects and religious institutions… What the hell?!”
Just then, the dog suddenly leapt straight up to its feet, and its eyes bulged in horror.
“What’s the matter?” Qin Ye stared back at it in astonishment.
The dog’s lips trembled violently, “Hurry… We’ve got to get back to the old Hell’s ruins… Right now!!!”
Without hesitation, Qin Ye activated the shard of King Yanluo’s Seal, and they promptly transformed into a mighty nethergale that vanished from Ashmound City. Moments later, they appeared in the old Hell.
The old Hell appeared almost as though it had been fully consumed by blight vermin. It was a sea of writhing darkness below. Only about 30% of the buildings in the old Hell hadn’t been submerged yet, and these areas were all located close to the city walls, around where Oda Nobunaga had established a forward base. Like a reef in a black tide, it stood strong, repelling the approach of the crashing waves of blight vermin.
Krr… krr… Qin Ye could hear a sea of crunching sound, almost as though everything that had been submerged was slowly but surely being devoured and eaten up. Qin Ye glanced around. Something told him that something was amiss, but he couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
However, the Harken’s body trembled profusely, “Have you realized what went wrong?”
Qin Ye nodded, and then shook his head once more, “Just a little… It feels like something has vanished, but… I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
The Harken gulped hard, and then barked at the top of its voice, “The divine molt!!! Ksitigarbha’s divine molt!!”
“That shameless oaf actually had the gall to steal Ksitigarbha’s divine oaf as he left!! Can’t he spare a thought for Hell at all?! Shameless! How utterly shameless!!!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter