Qin Ye stood up and waved his hand, and a screen of light formed from Yin energy unfolded behind him. It revealed the image of the world map.
He didn’t immediately commence with his explanations. Instead, he allowed the emissaries of the Black Mamba Underworld to skim through the dossiers that he had just handed out while he continued to organize his thoughts for what he was about to say.
He had spent the better part of a day rehearsing everything he was to say, and it was finally showtime. Nothing that was said before mattered one bit. Right now, everything boiled down to the evidence, and if what he was about to say was logically flawed, even in the slightest, then he would never be able pass muster.
Black Mamba Mythic Spirit carefully scanned through the information in his hands, and his eyes twitched uncontrollably as soon as he noticed a paw print stamped on the bottom right corner of the pages.
Did he find it ridiculous?
No. It couldn’t even find it within himself to laugh at the situation, because he knew all too well who the owner of this paw print was.
It was none other than the Harken.
It was the God of Nine Vitalities!
It was one of the legendary divine beasts known to be on par with Quetzalcoatl! The fact that this document bore the mark of the Harken meant that it was a document that came from the Harken itself! This was a symbol of Hell’s attitude in the present negotiations!
After ten minutes, Qin Ye finally began, “Everyone, please take a look at the kind of calamity that would befall the underworld should the Russian Underworld gain Forbidden Arts capabilities. Firstly, there will be no doubt that they will finally be able to push back against Hell. However, this isn’t important.”
“After all, Hell has hundreds of instances of Forbidden Arts in its possession. Although we might share a substantial part of our borders with the Russian Underworld, there is no way they would be able to threaten Hell at all. What I’d like to do now is to first bring your attention to the geography of the Russian Underworld.”
He pointed at the screen and continued, “To the west, Rus shares its borders with one of the P4 underworlds, the Argosian Underworld. Southwest, it is located right next to the borders of the Aegyptian Underworld separated by only a buffer zone known as Astana . Finally, there is Hell located just south of Rus. So, how do you think they will choose to expand their territory?”
There was simply no room for expansion.
Everyone knew this for a fact. But it was still a question that was niggling at the back of their minds. Why would the Russian Underworld want to risk angering Hell by developing Forbidden Arts?
“It seems like you have all considered this question at some point of time.” Qin Ye took in every bit of expressions on their face, and then continued, “If they’re not going to be able to expand their territories, why would they want to pursue Forbidden Arts capabilities to begin with?”
“Everything is done for a purpose. If they can’t expand geographically, then it leaves us with the only other possibility, and that is an expansion in function. And to this end, we have no choice but to look to the Federation of Underworlds.”
“They intend to ride on the might of Forbidden Arts to secure for themselves a greater slice of the pie. They want to fight for the right to speak, and quite possibly… even become one of the P5 underworlds. Now…” He drew a deep breath and leaned forward on the table, before sweeping his gaze around the table, “Everyone, let me ask you something - where do you think they’re going to get this ‘pie’ from?”
Nobody said a word.
Seconds later, Babulu raised his brows quizzically, “What does Hell think the response to that question is?”
Qin Ye responded decisively, “Alkebulan.”
“Interesting.” Shaman Cain quipped hoarsely, “Why Alkebulan? What about Australis, North Usonia and South Usonia? The underworlds in those lands are all weaker than the Alkebulan Underworlds. Besides, don’t forget, Aegyptus is located right here in Alkebulan as well. Or are you for some reason suggesting that the Alkebulan Underworlds are the weakest?”
Qin Ye shook his head, “No. Alkebulan is by no means the weakest continent. Truth be told, Australis, North Usonia and South Usonia all possess underworlds weaker than the Alkebulan Underworlds. That said, the fact remains that Alkebulan is currently the continent that sees the most chaos.”
He pointed to the information in the hands of the emissaries, “According to the records we have on hand, Alkebulan currently has a total of 42 tribes. Of these, there are at least 17 tribes with Mythic Spirits, and 25 without. If we take into account Yama-class artifacts, then this number would increase to 23 tribes with Yama-class combat power. That said, how many countries are there in the entire Alkebulan Continent? Are there… enough souls to be split among everyone?”
“Prefect Qin, you sure love pulling our leg.” Elder Bright Moon responded placidly, “Sure, the Alkebulan Underworlds may be chaotic, but as soon as we face an enemy invasion, we immediately come together as a unified entity. This was true hundreds of years ago, and it still remains true to date…”
“But that’s only if you’re faced with the prospects of war!” Qin Ye interjected at once and spoke with passion, “Hundreds of years ago, when the Argosian Underworld sent troops marching into the Alkebulan Continent, they were clearly doing so with the intention to conquer! But what do you think the Russian Underworld is going to do with its newfound Forbidden Arts capabilities?”
“They’re not going to wage war against you. They’re simply going to intimidate you! The aggregate might of the Russian Underworld is at best equivalent to half of that of Coalition of Alkebulan Underworlds. But have you thought about it? They need only befriend some of the enemies of the Black Mamba Underworld and ride on the presence of their forward bases to set up an expedition station in Malagasy. Then, once that is done, they will move on to the next step of their plan to begin sending troops over to fortify their garrison. Would you be able to resist their advances that way?”
“Or do you expect the other tribes to help you at this point? No, they wouldn’t! The Russian Underworld isn’t thinking of starting a war after all! Don’t you see? All they need to gain a foothold in the Alkebulan Underworld is a single instance of Forbidden Art at their disposal! And because the Alkebulan Underworlds aren’t large enough to individually resist the Russian Underworld, they would through their footholds slowly begin to heap all kinds of demands on you. From there, it would only be a matter of time before they expand their influence throughout the Alkebulan Underworlds! Sure, you might wonder whether the Black Mamba Underworld would be so unlucky as to be the ones targeted by the Russian Underworld?”
Qin Ye’s voice echoed throughout the grand hall, and he glanced around with an electrifying gaze, “No, perhaps not. But… haven’t you realized how interdependent the Alkebulan Underworlds are? Once the Russian Underworld gains a foothold in Alkebulan, you would be no better than a puppet state! Ask yourself this - would there be peace when that day comes?!”
For the umpteenth time.
Black Mamba lowered his eyes and grew taciturn. That said, Babulu could clearly see that he was in fact clenching his fists tightly under the table.
Could the Alkebulan Underworlds ever forget the humiliation that they were put through when the might of a Forbidden Art was first revealed to the netherworld?
How large was the Argosian Underworld back then? And how large were the Alkebulan Underworlds in comparison to them? Yet the truth of the matter was that the Argosian Underworld had been on the verge of conquering the whole of the Alkebulan Continent!
It was a deep-set hatred that coursed through their veins. The repugnance of Forbidden Arts were etched deep into the marrows of their memories! They had always remained outwardly passive to the issue of Forbidden Arts simply because they didn’t possess the power to speak out for themselves. However, that doesn’t mean that they were willing to remain indifferent for the rest of time!
Besides, having lived for such a long time, Black Mamba knew full well that Qin Ye might very well have struck the nail on the head.
The Russian Underworld was only willing to go through such great lengths to develop Forbidden Arts capabilities because they saw the potential benefits to their national interests. And to that end, it was an open secret that the Alkebulan Underworlds were notoriously rich in resources, and yet unfortunately in chaos and disarray.
Sure, they might come together with push comes to shove, but the situation that Qin Ye described was neither a war of annihilation nor a genocide of any sorts. Would the other tribes truly be reliable and trustworthy? Would they truly not remain passive when the Russian Underworld seeks to push for their own interests?
Sure, everyone might have known of the interdependence of the Alkebulan Underworlds, but after a thousand years of conflict, how many of them are there that would still be cognizant of such a fact? And would they truly be able to let go of their hatred towards each other and work for the greater good? And even if they could, who knows whether they would some day recant on their position and stab each other in the back?
The Russian Underworld wouldn’t put too much pressure on them. They would simply creep into their midst in the most insidious, lukewarm fashion. It was just like a large scale version of the prisoner’s dilemma. There will be tribes who will defect to the side of the Russian Underworld, and once a tribe is seen to defect, everything would fall apart, and the situation in the Alkebulan Continent would devolve beyond the point of repair.
Crack… There was a sound of a knuckle cracking. That said, Black Mamba’s expression remained just as placid as ever, “Then, what makes you so certain that it is the Argosian Underworld that is rendering assistance to the Russian Underworld? How do you know that they were the ones who had furnished the Russian Underworld with the conceptual know-how and the basic modules to kick off their research?”
“Everything is set out within--...”
“I’d like to hear you speak of it.” Black Mamba looked Qin Ye in the eye without batting an eyelid, “Speak carefully and clearly.”
He’s being swayed… Qin Ye’s heart skipped a beat. In that instant, his heart did a backflip of joy in celebration of the fact that his bets were finally paying off!
The Alkebulan Underworlds… still harbour that grudge from centuries ago. Otherwise, they would never probe so deep into these issues.
And the only reason why he was willing to hedge his bets in this regard stems from the fact that Cathay was likewise reeling from the same deep grudges. Having lived in the mortal realm for such a long time, he knew full well the kind of wounds that he was dealing with - the kind that appear to be scabbed and recovering, yet still horrifically raw and bloody as soon as they were peeled right off one’s skin.
That said, he also knew that the deeper they probed, the more careful he had to be. Qin Ye pointed to the document in hand, “Geography.”
“After Hell, the Russian Underworld shares the next longest border with the Argosian Underworld!”
Credit where it was due, Black Mamba had done an impeccable job at maintaining the same poker face throughout the entire negotiations - even now.
“This inference is full of loopholes.” He leaned back and withdrew his gaze, “Is Hell really that concerned that the Alkebulan Underworlds wouldn’t lend its assistance? Is this why you’re trying to provoke us with the mention of the Argosian Underworld? With all due respect, this is a move that lacks class.”
“Not quite.” Qin Ye bowed slightly, “Lord Mythic Spirit, I share the same conclusion as Lord Harken after all. You wouldn’t doubt it, would you?”
Black Mamba didn’t deny it.
“The geographical border is only one of the factors that led us to this conclusion. The second factor… is faith.”
Qin Ye raised two fingers, “The Middle East is dominated by the Islamic faith, and that part of the netherworld falls under the charge of the Aegyptian Underworld. All Yin spirits are bound to have some memories of their lives before death, and we all know that religious conflict is one of the main causes that have sparked conflict between nations ever since time immemorial. Do you really think that the Aegyptian Underworld would be so kind as to give the Russian Underworld such a huge gift when they clearly share different faiths?”
“Furthermore, once the Russian Underworld receives the gift of Forbidden Arts from the Argosian Underworld, they would basically be indebted to them for the longest time. In fact, this will remain true for as long as they continue to hold Forbidden Arts capabilities! This isn’t a gift to begin with! It’s poison!”
“Finally, with the Russian Underworld indebted to the Argosian Underworld, they would effectively gain a foothold in the largest continent in the world! The added icing on the cake is that they don’t share any conflicts in their faith. Everything points to the shadow of the Argosian Underworld behind the Russian Underworld.”
Elder Blazing Sun responded, “Why can’t it be the Hindustani Underworld? There’s every possibility that the Hindustani Underworld would collude with the Russian Underworld in order to stifle Hell’s position in the Federation of Underworld. That way, the balance of power within the East Continent would immediately tip in their favour.”
“Impossible.” Qin Ye cut him off with categorical certainty, “Because Hell didn’t detect the presence of any Hindustani Emissaries heading into Rus. Doubt not the all-seeing eyes of the King Yanluo of Hell. When Hell first closed its borders to the world, it was the Second King Yanluo who personally locked down Hell’s territorial waters as well. If he says there’s none, then there’s none.”
Dead silence again.
Qin Ye had already said everything that needed to be said. Thus, he stared intently at the panel of Emissaries staring right back at him, and his heart almost came to a complete stop as he waited with bated breaths. He wanted a response.
“Understood.” Black Mamba finally responded, “May I invite you to head back to your abode for a rest first.”
Qin Ye’s heart twinged with a pang of loss. There were still a multitude of things he had prepared to talk about, such as the terms of their cooperation, and even means of compensation to the Alkebulan Underworlds for their efforts.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t given the opportunity to take the negotiations into the realms of these topics.
“As far as Hell is concerned…” Black Mamba paused for a moment, and then chuckled coldly, “Once bitten, twice shy.”
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh! At once, all eyes fell onto Qin Ye once again.
“Hehe…” Black Mamba snickered as he glanced at the documents in his hands, “Given the gravity of the situation, I naturally wouldn’t be able to give you a proper response until I’ve read everything through and through. Prefect Qin, I hope you understand. Please get some rest in the villa in the meantime.”
I suppose that’s it for now…
Qin Ye gnashed his teeth. He couldn’t afford to reveal even the slightest bit of urgency. At least, not in front of the other underworlds.
“Then, I await your call on my door with good news.” Qin Ye smiled, cupped his fists respectfully, and then marched right out of the grand hall without hesitation.
Boom… The huge stone door closed behind him. It was only then that he realized that his undershirt was already completely soaked through with sweat, and his temples were throbbing with pain.
He cursed in his heart. International negotiations were far more complex and frustrating than he had ever imagined. That said, the silver lining to all this was the fact that he could tell how Black Mamba was clearly swayed.
But how long would he need to make his decision?
How long would it take before his heart would be swayed completely to action? Weeks? Months?
He didn’t have an answer.
All he could do now was to wait patiently. To make matters worse, he didn’t have the luxury of time to go calling upon other Alkebulan Underworlds either.
Then, just as he was walking down the steps outside the temple, a voice suddenly called out to him from behind, “Prefect Qin, please hold on.”
An ancestral priest wearing white robes was clearly already waiting for his arrival. At once, he bowed deeply, “Prefect Qin, this is something that… Lord Mythic Spirit had asked me to pass to you. It’s for your eyes only.”
It was a slip of paper.
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