That voice sounds familiar…
Mo Changhao and Zhou Xianlong glanced at each other and frowned immediately, “Dare we ask who this esteemed Abyssal Prefect might be?”
Qin Ye smiled and turned around, “It hasn’t been that long since our last encounter at Martial City. Have you already forgotten about me?”
Zhou Xianlong’s lips trembled slightly, while Mo Changhao’s eyes widened in horror - How could it be him?
What’s he doing here?
And how could he be an Abyssal Prefect?
The Hungry Ghost Festival was just a few months ago, and yet he’s already an Abyssal Prefect now? Just how blessed by the gods is he supposed to be?! Words can’t even describe how outrageously quick this cultivation speed is!!!
“What’s the matter?” Qin Ye basked in the glory of the infrared lights trained on his body as he stroked the Harken gently with a smile, “Are you really that intent on testing the extent of my abilities? Have them stand down. These firearms are completely useless against me.”
Zhou Xianlong was the first one to return to his senses. However, the first thing that he did was not respond to Qin Ye, but instead to shut the door behind him.
There was a muffled sound. Mo Changhao turned to look at him with his lips slightly agape, but said nothing afterwards.
“An Abyssal Prefect has descended upon Fengyang County. The situation is critical, and Principal Xu, Vice Principal Li, as well as several others are all outside.” Zhou Xianlong leaned against the door and spoke softly.
They’d already agreed to part ways and cut off all ties with each other, and yet his first reaction was still to shut the door behind him.
Ah, that’s right… My colleagues were right about me. They’d mentioned that I’m rather soft-hearted beneath this hard exterior of mine…
“How thoughtful.” Qin Ye responded softly as he continued to stroke the Harken.
What followed afterwards was a slightly protracted period of silence.
Zhou Xianlong simply looked at Qin Ye with a complex gaze in his eyes.
He felt a trace of joy seeing Qin Ye do well.
However, there were also traces of reluctance, resentment, anger, and a whole host of other emotions, all of which culminated in a single statement, “How have you been?”
Had I not pressed the point back then, would things be so awkward and tense right now?
Had I turned a blind eye back then, would the Cathay have finally seen the emergence of a fourth Abyssal Prefect in their battle against the netherworld?
“I’m fine.” Qin Ye responded indifferently, “This is the Harken. By the way, I’ve brought my identity token with me this time. Do you need to verify my identity this time?”
Another period of silence.
Ten seconds later, Mo Changhao smiled bitterly, “Is it really necessary? If you’d earlier revealed your identity as an Emissary of Hell back then, we wouldn’t have--…”
“No, you would have.” Qin Ye immediately rebutted, “What the mortal realm seeks is stability and unity. Even if I revealed the fact that I represent Hell, you would still have done the same, simply because… the mortal realm cannot tolerate the existence of anyone else in the team with hidden agendas. You would never tolerate the existence of potential variables, including Emissaries of Hell that you don’t have any control over!”
And that was the crux of the matter.
Zhou Xianlong and Mo Changhao grew silent, while Qin Ye continued, “The only way out is… if I hadn’t joined the Special Investigations Department to begin with, but to interact directly with you in my capacity as an Emissary of Hell back then. That way, you’d probably be more willing to trust me. Ironic, isn’t it?”
“Then why--…” Mo Changhao words trailed off softly, and he didn’t finish his question. He wanted to know why Qin Ye hadn’t done that earlier on.
Qin Ye chuckled bitterly.
How could he have done so?
Back when he first joined the Special Investigations Department, how could he possibly have known that things would come to this? How weak had he been back then? He was merely a Soul Hunter when the Daolord of the Beast had set him in his sights because of the shard of King Yanluo’s Seal he was carrying. Where could he possibly have hidden if not for the safest place then that was the Special Investigations Department?
And even then, he was mistaken about one thing. Even the Special Investigations Department wasn’t a safe hiding place back then.
It was only after he became an Abyssal Prefect that he truly understood how terrifying such an existence was.
Besides, it wasn’t as though the mortal realm would definitely believe him had he revealed his identity as an Emissary of Hell back then. After all, there were no precedents of Emissaries of Hell ever joining the ranks of the Divine Protectors. In all likelihood, the mortal realm wasn't likely to have taken the gamble had he approached them during such sensitive, critical times.
A bird in hand was worth two in the bush. This was the reason for which the Special Investigations Department had acted on their suspicions against him on several occasions. Fortunately, they had only acted, and not eliminated. After all, that was reserved for a situation where things escalated beyond their bottom line.
“In any event, we’ve spoken about this issue before, and I believe that there’s no reason to be flogging a dead horse.” Qin Ye shook his head, “The Harken here is clear proof of my identity. He’s the so-called Exalted Father that the SRC had been researching so much about. A Yama-King and an Abyssal prefect from Hell have especially made the trip down to Fengyang County on business. Please don’t stand in our way.”
The coldness in Qin Ye’s voice filled Zhou Xianlong’s heart with dejection. After a long period of silence, he nodded softly, “Understood.”
“Director Zhou…” Mo Changhao had his reservations. However, he turned to look at Zhou Xianlong, and then turned back to Qin Ye, before finally sighing as he, too, took his leave.
“By the way…” Just as they were about to open the door to the main hall, Qin Ye suddenly spoke up once more, “I’ve got some good news to share with you.”
“Both Insignia Province and Eastmount Province have been reclaimed by Hell. After the spring festivities this year, Hell will appoint City Gods here in Insignia Province. The Lords of the Land will once again resume their duties as well. As for Eastmount Province, the Lords of the Land are already going about their duties, but I’m afraid the appointment of the City Gods there will have to wait until next year.”
Eastmount Province was currently in the process of building cities and connecting infrastructures. This was fundamentally different from Insignia Province. After all, Insignia Province was where the core of the new Hell was located, and their earlier expansion meant that they now had the entire province under their command. There was no need to venture out into the wilderness for pioneering works, including taming or quashing monarch beasts and establishing safe passageways.
Zhou Xianlong and Mo Changhao abruptly turned back and stared at Qin Ye with great disbelief.
“Hell will be unifying the Cathayan Underworld over the next few decades. And to this end, we’ll be starting off with the coastal regions here. Don’t you think you should count your lucky stars?”
Zhou Xianlong didn’t quite know how to respond to such news.
Qin Ye continued, “Hell had previously broached the idea of trade with the mortal realm during an encounter back in Valley County a little while ago. I’ll be personally presiding over the terms of the trade. Since you’re here, why don’t you take a message for me and save me a wasted trip?”
“Go ahead.” Mo Changhao suppressed the burgeoning excitement in his heart and responded hoarsely.
The liberation of Insignia Province and Eastmount Province… This is great news!!
Fortunately… Fortunately, the government hasn’t publicly announced the truth about the supernatural outbreak just yet. It seems like this nightmare of ours will soon come to an end. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!
“I’d like to bring forward the negotiations.”
“This was originally something scheduled to take place 2 years later. Currently, only 8 months have passed. That said, there’s a change of plans, and Hell would like to have the grand negotiations between the mortal realm and the netherworld take place during the Qingming Festival next year. I’ll personally be representing Hell in the upcoming negotiations.”
“Will there be anyone else?”
“No. I am the only one who has the authority to conduct these negotiations.”
Mo Changhao took a deep breath, “That’s fine. You can tell me what you’re interested in, and I’ll relay your message to the big boss, and have him personally escalate your request to the central government!”
“Building materials, light industry, heavy industry, and… all scholars, academicians, and all who are part of the Thousand Talents Program  must have their corpses sent to Martial City for a period of seven days before they may be buried or cremated. Hell isn’t the same as before, and they cannot simply enter Hell by regular cremation. Instead… they will all need the personal escort of Emissaries of Hell.”
Then, he smiled, “Rest assured, there’s no limit to what we can take back in Hell.”
I’m just afraid you might scrimp a little bit too much on your offer…
“Alright.” With that, the two men finally took their leave.
As soon as they left, Zhou Xianlong gazed blankly into the sky ahead of him. The military police outside immediately parted ways, allowing him passage until he finally entered his car. It was only then that he finally quipped, “Do you think… we acted wrongly before?”
“No.” Mo Changhao remained firm, “Everyone has their own circumstances. Take the president of Usonia for instance. He’s always been treating Cathay as foe, and we’ve always found him to be in the wrong. But, in the eyes of his own citizens, he’s the one who’s acting reasonably.”
“Our duty dictates what we have to do. And to that end, this isn’t something that we can decide for ourselves. Let’s put it this way - until our boss changes his perspective of the issue, it’s not in your place to take the blame for our actions thus far.”
“Besides, all we’ll have to do now is to report back in a timely fashion.”
His voice grew firmer, “And if you still have doubts, all you need to do is just consider what happens if our suspicions bore out, and Qin Ye was an evil ghost, or a fallen Emissary of Hell. Do you even understand the kind of implication of having someone like that among the ranks of the Special Investigations Department? We were doing right by the tens of thousands of other investigators who are fighting for the lives of the citizens on the frontline out there. If something happens to the Special Investigations Department, do you know how many cities and counties will fall? Is this something that Cathay can truly afford to take a gamble on? We’re talking about potentially having blood on our hands!”
“We live with no regrets.” He put the pedal to the metal, “As for who’s right and who’s wrong, let’s leave these questions to be assessed by our future generations.”
Vrroom! Their car ejected a puff of smoke from its exhaust before shooting off into the darkness of the night.
A gentle night breeze swept by. Holding the Harken in his hands, Qin Ye soon arrived at the location where Yuhuang Temple used to stand.
It was now nothing more than a farmland with a small well located to the side. Qin Ye had ascertained with Yuanzhi that this was indeed where historians confirmed the original Yuhuang Temple used to stand.
“You don’t seem to be in high spirits.” The Harken responded, “Don’t worry, they’ll all end up on your side of Hell one day.”
“Kiddo, you’re still a little bit too young. I’m willing to bet that if Lee Jung-sook were in your shoes, she wouldn’t even have second thoughts in doing what you’ve just done. Neither of you were in the wrong. It’s all a matter of your duties and obligations. Besides, time is the best medicine that can heal all wounds. Everyone is treading on thin ice right now, particularly when the lives of millions of people rest on their shoulders. It’s understandable how they would act this way…”
Qin Ye interjected, “I get it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to accept it. Alright, enough about that. Why don’t we get back to business before I actually forget why I’m here in Insignia Province...”
“Come, take a look and see if there’s anything wrong with this place?”
Qin Ye glanced at the Harken with a prompting look, almost as though he were saying - C’mon then, little doggy...
Endure… There’s no use getting upset over such trivial provocations… The Harken sniffed around a little while, and then frowned after a minute.
“Strange…” It ran to another place, and then sniffed around for a little bit more. And then it did the same for several more minutes. Then, with great astonishment, it looked up, “No.”
“No?” Qin Ye froze, “That’s unlikely.”
“I find it strange as well…” The Harken began to kick up some dirt under its feet, “Treasures like this would definitely have been discovered by the mortal realm had it been hidden in the open. Given the value of what it represents, they would only be able to feel at ease if they could hide them in a place that they could protect. But look at this place… are you certain this is the right place?”
Qin Ye nodded, and then began to pace about with his hands behind his back, “It shouldn’t be this way. Everything points to there being something hidden in this place. They would never bother hiding something in the existing Longxing Temple given the human traffic in that place. Concealing it in what is now a farmland is the best option. Besides… you didn’t sense anything out of the ordinary back in the existing Longxing Temple.”
“Likewise, I don’t sense anything out of the ordinary here.” The Harken responded stiffly.
This was a treasure vault that had practically been served up to Hell on a silver platter.
Had it not been raised to their attention, nobody would’ve known that there would have been such an incredible treasure hidden under the Longxing Temple. Furthermore, the fact that the concealment array hadn’t been repaired and maintained for such a long time would necessarily mean that it would affect the vicinity around where it was hidden, thereby manifesting in some anomalous circumstances at the very least. The puzzle was 99% complete, and all that remained was locating the final puzzle piece.
But what exactly is it?
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