Qin Ye thought long and hard.
What would the Second King Yanluo have done>
He would probably have waged war against them, wouldn’t he? “Are you looking for death? Don’t you think I’ve extended sufficient courtesy to you?
Unfortunately, it was important to keep things as private as possible. A situation was brewing that would potentially affect the entire East Continent. How he handled the upcoming negotiation might well even determine whether Hell would soon have a Forbidden Arts wielding neighbour in future. Sure, nobody might be able to stand in his way if he armed himself with Fate, but… could Qin Ye really be certain that there weren’t darkfeathers from the Aegyptian Underworld hidden within the Black Mamba Underworld?
Besides, how could he be sure that the one rendering aid to the Russian Underworld wasn’t the Aegyptian Underworld itself?
“Hang on…” Just then, he suddenly set down his teacup.
The porcelain cup emitted a crisp clink as it landed on the table.
“Given how things are right now, there’s no choice but to wait…”
He was currently hoping to stir the tiger into action against the wolf. If he didn’t want the tiger to seize the initiative, then he most certainly couldn’t make the first move. Instead, what he needed most was a point of entry through which he could ease into the discussions pertaining to the issue of the Russian Underworld’s Forbidden Arts. As things were, he didn’t have a sufficient agenda to be used as a build-up and segue into the main topic of discussion. Unfortunately, he simply couldn’t find a proper topic of discussion to build upon.
With that, things remained just as uneventful for the rest of the day.
The next day. Nothing much happened in the earlier part of the morning, and it wasn’t until late morning that someone knocked on his door.
“Distinguished Emissary of Hell, it’s truly an honour to meet you.” An old man with a hunch and dressed in a suit stood at the door with a smile, “My name is Mbunba Nzinga, and I am the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs tasked to look after your needs. If you have any specific instructions, please feel free to call me.”
He spoke in a humble manner, but Qin Ye could tell that he was in fact also an Abyssal prefect!
To be more precise, he was a nascent Abyssal Prefect, just like Qin Ye.
Qin Ye looked at him with a smile, “Where is Deputy Chieftain Babulu?”
“Lord Mythic Spirit is about to begin his semicentennial molting process, and I’m afraid that both Deputy Chieftain Babulu and the Ancestral Shaman cannot be here with Prefect Qin because they are with him right now. Apart from that, we regret to inform you that the Black Mamba Underworld is effectively placed under a lockdown for as long as the molting process will take, so please accept our sincerest apologies for being unable to show you around. But rest assured, we’ll do everything we can to satisfy your needs. Additionally, you can be assured that no Yin spirit around this part will disclose your whereabouts.”
“That’s fine.” Qin Ye’s smile was equally impeccable, “How long will the molting process take?”
“About a month.” Mbunba Nzinga bowed deeply, “If Prefect Qin would like to travel to a different Alkebulan Underworld in the meantime, we can prepare the official paperwork for such an internal transfer within ten minutes.”
Qin Ye smiled and shook his head, “There’s no need. I’m not in a rush this time.”
“As you please.” Mbunba bowed respectfully once more.
The two continued to chat casually with each other for the next few minutes before Qin Ye soon returned back to the villa.
Click… The door shut behind him. As soon as it did, Qin Ye glanced back with a grim expression on his face.
There was a painting hung right behind the door, depicting a group of dark-skinned Yin spirits worshipping a totem of a giant serpent. It was an exquisite painting that exuded an intense sense of ritualism, and yet Qin Ye couldn’t help but feel as though the people on the painting were making fun of him.
No. They were clearly extending him the highest level of treatment. Even the person waiting on him was an Abyssal Prefect.
However, their intention was clear - you may or may not be able to meet with our Mythic Spirit. This was made patently clear by the fact that Deputy Chieftain Babulu didn’t even show up this time.
They were clearly dragging for time.
They were bent on wearing out Qin Ye’s patience until a crack surfaces in his story. They were bent on uncovering Qin Ye’s true intentions.
If Qin Ye got anxious right now, it would only tell them that this was a matter of great importance. And to that end, anything that Hell would view with great importance was likely going to bear implications so great that the Black Mamba Underworld wouldn’t even want to begin considering delving deeper into it.
Sure, Qin Ye could be forthcoming and state off the cuff that it concerned the Forbidden Arts. But… given Hell’s proximity to the Russian Underworld, wouldn’t it be something better left for Hell to resolve?
After all, wasn’t Hell one of the P4 underworlds, and a regional leader at that?
One’s stature in the international arena was a double edged sword. Generally speaking, it came with a whole host of privileges, such as the kind that Qin Ye enjoyed during his trip to Daehan, including the leverage he had over Marquis Rumyantsev despite being nothing more than an Infernal Judge back then. This was the pedestal of leverage that they had as one of the P4 underworlds.
Unfortunately, with great power comes great responsibility, and it was this very same power and responsibility that stymied his potential advances right now.
“Sigh…” He walked to the bathroom and washed up his face to freshen himself. Then, he stared at his own reflection in the mirror and remained completely silent for some time.
What he needed now was a fulcrum to pry open the tightly-shut clam that was the Malagasy Underworld. But given Hell’s past century of reclusion, where was he to find such a fulcrum?
Soon, the second day passed, and then the third… the fourth… and then the fifth.
Over the last few days, Qin Ye didn’t even get to see another official of the Black Mamba Underworld!
The food was decent, the drinks were great, and the environment was pleasant and elegant. But, even then, Qin Ye couldn’t help but feel increasingly anxious.
And to make matters worse, he couldn’t even show his anxiety on his face. There were probably officials watching him all the time, and he had no choice but to keep everything bottled up within his heart.
Just like that, a week passed, and there were still no signs of a meeting in sight. They had clearly stated their reasons for their absence, and it was a fully defensible justification.
Qin Ye lit a cigar in his hands and gazed blankly into the dense foliage in the distance.
The cigar tasted great. It even bore a trace of sweetness of cherries, and it didn’t feel in the slightest bit greasy at all. What’s more, it wasn’t too strong or pungent, and it even filled his lungs with a lingering mellow and complex fragrance.
All in all, these were top-notch cigars.
Chuckling, he snuffed out the cigar and exhaled the smoke softly as he fell deep into thought. After some time, he sighed - I can’t stay here any longer…
I’ve got to tread carefully as far as Hell’s image is concerned. Given Hell’s reclusion over the past century, I can only imagine the number of hawkish eyes staring intently at Hell right now. One wrong step, or one suspicious move, and I might well invite trouble upon myself.
I have to remember that Hell has never required an audience with any other underworld. None of the P4 underworlds require something like that. Given our status in the netherworld, there’s only room for your requests of us, and not the other way around. Therefore, I cannot afford to stay in one place for too long in the hopes of reaching out to another underworld. Dallying too long can invite suspicions just as much as rushing anxiously into a meeting or a particular agenda.
Everything needs to be done with the right measure of passion and placidity if I’m to put up the perfect performance.
He sighed repeatedly as he continued to play with the lighter in his hands. These were the thoughts running through his mind right now, but… he was still reticent.
The seemingly leisurely process of negotiation was in fact a race against time. And to this end, he’d already wasted 10 days in the very first underworld he’d been to.
How can I force them to meet up with me?
What’s the perfect agenda to bring up in order to pique their interest?
Quite apart from Hell’s status in the international arena, the fact remained that the Russian Underworld was dangling a huge carrot before the Alkebulan Underworlds. Naturally, their interests would be of paramount importance.
Why would you be talking to me if you’ve got nothing to place on the table?
Qin Ye thought long and hard, yet still couldn’t find a way out of the conundrum. He sighed softly, shook his head, and then downed the rest of his coffee at one go.
It was simple, dark coffee. There were a few packets of creamer and sugar cubes placed beside the coffee pot, but Qin Ye didn’t add any of that.
The bitter coffee went straight into his stomach, mixing along with the smoky, cherry flavour of the cigar along the way, giving Qin Ye an intense sense of rush.
Then, just as he was about to place the cup back beside the coffee pot, he suddenly noticed something.
There was a red seal at the bottom of the cup.
Is this really a porcelain cup of Cathayan origins?
He looked at it with some measure of bemusement. How could there be Cathayan porcelain here, and such high quality wares at that?
It was a square-shaped seal with four words - Second Year of Chongzhen. 
It’s actually an antique from the late Ming Dynasty… Qin Ye shook his head in exclamation. Then, just as he was about to place the cup back, he suddenly froze.
It was as though a bolt of lightning had just crashed out of the blue and straight through his mind, scattering the clouds of darkness and dispelling all thoughts in his mind. His eyes glistened brightly.
“That’s right… Why didn’t I think about this earlier…” After a few minutes, he gently set down the cup, stood up sharply, and then proceeded to cut the end of a new cigar, light it up, and take a huge puff from it.
At once, the smoky cherry taste filled his mouth, followed by the bitter aftertaste of chocolate that surged straight into his heart. It immediately brought clarity to his mind.
“I’d come to Alkebulan because of the Zhu Clan’s list of foreign missions to begin with! And the first on the list was naturally the Black Mamba Underworld!” He walked to the balcony and allowed the nethergale outside to tousle his hair gently. It was a refreshing sensation that washed away all weariness from his mind.
“Yes… They would never pass up on any potential profits promised to them by the Russian Underworld just to meet with me. After all, it’s better not knowing something than to learn about something and not do anything about it! They’re clearly concerned about Hell, and dragging things out is the only solution that gives them the best of both worlds. For one, they would be able to assess more from how I act. Furthermore… given the close proximity between the Russian Underworld’s announcement and Hell’s arrival, they’re probably wondering whether there’s any connection in the two events!”
“And if there is, they would probably want to know whether my presence here will affect their interests! That’s why they chose to drag things out! It’s all because I haven’t revealed sufficient potential benefits to them for them to be willing to meet up with me!”
“How could I have failed to consider something as simple as this? I’d only learnt of the Black Mamba Underworld because of the Zhu Clan’s records!”
Their relationship had always been built upon mutual interest and benefit!
And why was the Black Mamba Underworld the first one on the list?
It was because they were the first Alkebulan underworld that Hell would arrive at if they travelled by sea!
The Malagasy Underworld was not only a natural port and a natural archipelago, it was also Alkebulan’s gateway into the Hindustani Ocean! It’s location was prime! There was no reason not to maintain a good relationship with the Black Mamba Underworld!
After mulling over these thoughts for the next three hours, he flicked on his lighter once more and rang the bell to call for an attendant.
Someone came almost right away, “Sir, what do you need?’
“I plan to leave tomorrow. Could I trouble you to prepare the paperwork for a trip to Congo?”
“Certainly. I shall notify Mr Mbunba right away.”
Mbunba arrived within the next ten minutes. Admittedly, his manners were simply impeccable. He shook hands with Qin Ye with a soft sigh, “Too bad, my friend. We were unable to be good hosts to you because of Lord Mythic Spirit’s molting process. The Black Mamba Underworld will definitely make up for it.”
“It’s fine. What’s more unfortunate is the fact that I’d come bearing a potentially mutually beneficial relationship. But since the Lord Mythic Spirit is unavailable, then there’s no reason to force the issue.” Qin Ye feigned a sigh of regret.
“Haha, there will be plenty of opportunities for cooperation in the future.” Mbunba responded courteously.
Qin Ye lit himself a cigar, “Perhaps.”
“A port that can support the berthing of dozens of treasure ships isn’t easy to find.” Qin Ye took a deep puff of the cigar, and then went on with a backhanded compliment, “And it’s even harder to find a good gateway to the Alkebulan Underworlds at that.”
Qin Ye poured himself a cup of coffee with a soft smile on his face.
There was only one kind of Cathayan ship that could properly be described as a treasure ship, and that was none other than the large wooden ships in the fleet of admiral Zheng He! 
And they were called treasure ships because they were known to be filled to the brim with treasures, tea and silk which the western world had never seen at that time! Each ship was massive, and their contents were worth a huge fortune!
Mbunba would definitely know what Qin Ye was talking about. In fact, he was probably privy to the knowledge that the Zhu Clan was smuggling shipments to them a hundred years ago. After all… how could he not, when he called himself a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs?