An empty and solemn shrine was filled with rows of tall candles with flames blazing so bright that it appeared as well-lit as the courtyard outside the building. Rows of ancestral spirit warriors were lined up neatly in rows outside, decked out with their skeletal masks and necklaces of trophy bones. They all wielded terrifying spears and shields. Row after row, they stood in their rightful places along the path leading out of the ancestral shrine, forming a majestic military formation.
Ten skeletal horns were placed right outside the ancestral shrine, each of which bore a slightly different shape and characteristic from the other. They were all approximately two meters long, and set on several skeletal bisons that were chained together and standing completely still. The only telltale sign that these bison were creatures of the netherworld were the blazing netherflames in their eyes.
A black flag bearing the emblem of a vicious serpent fluttered in the middle of the military formation. The total number of spirits on site were at least a thousand, and yet it was as still and silent at the graveyard. The sobriety in the atmosphere was so gripping and tense that it was practically stifling.
“Fret not. This is the Lord Mythic Spirit’s imperial guard. Lord Mythic Spirit has complete control over the lives of each and every Yin spirit you see here. There’s no possibility of a rebellion at all.” Babulu stood beside Qin Ye with a smile on his face.
Qin Ye nodded. Last night, the diplomatic team of the Black Mamba Underworld had called upon his abode, informing him that he was cordially invited to the Mythic Spirit’s ancestral shrine at 9.00 a.m. today. That said, he hadn’t expected to be greeted by such a formal sight.
It was currently 10 minutes before the stipulated time. He swept another glance around the somber military formation, and then turned his attention to the closed doors to the shrine in the distance. The stone doors were etched with a vivid relief of Black Mamba Mythic Spirit. The air was filled with such sobriety that he wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised if the stone doors were to open up right now, revealing the three elders and the ancestral shaman sitting with impeccable etiquette as they awaited Qin Ye’s arrival.
Nothing had been said thus far, save for the words spoken by Deputy Chief Babulu. The grand reception prepared by Black Mamba was telling of his attitude towards Qin Ye.
I know you’re here.
And I know what you’ve come to do.
And since you’ve chosen to approach me once more rather than retreat to where you’ve come from, then you’re clearly here with the intention of persuading me, a Mythic Spirit of the Alkebulan Underworlds.
I will no longer receive you on the pretext of a private visit as I did the last time. Now that you’ve taken this step forward, we shall continue with our negotiations, but it will be one as between underworld and underworld.
Therefore, please, I invite you to come forward.
Walk through the path I’ve laid out for you and into the shrine that represents the core of the Black Mamba Underworld. Enter into the hall of grand receptions where masters of underworlds have walked before you.
That is where you and I shall have our formal bilateral meeting, as representatives of our underworlds.
This was the message that the billowing winds and the tense atmosphere in the area seemed to be conveying to Qin Ye. Naturally, his expression grew stern and somber.
Having come so far, Qin Ye knew that the only way out of all this was the way forward. Fear was useless in such circumstances, and lack of preparation was nothing more than an excuse.
His heart thumped wildly, and yet his mind was filled with pristine clarity.
This was a historical moment for the new Hell. Just as much as the conquest of Ashmound City paved the way for Hell’s amazing growth, this was likewise a moment that would determine Hell's landing in the international arena.
Time trickled by. Ten minutes later, at exactly the stipulated time, the ancestral spirit warriors standing right in front of the shrine suddenly looked up and blew their horns in unison. OOOOOO!!! The desolate sound of the trumpets echoed throughout the Black Mamba Underworld, adding yet another facet of grandeur to the majestic ceremonial reception.
The horn marked the commencement of the dialogue between underworld and underworld.
There was a deal to be struck between death god and death god.
These were the negotiations between an old kind and a new nobility of Hell.
Krrrrrr… As the trumpets receded, the heavy stone doors of the shrine slowly began to open up. At once, Yama-class Yin energy poured out from within like a tsunami sweeping across the courtyard, lighting up the nodes located at the feet of the ancestral spirits and sparking connections between them, revealing a marvelous emblem.
It was that of a serpent.
The Black Mamba serpent.
It was the activation of a military formation!
Flexing one’s military might was part and parcel of any negotiations process. In fact, one might even argue that it was a basic etiquette of such international talks to display their military prowess. As the military formation lit up, the ancestral spirits bowed deeply to Qin Ye in an organized fashion. Likewise, Qin Ye did the same and bowed back to them.
Whoosh! Just then, a roll of bright red carpet promptly unraveled itself from the entrance of the shrine until it stopped right in front of Qin Ye. Babulu straightened up his body, and then revealed a sincere smile on his face as he made a gesture of invitation to Qin Ye.
Qin Ye took a deep breath. The boundless Yin energy pouring out from within the mouth of the shrine caused the hairs on the nape of his neck to stand on end. However, repressing the stirring emotions in his head, Qin Ye still chose to march forward courageously and without hesitation.
He was the King Yanluo of Hell, and it was his duty to act in his people’s best interest, especially when Hell was at its weakest and poorest state.
As he marched along the red carpet, he heard the soft clacks of the ancestral spirits spears being crossed in the air behind him. The sound followed closely yet unhurriedly behind him, until a triumphant avenue of spear arches were formed right over the red carpet.
Even then, Qin Ye didn’t turn back one bit. Instead, he steeled his nerves and plodded on step by step, striding forward bravely until he finally entered the mouth of the shrine. And as soon as he stepped in, the door shut behind him with a bang.
For a moment, his surroundings plunged into darkness, and then quickly became bright again.
And it was only then that he saw the arrangement within the grand hall.
There was now a round table placed in the center of the hall, rather than the long table from their previous meeting. The round table was made of stone. The surface of it was carved with an exquisite, vivid relief of the Black Mamba, while the legs of the table were also etched with intricate serpentine patterns.
Furthermore, there were no longer any traces of the throne, nor any traces of other ornaments and decorations that he saw the last time he was here. Instead, the only source of brightness in the room were the ten candles blazing atop ten tall candlesticks, each of which was etched with designs of intertwining serpents. The ten candles acted like brilliant lighthouses illuminating their surroundings in the middle of the dark ocean.
The rest of the hall that remained too far for the soft illumination of the candlelight was instead filled with boundless darkness. The juxtaposition between darkness and light caused the round table in the middle of the hall to appear like the only source of warmth in the boundless eternal winter. And it was right then that Qin Ye heard a soft rattle.
Lustrous black scales that appeared like black gemstones gleamed brilliantly like twinkling stars in the darkness, as though it were hinting the presence of a mythical creature from just beyond the round table.
“Welcome, Emissary of Hell.” Black Mamba sat at the head of the table with a posture that was upright and formal. His presence was towering like a huge mountain, and overwhelming like the raging waters of the seas. It was almost as though he was declaring that he was the master of these lands.
This was the dignity of a god of death.
He stood up and crossed his scaly fingers across his abdomen before bowing slightly. Today, he’d pulled out all the stops and adorned himself with unusually gorgeous robes. Unlike the gaudy gold ornaments he wore the last time, Black Mamba wore accessories encrusted with jade, rubies and sapphires with tasteful gold accents. Meanwhile, his robe was white and translucent, yet at the same time laced with glorious feathers.
Was he dressed funny?
It was clearly something of his culture. Undergirded with Yama-class Yin energy, his entire get-up exuded sheer majesty.
These were the discussions that would determine whether the Black Mamba Underworld would become Hell’s mouthpiece to the Coalition of Alkebulan Underworlds. Naturally, there was no place for ridicule.
The three elders known as Blazing Sun, Bright Moon and Yonder Star were seated right beside him, and all of them were likewise dressed formally in gorgeous garments. Ancestral Shaman Cain was also wearing a skeletal mask replete with painted tattoos on his body. He slowly got to his feet and made a gesture of invitation towards the empty chair at the table.
Qin Ye cupped his fists respectfully and bowed deeply. And then, he took his seat.
The wooden chair was cold to the touch. Yet, strangely enough, Qin Ye’s body felt anything but cold. Instead, his blood felt like it was boiling as it coursed through his body, and his heart pumped with passion.
And it wasn’t until he finally took his seat that he even felt a soft tingling sensation on his fingertips. As it turned out, he didn’t even realize that his fingers were trembling slightly.
Don’t panic. Do not panic! The logical part of his mind yelled at the top of its voice as it attempted to quell the stirring emotions in his heart. This was a ceremonial process leading up to a solemn, formal meeting, and it was important to know when to even stand or sit in accordance with formal diplomatic conventions. That said, there was no point getting anxious about these things, because there was simply no room for retreat now that things had finally come to this.
After all, he represented a powerful underworld as well.
In fact, he represented an underworld once known to be among the strongest underworlds in the netherworld!
Calm down… Qin Ye, you can do it! Still your mind! None are born with diplomatic skills. Even the founding fathers of Cathay in the mortal realm were at some point toddlers in the realms of international diplomacy. What’s more important is to conceal the truth about Hell from these underworlds as best I can!
After desperately repeating these self-placating thoughts, he finally managed to calm his mind down. Unwittingly, one minute had already passed, and the waiters standing in the shadows around the table had already come up to them to serve them with coffee, before retreating to their stations between the candlesticks, where they remained barely visible. Yet what was most striking was the fact that they didn’t even bother to conceal the bulge at the side of their waist.
And that was naturally the sheath of their sabers.
Black Mamba gently lifted his cup and took a sip at the coffee as he smiled radiantly, “Prefect Qin, on behalf of the Black Mamba Underworld, please allow me to once again sincerely welcome your presence. It is our honour to have a representative of Hell with us today.”
Qin Ye’s heart skipped a beat, and his fingers twitched softly as he continued to tap soundlessly on the armrest of his chair. Nevertheless, he smiled back radiantly without losing his manners in the slightest, “On behalf of Hell, as well as the Second King Yanluo and the potential successors to the throne, let me express my heartfelt gratitude for all the hospitality you have shown thus far.”
The Black Mamba Underworld was clearly inquiring about his identity again!
Over the last few days, he’d come to realize that he could no longer maintain his cover story as a member of the Zhu Clan, because the Eight Great Clans would never do what he was doing right now.
At the very least, a representative of the Eight Great Clans would never be so vested in the affairs of Hell as to send subordinates back to Hell in order to retrieve documents and evidence for the purposes of proving these claims of theirs. The only party interested in proving the veracity of these claims is someone from within Hell’s government itself!
Therefore, there was no longer any need to conceal his identity.
And, as expected, none of the emissaries of the Black Mamba Underworld appeared in the slightest bit surprised when he finally disclosed his identity. Black Mamba deliberated for a moment, and then spoke with some measure of presumption, “So, we understand that certain unforeseen circumstances have arisen, and Hell has approached us with an intention of asking us to stand on its side. Why? Just because the Russian Underworld has evinced an intention to get involved with Forbidden Arts? Or is it because you are concerned about the Argosian Underworld that is acting behind the scenes? Prefect Qin, I suggest you refrain from employing such tasteless provocation techniques and get to the point.”
“After all, it’s far better if two underworlds come to the table with clean hands and speak openly with good faith.”
“Kindly allow me to state three things in response.” Qin Ye’s mind spun at top speed as he crafted his responses, “Firstly, it’s not quite accurate to say that unforeseen circumstances have arisen. Or are you suggesting that an issue has arisen that the Second King Yanluo cannot handle?”
“As far as I know, there are several Great Clans in Hell that not even King Yanluo can maintain a tight rein over. After all, didn’t you earlier pretend to be representing the Zhu Clan in its smuggling operations to the Alkebulan Underworlds?”
“Then, are you suggesting that Hell has lost control of its subjects?”
“That’s not necessarily the case.” Black Mamba leaned back into his chair and gazed deep into Qin Ye’s eyes, almost as though he were attempting to peer right into his soul, “A change of regime is often synonymous with war. Hell has been locked down for a hundred years now, and the reasons for such a lockdown remain a mystery to the rest of the netherworld. Who is to say that there aren’t unforeseen circumstances arising within?”
“Lord Mythic Spirit.” Qin Ye’s smile was now laced with palpable coldness, “Let us not act upon such baseless speculation, shall we? Do you think it’s that simple to throw an underworld with over 3,000 years of history into turmoil? That is a laughable suggestion.”
“As you’d mentioned earlier, why don’t we both come to the table with clean hands and speak openly with good faith? I believe that I speak for Hell when I say this - we do not wish to waste time beating about the bush with such meaningless discussions!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter