“Hey~~ Calm down, calm down… Look at how your fur is all ruffled up now. Good boy~~~” Dogballs quickly helped to smoothen out the Harken’s fur. And then--...
“Holy shit!!! Let go! Let go!!! He’s the one who took the divine molt, so why are you biting me?! Sss… Agh! I’m bleeding! I’m bleeding!!! Hurry up and let go of my hand, you rebel!!!”
After much effort, Qin Ye finally managed to peel the mad dog away from his arm. He immediately lifted his sleeves to take a closer look at his wounds, only to see a row of dents on his skin. Fortunately, it didn’t puncture the skin.
“... Did you really have to do that? It’s just the disappearance of the divine molt. At most, we can just abandon the forward base to the sea of blight vermin. They’ll vanish as soon as they finish devouring the old Hell, and there will be nothing more to worry about them. So, did you really have to bite me that hard?!”
The Harken didn’t respond immediately. Instead, it gazed deeply into the writhing sea of blight vermin below, and then turned to the sporadic netherflames located back in the buildings that hadn’t yet been submerged. These represented the dying flames of Fengdu Necropolis. They were practically consumed by the violent sea of blight vermin, and the Yin soldiers patrolling the forward base weren’t able to reach these at all.
And when these netherflames were finally extinguished, the old Fengdu Necropolis would finally be washed away by the effluxion of time and become nothing more than a memory in the annals of the new Hell.
“It’s fine.” Qin Ye remarked once more. The Harken was clearly stirring with emotion. Qin Ye sighed softly and motioned to stroke the Harken’s fur, only to retract his hand cautiously as soon as he noticed the Harken’s deadly glare, “All good things must come to an end. Times have changed, and the Second King Yanluo has decided to finally let go of the old Hell. However… this means that our time is ticking down. In 100 years’ time, we must have ourselves a capital even more majestic than Fengdu Necropolis to proclaim Hell’s new base of operations!”
The Harken grew taciturn. After some time, it finally responded, “Has the Second King Yanluo departed?”
“He has. And he says that this is farewell.”
“So, all that’s left is us, huh…” The Harken panted softly as it stared blankly at the writhing mass of blight vermin below, “You know, I’ve been wondering whether I’d actually managed to evade Lord Ksitigarbha’s capture when he gained ascension, or whether… my escape was all part of their plans…”
“I’d once thought that I’d actually succeeded in breaking free. But now, I can’t tell anymore. Everything…” It sighed softly, looking around the vast fog of roiling Yin energy that appeared to consume everything, “I sometimes wonder whether I’ve simply gone full circle, only to get right back to where I’d started.”
Qin Ye didn’t know how to respond to that.
The Harken was clever. Even if it hadn’t been clever since the beginning, it was only a matter of time that it grew smarter, given the wealth of experience accumulated over the millennia, coupled with the fact that it was always in the presence of two incredibly brilliant people. Therefore, ever since the Second King Yanluo revealed to the Harken that Qin Ye was undergoing an examination, the Harken also began to think about its own fate and destiny.
“Have you ever considered how I’ve never treated you with respect after discovering that you’d received the shard of King Yanluo’s Seal? Even if there was nothing deserving of respect about you back then, I should at least have accorded you some respect on account of the fact that you had the shard of King Yanluo’s Seal with you. But… I’d thought of killing you on more than one occasion.”
Qin Ye nodded silently.
He had thought about these things before. However, he didn’t have a clue on what to think about these things.
“It’s because I’d never thought that taking over as the King Yanluo of Hell was an easy thing to begin with.” A soft nethergale whistled in the air. The Harken changed its posture and wagged its tail softly, “You might not know this, but when the Second King Yanluo first ascended the throne, Heaven’s Gate opened up at once, and a multitude of deities, gods and immortals immediately travelled out and paid their respects to him.”
“Moreover, the Second King Yanluo’s ascension was reported all over in the news, whether in the Heavens or on Earth, and regardless of the media. In short, the entire world flew into a frenzy across all Three Realms. But, with you, there was nothing.”
“My first thought was - what kind of sorcery is this? Did this kid manage to steal a shard of King Yanluo’s Seal? Or is he just plain, dumb lucky? If not for the fact that the Heavenly Dao approved of you, you would have been slain countless times over by now.”
The Harken went on with some measure of emotion, “Had I known that there had always been someone watching you, and that this was all part of a greater examination for your right to ascension, I would have restrained myself. But… my injuries were too great, so much so that I wasn’t even able to peer into the mortal realm.”
“But… to have the gods of the Three Realms bear witness to your ascension… I’ve read about it before, but this was the first time… I’d actually seen it done by someone…”
Qin Ye smiled and patted the Harken’s head, “Likewise, I didn’t know I was undergoing a test either. Had I known, I would’ve felt some form of pressure to do well, and I wouldn’t have been driven into a corner on several occasions.”
Then, they both grew silent. After a protracted pause, the Harken finally spoke up again, “The Gate of Heaven is located on top of the Kunlun Mountain. It opens once every five years. However, it will remain tightly shut for as long as Hell remains masterless, and it will only open again once Hell returns to order. Furthermore, only one person can pass through at a time when it opens. A heavenly envoy will probably reach out to you when it opens.”
Qin Ye nodded softly, “Speaking of which, I’ve got something I’d like to pick your mind on.”
“What do you think I should do next?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m faced with two choices right now. The first is to continue developing Hell’s economy, while the latter is to pour resources into forging a nuclear weapon. What do you think?”
The Harken pondered for a moment, before responding, “That’s a difficult question.”
“Forbidden Arts is the only means to maintaining Hell’s status as one of the four major underworlds in the netherworld. When the protection of the Array of the Nine Gods finally expires in a hundred or so years’ time, you’ll face the overt pressure of both large and small underworlds. The only thing that can deter these powers are Yama-class entities and Forbidden Arts. To that end, research into the Forbidden Arts can take as little as 30 years to complete, but it could likewise also take you hundred years without giving rise to any concrete results. We’re starting from ground zero, so this process will never be simple.”
Qin Ye frowned, “Are you suggesting that we should temporarily set it aside? But that doesn’t cohere with what some of the other scholars think. According to their sources, some of the foreign superpowers have already started to develop the second generation of Forbidden Arts…”
“Hear me out.” The Harken interjected, “This is why we have to get started on the research, and even succeed in developing the second generation of Forbidden Arts. At the very least, we’ll need to be of equal standing with the other three top underworlds in the netherworld when the protection from the Array of the Nine Gods finally disappears…”
It paused for a moment, and then continued, “I presume you haven’t had the time to read the scrolls about the Forbidden Arts, right? Forbidden Arts aren’t entirely akin to the nuclear weapons of the mortal realm. Anyway, take me back to the Mythic Palace of Reflections first. It’s not good to be discussing such matters here.”
That’s right. I’m afraid that apart from the scholars and the Harken, not many others even know about the existence of Forbidden Arts to begin with...Qin Ye nodded. At once, he operated the shard of King Yanluo’s Seal, and they appeared right back in the sixth floor of the City Tower back in Ashmound City.
The hall was just as quiet as ever. As soon as they appeared, the Harken leapt down from Qin Ye’s arms and raised its paws. At once, Yin energy flowed out, and a five-meter long sword covered with runes of Yin talismans and shrouded with Yin energy appeared in mid-air.
“This is the Forbidden Art known as Immortal Sanction.” The Harken stared at the sword with complex emotions, “It was the culmination of the efforts of both the Second King Yanluo, as well as all of the preeminent scholars of his time. It was an effort spearheaded by the most renowned talents across the history of Cathay. Even Lu Ban, Zu Chongzhi and Li Chun had participated in the development of Immortal Sanction. The research and development works were initiated 400 years ago. The total time taken was 80 years, and the total investment of resources in the forging process amounted to approximately 180 billion Yin spirit stones.”
“Over 400 years ago, the Argosian Underworld triggered the Second Netherworld War. 30,000 Thebes Crusaders led the charge out from Mount Olympus, followed by tens of millions of Hierapolis Warriors, countless Glory Soldiers, Teutonic Knights and Macedonian Phalanx… You can’t even begin to imagine how crazy Thanatos had to be back then. He even mobilized his Twelve Pontiffs, ravaging Europa with his forces in an instant. The land of vampires, Transylvania, was nearly razed to the ground.” 
“The Argosian Underworld had basically torn up the netherworld’s anti-war treaty. Naturally, it was faced with a powerful backlash in the form of a counterattack of the three other top underworlds in the netherworld. But… the first sign of resistance that the Argosian Underworld faced wasn’t the three top underworlds. Rather, it was… the Coalition of Alkebulan Underworlds.”
Qin Ye listened intently as the Harken taught him more about the history of the netherworld. To this end, the Second King Yanluo had only alluded to these events, but never bothered delving any deeper into the details which were all set out in the records that the new Hell had on hand.
At once, Qin Ye was filled with a profound realization that any entity that could be considered one of the top four underworlds could never be underestimated.
They were just like the mortal realm, but not quite like it at the same time. They were similar in terms of their geographical locations as well as their terms of reference, but the balance of power was completely different. The understanding of such differences was an impactful insight that opened his eyes to a whole new perspective.
The Harken slowly continued, “Alkebulan is the only continent without a large, pervasive underworld. They each believe in their own spiritual totems, and each tribe has a different totem representing their god. Each of these totems represent a Yama-class entity. But, at the same time, they also have a common god known as the Plumed Serpent God, which is more commonly known as Quetzalcoatl.”
“They don’t have any formal underworld in Alkebulan. In fact, each different locality even has their own method and means of tribal worship. For instance, the Sahara Desert is ruled over by only one powerful totem, but the vast oasis between the Sahara Desert and the Kalahari Desert situated south of the Sahara Desert is home to a dozen other tribes and corresponding totems…”
The Harken paused for a moment, and then turned to Qin Ye, “Does that not surprise you?”
Qin Ye didn’t say anything. The manner in which the Harken put it across meant that there was more to it than meets the eye.
“And what if I told you that each and every totem in that little region was presided over by a Yama-class entity?”
Qin Ye gasped in horror - Doesn’t that mean that… there are well over a dozen Yama-class entities in Alkebulan alone?!
“After the Argosian Underworld swept through Europa, they were faced with two choices - Firstly, they could head east into the Middle East, where they would face the challenge of another one of the top four underworlds, the Aegyptian Underworld. At that time, the Ten Pharoahs of Aegyptus, Khufu, Menes, Ramses, Tutankhamun and so on, had already received news of the fall of Europa. The famous Mamluk Army that once defeated the Mongol Empire’s forces were even garrisoned at the borders of modern day Turquia.  Anubis even personally took to the fore and stationed himself at the forefront of the potential location of the clash. Obviously, Thanatos would never in his right mind pit himself against the world’s oldest underworld.”
“Therefore, he chose to move south.”
“He chose to fight against the dozen or so Yama-class entities, led by Quetzalcoatl.”
“No matter how powerful the Argosian Underworld was, they would still end up suffering great losses against the Coalition of Alkebulan Underworlds. Thus… they chose to reveal their hidden trump card. For the very first time, they revealed to the world the might and terror of the Forbidden Art, Spear of the Divine Oath. With a single strike, they destroyed Quetzalcoatl, paving the way for the rest of the Argosian armies to slaughter their way into the Alkebulan underworld against a leaderless army.”
So, was the first underworld to successfully develop Forbidden Arts… the Argosian Underworld? Qin Ye mulled over these thoughts.
The Harken sighed, “Back then, Thanatos thought to shock the rest of the netherworld into submission. However, the news of their Forbidden Arts quickly spread through the netherworld, and they soon drew great backlash from the three other top underworlds. Hell sent seven of their ten Yama-Kings of the Ten Palaces, together with the Sixfold Ghost Kings, and the Hindustani Underworld sent eight Daolords. Dozens of Yama-class generals led hundreds of millions of Yin soldiers, ready to march into Europa once more in order to liberate them. This went down in history as the Second Battle of the Oracle.”
“Incidentally, it was also this battle that catalyzed the Forbidden Arts research and developmental efforts of all underworlds. Approximately 100 years later, the four top underworlds declared that their research had borne fruit, and they cemented their position as the top underworlds in the netherworld. With that, they dispelled all their naysayers and determined the balance of power for the next few centuries to come.”
Although the Harken had nothing to do with the development of Forbidden Arts in Hell, he told it with such flair that Qin Ye was completely absorbed in history.
This is the prime opportunity to learn more about Forbidden Arts!
To think that a powerful Yanluo-class existence who lorded over Alkebulan was actually defeated by a single blow of the Argosian Underworld’s Forbidden Art! This paved the way for the conquest to come. It was a strategic resource that is no different from the atomic bomb that ended World War 2! No… in fact, it’s even stronger than that!
But if that’s the case… why does the Harken still say that it’s a difficult question?
2. For those of you interested in reading up more about the Mamluk Army, here’s a link to the wiki page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamluk_Sultanate_(Cairo)