The Harken continued reading through the scroll with widened eyes. After some time, it finally let out a long sigh, “The Coalition of Alkebulan Underworlds rarely has contact with foreign underworlds. That said, they’d never pass up the opportunity to interact with one of the four top underworlds. Like I said, it was an open secret that each of the Eight Great Clans have their own private sources of wealth. For instance, the Aisin-Gioro Clan capitalizes on the shared borders we have with our Russian Underworld neighbours. However, Hell has always chosen to turn a blind eye to these forays, so long as they remained within certain limits. Who would’ve thought that the old Zhu Clan’s tall ambitions would actually take them as far as the Alkebulan nations…”
It sighed deeply. Treason? Far be it from that. At best, this can only be considered tax evasion. Who knows just what kind of mountainous wealth of Yin spirit stones each of these clans had accumulated through such large-scale smuggling activity? If the old Hell would just probe deeper, their investigations would easily uncover a massive syndicate involving a multitude of corrupt civil servants, ranging from the most insignificant of border agents, right up to governors and high officials. In fact, the Zhu Clan probably had so much influence that they probably even had the Abyssal prefects of the Pearl River region answering to them.
“What are you looking at?” After sighing a few times, the Harken finally turned back to Qin Ye, only to realize that Qin Ye had been silent all this while as he continued to stare intently at the scroll.
That’s not right… Given your bubbly personality, you should already have leapt right out of your pokeball just like a mischievous little pikachu… Or did I inadvertently cast a downer on the atmosphere with my masterball antics?
Despite the Harken’s question, Qin Ye remained completely silent, even as he proceeded to roll up the scroll, and then unravel it once more. Earlier, he could’ve sworn that a brilliant notion happened to flicker through his mind. But it was just as elusive as the reflection of the moon in the tranquil waters - every time he attempted to grab hold of that thought, that very notion would vanish into thin air.
Just what was it?
I could’ve sworn that it was a brilliant thought, and even an important one at that! But… what exactly is it?
He furrowed his thick brows. Just then, Kwon Kyung-ho and Ryu Changmin finally returned with their faces glowing and flushed with excitement, “My Lord! We’ve taken a look. We’ve struck gold! This is practically a mountain of treasures--...”
But before they could even finish, the Harken turned back and shook its head. At once, they clammed up and turned to Qin Ye, only to realize that he was deep in thought.
Oblivious to his surroundings, Qin Ye massaged his temples as he slowly began to pace around, evidently swamped in his own thoughts. That brilliant notion still eluded him, but he simply wasn’t willing to let things lie just like that - That earlier spark of inspiration had arisen when we were talking about Zhu Clan’s contact to the Alkebulan missions back in Cathay…
He slowly turned to the Harken, “Have they… all left?”
He had a feeling that he was immeasurably close to the answer that he was looking for. In fact, he could sense that he was on the cusp of a massive discovery, and so long as he could find and open the right door, it would open his eyes to a whole new world of possibilities out there!
The Harken nodded affirmatively, “Do you even realize the kind of power that accompanies Lord Ksitigarbha’s ascension? In Hell, only those who had the fortune of the heavens were able to escape this calamitous event. These foreign missions may be important in status, but they would never be strong in terms of their cultivation rank. Consequently, they would never possess the ability to carve themselves a way out and remain behind in Hell.”
That’s not it… Qin Ye stared blankly at the opulent decor adorning the ceiling as he murmured back, “Then, what about those in the mortal realm?”
“They’re not too important. At best, they would only be able to tell that Hell has lost its ability to keep its Yin spirits under control. But all of this can be explained away by the change in dynasty. It all boils back to the same thing - Fengdu has already left such an indelible mark in the hearts of all other underworlds out there that none of them would dare make a move against Hell. At least, not without probing a little deeper first.”
It’s not this either… But I’m definitely getting closer!
That earlier moment of inspiration definitely occurred to me when we were discussing the name list of Alkebulan missions… Qin Ye frowned more as he probed deeper, “What harm can they potentially cause to Hell right now?”
“There’s definitely the possibility of harm, but I think that the bigger problem that Hell is facing right now is how to deal with the first official talks of bilateral diplomacy with the Russian underworld. The potential harm that these Alkebulan missions can cause… is but a drop in the ocean compared to the threat of the Russian Underworld that looms right over your head.”
The Harken thought for a moment, “And if that’s not assuring enough to you, you could always have them arrested for espionage and have the Alkebulan Underworlds pay ransom for them. That said, I’ve just taken a closer look through the list of the Zhu Clan’s contacts that were in the mortal realm. There are probably only one or two who are still alive right now. After all, we’re talking about people who’ve lived over a hundred years ago…”
Just then, Qin Ye’s eyes widened abruptly.
“Thought of something?” The Harken chimed in with great curiosity, “What did you think of? Pray tell.”
Qin Ye shook his head softly as he continued to delve deeper into his own thoughts. That said, his eyes gleamed ever more brightly as time went by. Then, after approximately 10 minutes had passed, he suddenly smiled, “That’s it.”
“I’ve got it… I’ve finally grasped the spark of inspiration that had earlier eluded me…” He sighed softly, and then finally turned to everyone with a deep smile on his face, “I finally understand how… we can break this impasse with the Russian Underworld!”
The Harken stared at him with eyes filled with sheer disbelief.
The Russian Underworld’s negotiation position might seem simple on the surface, but it was built upon a complex system of leverage that was incredibly difficult to unravel and resolve!
Firstly, they were testing Hell’s attitude towards the Russian Underworld’s development of Forbidden Arts.
Secondly, their foray into Forbidden Arts was likely inspired and even assisted by another one of the four top underworlds.
Thirdly, this was an issue that Hell could only resolve through pure, unadulterated diplomacy. Unfortunately, Hell simply wasn’t prepared for something like that right now. They didn’t even have the right ceremonial lineup to match up to the Russian Underworld. They didn’t have a single Yama-King that could front negotiations on their behalf, nor did they have any commensurately powerful armies to be mobilized on short notice. If not for the fact that happened to chance upon the Zhu Clan’s treasure trove, Hell’s armies wouldn’t even have a military formation at their disposal. Every single omission on Hell’s part would be interpreted as evidence of loopholes in the narrative that Hell was attempting to sell to the rest of the world.
And last, but not least, Hell has no choice but to respond to the Russian Underworld’s request right now. After all, the development of Forbidden Arts in the region was earth-shattering news that was probably second only to an all-out war. It simply didn’t make sense that Hell remained indifferent to it, despite having learnt news of its development. But, at the same time, if Hell chose to react to the situation, but did so inadequately, then news of Hell’s journeyman status was bound to spread far and wide!
In other words, Hell had essentially been forced into a situation where it had no choice but to respond to a regional development in its capacity as one of the P4 of the Federation of Underworlds. All eyes were on Hell, and if Hell even did so much as to slip up in the slightest, the consequences would be unthinkable!
And to this end, not even the Harken was able to think of a way out of the conundrum that had entrapped Hell. Yet… to think that Qin Ye was able to come up with something?
“What should we do?”
Qin Ye smiled, “First of all, this can be considered an official international dispute, correct?”
The Harken nodded.
And this was exactly where the difficulty lay.
The best course of action right now was to stymie any developments by ignoring foreign affairs. Unfortunately, the Russian Underworld had already come knocking on their door, and even successfully made contact with an Emissary of Hell. The development of Forbidden Arts was a massive thing, especially since it affected the right of any underworld to hold clout among the Federation of Underworld. Naturally, it was impossible to simply turn a blind eye to it.
Qin Ye took a deep breath and spoke in a deep voice, “International disputes should be solved using internationally accepted conventions and means. Besides, there aren’t any other means that are available to us apart from diplomacy right now. Although I’m not too certain what exactly international convention dictates here in the netherworld, I presume it wouldn’t be too far off from that of the mortal realm. The important underworlds would meet, table the agenda, and then vote on it, veto it, or pass it. And to this end, there’s a little diplomatic creature of great importance that I’d like to call ‘international pressure’.”
The Harken’s eyes gleamed softly, almost as though he finally understood something. However, he didn’t interject, and instead continued to listen intently.
“What exactly are Resentment Crystals?” Qin Ye’s voice deepened, “They are none other than materials that are synonymous to the research and development of Forbidden Arts. Any underworld seeking to get their hands on Resentment Crystals would essentially be making a declaration that they’re on the brink of developing Forbidden Arts. That’s why the Russian Underworld was stirring up trouble in the Hanyang Underworld to begin with! They were only trying to get the attention of Hell because they knew they could only proceed with such an action if Hell gave them the nod.”
“Your deductions are spot on.” Qin Ye turned to the Harken and continued, “The Russian Underworld wants to avoid the sanctions of the international underworlds, so it has likely already made contact with one of the four top underworlds. After all, they probably also appreciate that if they hadn’t obtained the support of the four top underworlds, they would never be able to stand up under the sanctions against them!”
“Thus, we can safely proceed on the assumption that they already have the support of one of the four top underworlds. Now, if Hell gives them the nod, then even if the P4 comes together to take a vote on the Russian Underworld’s development of Forbidden Arts, it would at least end up with two against two. Conversely, if Hell gives them the go ahead, then not only would they gain access to the right to research and develop Forbidden Arts, the P4 underworld pulling the strings from behind the scene would also be able to figure out the truth about what was happening to Hell right now. It’s a terrifying scheme…”
“Haa--...” The Harken took a deep breath and continued where Qin Ye left off, “And that’s just the start. Once they learn of the truth about Hell, then the underworlds that wish to kick Hell out of the P4, as well as those who wish to get a foot into P4 would immediately seize the opportunity to test their suspicions of what might have happened to Hell. And the best means to do so would be to strike at Hell’s vassal states in order to draw Hell’s attention. We would be forced to retaliate and engage with them on these skirmishes. This will stretch Hell’s resources and finances even more, and put a huge strain on Hell’s future development…”
It sighed and glanced around despondently, “And these skirmishes will likely only continue... until the time comes when the Array of the Nine Gods finally breaks down. If things pan out this way, I think it would be safe to say that what awaits us would be the forces of the other P4 underworlds who would all be arrayed against us on all sides.”
Put differently, Hell didn’t have any room for error in the way in which they handled the Russian Underworld’s request! They were essentially standing at the precipice between life and death!
“So?” The Harken looked deeply at Qin Ye, “What’s the method that you’ve thought of?”
“Notify the Coalition of Alkebulan Underworlds.” Qin Ye chuckled coldly, “Tell them that one of the P4 underworlds is currently supporting the Russian Underworld’s efforts to develop the Forbidden Arts, and tell them that it’s likely going to be the second generation of Forbidden Arts at that. How do you think those Mythic Spirits of the Alkebulan Underworlds are going to react?”
The Harken immediately shot to its feet. The hair on its back stood on end, and its breaths instantly grew shallow and ragged. After ten seconds, it finally asked, “How feasible is that?”
“Absolutely feasible!” Qin Ye responded with categorical certainty, “And that’s because… this is the Russian Underworld we’re talking about!”
As he spoke, Qin Ye waved his hand, and a world map formed from Yin energy immediately appeared in the air. He gazed deeply at the map for a few moments, before finally pointing to the eastern-most border of Rus on the map, “The prevalent religion in Rus is that of Christianity. Orthodox Christianity, to be more precise. This was due to the influence of the European nations. And this is the first premise.”
“Second premise. The Russian Underworld shares a long border with Europa. In turn, Europa is currently governed by the Argosian Underworld under the charge of none other than Thanatos. On the other hand, it is separated from the Aegyptian Underworld of the Middle East by other nations. Therefore, which underworld do you think the Mythic Spirits of Alkebulan will think is the culprit for stirring the Russian Underworld to the research and development of Forbidden Arts? Is it Argos, or Aegyptus?”
“Third premise.” Qin Ye withdrew his hand from the map and put up three fingers as he licked his lips excitedly, “What is the greatest pain point that the Alkebulan Underworlds have always lived by?”
“Not war, but… the fact that they were the first ones to have been attacked with Forbidden Arts! The Mythic Spirits, the pillars of the Alkebulan Underworlds, sustained heavy injuries and casualties as a result of the Forbidden Arts! One can only imagine the kind of revulsion they have against Forbidden Arts!”
The more he spoke, the clearer his thoughts became. Finally, he sighed softly, “Fourth premise. Don’t ever underestimate the Mythic Spirits of the Alkebulan Underworlds! Their weakness arises from the fact that they are a coalition of multiple individual underworlds. But when it comes to the sheer number of Yama-class Yin spirits, Alkebulan is probably second to none!”
“Granted, they wouldn’t usually deign to interfere with global politics, but what if they were faced with the prospects of Forbidden Arts?”
“Are they to bite the bullet and swallow the bitter pill of their former humiliation and disgrace?”
“And what about the prospects of the development of second generation Forbidden Arts spurred on by none other than the Argosian Underworld?”
“I can assure you that they would rather strangle Tsar Arturo than react with passivity!”
The Harken gasped, “And… the Russian Underworld can’t even clear its own name, because… the Resentment Crystal Vein is currently located in the Mongol Empire!”
“Even if they were to deny that it’s not the second generation Forbidden Arts, but the first generation Forbidden Arts… who would believe them?”
“At last count, there were 37 Mythic Spirits in Alkebulan… And that’s not counting the Yanluo-class Plumed Serpent God, otherwise known as the Quetzalcoatl…”Previous Chapter Next Chapter