Chapter 7: The Netherworld Odyssey

The hill-sized silhouette was at least tens of times larger than the old granny. The eyes blazing with netherworldly fire were akin to constellations in a surging sea of fog. It was evident that these eyes were trained directly on Qin Ye’s body. Yet, not a single one of these Echoing Worms dared to approach him.

Just like that, the two continued to plod along the path of bones. In fact, for every step that the old granny moved forward, the massive eyes would equally take a single step back. It was almost as though the constellations in the sky were shifting as a result of the old granny’s approach.

“This is known as the netherworld odyssey. If you’re skilled enough, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for here as long as the spirit has passed within the last seven days. You can even temporarily restore that person’s memory and communicate directly with him. This is essentially what the monks and priests in the mortal realms do - as long as these spirits have passed on within the last seven days, and there still remains a breath of Yang energy within their bodies, the monks and priests would still be able to recall or summon their spirits.”

“In fact, if you’re fortunate enough to be promoted beyond the rank of a Netherworld Operative, you won’t even need to embark on the netherworld odyssey any longer. You would already be clothed with the authority to directly arrest or detain any spirit along the Yin-Yang road without question. Alright, lower your head. We’ve arrived. You may speak now.”

Qin Ye gathered his spirits once more and lowered his head.

The skeletal path had come to an end, and a massive boat lay waiting at the end of the road. 

It was an ancient-styled ferry that was thousands of meters long, and it hovered silently and stoically in mid-air. That said, where the ferryman should originally have been now stood a golden coloured skeleton!

A green conical bamboo hat and a verdant-coloured raincoat hung gently over the skeleton bones that appeared to be made of pure gold. The skeleton was still holding onto the helm of the boat with an arched body and a slightly bowed head, almost as though it were still attempting to exert immense force. It was hard to fathom how such a comparably small human-sized skeleton once controlled such a massive vessel. An incredible gathering of Yin spirits could be seen at the bank where the end of the bone bridge stood. Each of these spirits were holding onto stacks of paper money as they stared purposefully at the golden skeleton at the helm.

“He’s… dead?” Qin Ye murmured.

The old granny’s gaze was incomparably complex, “Not dead… rather, he’s departed…”

“It’s been thousands of years, yet I never quite learnt his name. He never spoke a word, and he would silently ferry these spirits to where this old bag of bones lived, before silently departing once again. I thought that we had a tacit understanding to look out for one another for the rest of time, yet who knew…”

She shook her head and didn’t say anymore.

Qin Ye withdrew his gaze as though deep in thought. Just then, as though suddenly struck by a brainwave, his eyes gleamed brightly as he cocked his head towards the ferryman once more. Subconsciously, Qin Ye took a step forward.

As soon as he set his feet down, he immediately noticed that there was nothing underneath his feet and lost his balance. Fortunately, a powerful force grabbed hold of him and yanked him back onto his feet.

“Are you looking to die?!” The old granny bellowed in rage, “Look below!”

Qin Ye looked down as he broke out in cold sweat. Just beneath his feet, underneath the entire bone bridge, was a massive bottomless abyss that stretched on for miles and miles on end!

The boat hovered in mid-air, giving others an illusion that the ground beneath it was flat and solid. However, this was not the case at all.

The existence of the endless abyss was not frightening in and of itself. Rather, what was frightening… was the fact that one could only see this abyss when he stepped out of the bone bridge. Furthermore… in the moment that Qin Ye lost his footing, he thought he vaguely heard a woman’s soft chuckle echo through the abyss. He also saw innumerable roiling black waves crashing violently against the walls of the abyss.

And it wasn’t merely black waves.

Rather… it was hair!

It was as though this endless abyss hid an incomparably terrifying existence that was waiting for an unsuspecting prey to fall into its trap just like how a spider hunted.

The old granny sternly cautioned, “Don’t you dare underestimate the Yellow Springs Road just because we’re only on its first section. There are far too many fearsome existences along this road that you can’t even begin to fathom. This is a forbidden ground for the living. One misstep would mean death for you.”

Qin Ye softly peeled away the old granny’s hand as they locked eyes, “I’ve got a question, and I’m not sure if I should ask it or not.”

“Since you suspect that it shouldn’t be asked, then don’t ask it.” Then, almost as though she knew what he was thinking about, the old granny remarked, “You’ve lived for far too long, so you’re naturally far more sharp and sensitive than most ordinary people. Some questions are best left unanswered.”

However, Qin Ye paid little heed to the old granny’s piece of advice. His gaze intensified as he continued, “Hell… what happened to it?”

Without waiting for the old granny’s response, he continued, “I’m almost certain about something… the ferryman hasn’t departed by natural means.”

“After all, his stance tells me that he was in the midst of his duties. His hands were even exerting a powerful force in order to control the helm of the boat. This is a clear sign of a sudden departure - one that was so swift that even a person in the ferryman’s position had not expected it. Furthermore, it had to be an instant death. Otherwise, the ferryman wouldn’t be frozen in the same posture he held pre-departure.”

Locking eyes with the old granny once more, he articulated his next statement clearly and succinctly, “Who could possibly exact instant death on a person such as the ferryman?”

The old granny’s lips quivered slightly. Qin Ye shook his head and continued, “Furthermore, this is something I’ve been thinking about previously. The spirits of the Hungry Ghost Festival… are far too numerous in number. These spirits are already at the gates of Hell now, yet they’re unable to pass through either. And it’s even more bizarre that not a single Emissary of Hell has appeared thus far.”

The old granny finally responded, “What are you trying to say?”

Qin Ye drew a deep breath, as an absurd thought found its way into his mind. Then, taking a step forward, he whispered with a trembling voice, “Hell has… ceased its operations?”

“Oh?”

“The death of the ferryman coincides with the surge of supernatural events in the mortal realm. Am I right to therefore suggest that the upheaval in Hell is the source of the massive changes in the mortal realm?”

The gravity of these words were so massive that even Qin Ye couldn’t help but shudder at it. In fact, the prospects of such thoughts were so terrifying that even Qin Ye himself found it hard to believe these things.

How many people died everyday?

If Hell froze over… then where would the hundreds of billions of spirits go?

No wonder… no wonder the situation in the mortal realm was escalating at such a rapid pace! No wonder the surge in supernatural events was so extreme! The mortal realm… was transforming into a living world of Hell!

“Interesting.” The old granny didn’t respond immediately. It was after a long time that she finally laughed genially, “Boy, you’ve got a rich imagination. However…”

She looked straight into Qin Ye’s eyes as she explained, “Don’t interpret ghastly affairs with your human heart… things are a thousand times more terrifying than you can ever fathom…”

“Your superficial guess is only about ten-thousandth of the great horror you’re about to experience…”

“Come on. Get on that ship and shake the helm. Prove to me that you’re worthy of becoming the final Emissary of Hell.”

“Wait!” Qin Ye’s mind blared with alarms as he stared at the old granny with distrust, “What do you mean the final Emissary of Hell? What in hell’s name are you talking about? I don’t think I’ve ever agreed to such an arrangement, have I? Furthermore, what’s with your tone of voice? It’s almost as though you’re making a will right now. What’s going on here?”

The old granny sneered, “It’s no use, boy. The longer you live, the sharper and more sensitive you get. No matter how much you try and put on pretences in front of me, these attempts are feeble at best. You and I are quite alike in some ways. When all is stripped away, the core of our hearts are black and grim. Besides… you’re in my territory now, so do you think that you can still act all wilful as those hundred-year ghasts out there?”

Before she finished speaking, Qin Ye already felt a powerful force swooping in from behind, sending him flying towards the massive boat like a falling leaf in the wind. As he flew through the air, Yin energy erupted from his body, and he was almost instantaneously clothed with the uniform of Hell’s Emissaries.

Shit!

Qin Ye crash landed on the ferry with a loud thud and cursed thrice out loud! Then, as he scrambled to his feet once more and rubbed his aching back, the old granny’s voice drifted over once more, “Take the helm. The Yin spirits that hear the sound of helm will naturally be drawn towards you. But fret not, because they won’t be able to board the boat. You’ve seen it earlier - this isn’t a boat that just anybody can board. Furthermore, the massive abyss between the boat and the bone bridge you were just on conceals a fearsome existence. Thus, you can rest assured.”

Qin Ye gritted his teeth, “Then who am I supposed to ferry? What in the world do you want me to do? Can’t you just speak in clear terms?!”

“What’s the hurry?” The old granny gave him a judgmental look as she added somberly, “This boat… isn’t something that an average peon can operate. Whether you possess the qualifications to be appointed an Emissary of Hell and become one of Hell’s officials will all depend on whether you can steer this boat.”

“I’ll be damned... I don’t want to do this anymore, alright?!”

“That’s fine, Dogballs.” The old granny lit her pipe as she added, “You’ve got three more days in the mortal realm.”

Qin Ye’s voice deepened by an octave, “... No, we were just having a pleasant exchange, weren’t we? Could you please refrain from jumping to such astonishing conclusions?”

“The desire to live is strong with this one.” The old granny blew out some smoke, “Those who have consumed the fungus of the Aeons will never die nor grow old. However, they also become existences rejected by both the mortal realm and the netherworld. Now that Hell has ceased functioning, your good old days have naturally come to an end as well. If you’re lucky, you might end up becoming one of the drifting spirits that would wander the earth aimlessly until the end of time. If you’re not…”

She pulled out her pipe and drew a circle around a group of Yin spirits gathered at the bridge, “Which of them would you prefer to be?”

“... I’ll steer. I’ll steer immediately… my savagery is only second to you people living down under…” Tears welled up in Qin Ye’s eyes as he bowed three times to the golden skeleton before shifting him aside and taking control around the helm.

Whoosh… As Qin Ye began to steer the helm, massive ripples began to spread throughout the void below the boat. There wasn’t a single drop of water, yet as Qin Ye steered the helm, sounds of water began to resound throughout the lands.

As this unimaginable sight unfolded, Qin Ye couldn’t help but find a tune popping into his mind - Let’s swing our oars and steer our boat through the still, still waters that reflect the vicious ghouls and witches around. 

That’s not the right frame of mind to have right now!

Vruuuuuum.... A low horn resounded from the ferry. Its source was unknown. At the same time, all of the Yin spirits gathered around the end of the skeletal bridge lifted their heads and looked over at the ferry.

Vruuuuuum… A second low horn resounded. As the ferry began to turn around slowly, the Yin spirits on the skeletal bridge began to shift. They transfixed their eyes on the ferry, gripped tightly onto the paper money in their hand and began to step out towards the ferry senselessly. Then, as though the floodgates had been opened, a tidal wave of Yin spirits began to slowly flow forwards.

It was a spectacular sight.

Yet, the ferry and the skeletal bridge were still separated by an immensely vast chasm, and the Yin spirits were unable to cross the chasm and board the ferry. As soon as they took the first step off the skeletal bridge, the Yin spirits would immediately fall into the endless abyss below. At the same time, a lady’s joyful cackle resounded from the depths of the abyss.

That said, the failure of the first wave of Yin spirits didn’t prevent the innumerable Yin spirits behind from following like Lemmings. At this moment, the ferry was as dazzling as a bright beacon in a storm.

Just like that, hundreds and thousands of Yin spirits began to fall into the abyss as wave after wave of them continued to inch forward in a feeble attempt to board the ferry. As a result, these spirits surprisingly became… an endless waterfall of souls!

The paper money in the hands of these Yin spirits began to be scattered throughout the air, almost akin to the scattering plumes of water molecules that are dispersed into the surroundings as a waterfall crashes into the rocky pools below. It was a breathtaking sight.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter