The netherworldly waterfall was incredibly magnificent and grand. After all, the Yin spirits lingering about in the mortal realm before the Hungry Ghost Festival numbered well above the hundreds of thousands. When the congregation of spirits rushed towards the Ferryman’s Creek of Forgetfulness all at once, the waterfall of souls naturally continued for tens and tens of minutes on end.
Whoosh… The boat continued to hover about, as though weightlessly. Qin Ye was still furiously steering the helm, yet the ferry appeared as though it would never reach the skeletal bridge. Time trickled by, while innumerable Yin spirits continued to flock towards the end of the skeletal bridge like moths to a flame as they fell into the depths of the abyss to their demise. Twenty minutes… forty minutes… All of a sudden, of all of the Yin spirits present at the end of the bone bridge, one spirit suddenly stepped onto the void without falling off.
At the same time, the old granny let out a long, sorrowful sigh. Her figure vanished abruptly, and a streak of dark, inky Yin energy swept across the void, drawing the Yin spirit with it. When the Yin spirit next appeared, it had already boarded the ferry in the distance.
“Is that him?” Qin Ye unintentionally caught a glance at the Yin spirit. It was a middle-aged man, and his appearances were hardly blemished in the slightest. The spirit presented himself with a chiseled jawline, a well-defined nose-bridge and sharp eyebrows. His clothes were even tastefully chosen, of the Armani brand.
The person that made this immeasurably formidable old granny go through all that trouble...was actually no more than a mere ordinary person?
“That’s right. Hell is experiencing an upheaval right now, and I’m no longer able to pinpoint his exact location. Qingxi County is well-populated, and time was of the essence. This old bag of bones only knows that this man had died within the last seven days, and that he’s most definitely come into contact with ‘it’. Coming to the gates of Hell was the best option available to us.” As soon as she finished speaking, the old granny plunged her hand straight into that Yin spirit’s chest.
“Yaaaaaaaaaarghh!!!” A blood curdling shriek rang out, and the man’s expressions twisted wildly. In the next moment, an indescribable netherworldly chill filled every corner of the entire ferry!
Boom! Without warning, a powerful gust of wind struck Qin Ye, causing his robes to fly up horizontally into the air. His eyes widened with disbelief and he gasped in astonishment, “My god…”
This was Yin energy.
It wasn’t overwhelming in intensity, yet the purity of the Yin energy was simply unbelievable!
Bzzzzzt… The rush of Yin energy was so strong that even the void on which the ferry hovered upon trembled slightly. Even the monster below the abyss had gone completely silent. It was impossible for such quality of Yin energy to appear on a mere Yin spirit’s body! Its energy was even more terrifying than that of the old granny’s!
What in the world is this thing?!
A millennial ghost?
“Hmph…” Right this moment, the old granny groaned and stretched out her hand as she stumbled back several steps. Her head was covered with sweat, and her arms were ostensibly glowing with a faint golden hue. Even more bizarrely, tens of age spots immediately appeared on her face, as though she had aged dozens of years in the blink of an eye.
Everything went silent in that instant.
Thump. Thump. His heartbeats reverberated powerfully throughout his auditory canals. Qin Ye realized belatedly that his entire body was now soaked with sweat. His heart palpitated as he mumbled, “A Ghost King?”
The old granny stared silently at her own hand. Several seconds later, she eked out a miserable smile, “‘It’ is on this person’s body… I’d calculated that it was located within Qingxi County, yet you were unable to locate it no matter what. Thus, I’d figured that our next best option was to wait here for him when the gates of Hell opened during the Hungry Ghost Festival. That’s when ‘its’ holder would finally be summoned here…”
Qin Ye blinked back at the old granny, “What exactly is ‘it’?”
The old granny paused for two seconds before responding, “King Yanluo’s Seal.”
“Oh, so that’s what it...HANG ON A MINUTE!” Qin Ye stared at the old granny as though he had just seen a ghost. Then, he continued with disbelief, “King Yanluo’s Seal? The fabled cornerstone that Hell itself was built upon? How did you guys lose your source of bread and butter?”
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle itself…
“What’s with that look in your eye? Things aren’t quite as you think they are.” The old granny glared viciously at Qin Ye before sighing wistfully, “When Hell was first established, there were in existence three primordial treasures. King Yanluo’s Seal was one of them.”
“Then, King Yanluo’s Seal shattered due to a particular cause. However, as with all other primordial treasures out there, as long as you are able to locate a single piece, that single piece will show you where the other pieces are.”
“Wait a minute.” Qin Ye astutely picked up on the key points and pointed to himself, “You’re not harbouring any unrealistic fantasies, are you?”
“What do you mean, boy? You’re now presented with the opportunity to be conferred the title of Hell’s last official. Where’s your sense of responsibility and duty to the citizens of Hell?”
“Bloody hell… I don’t want anything to do with this at all!”
“That’s fine too, Dogballs. You’ve got three days left in the mortal realm.”
Qin Ye’s voice deepened by an octave, and his survival instincts kicked in once more, “... That… let’s be serious about the matter and steer clear of these unnecessary, fear-mongering talk, shall we? For instance, let’s talk about how I’m not actually very good at games and puzzles that require high IQ?”
The old granny glanced at him, “If the skin doesn’t exist, the fur has nothing to latch onto - don’t you understand this principle? If Hell finds itself in a quandary, the first person to end up dying is someone like you who has allegiance with neither the living nor the dead.”
The veins on Qin Ye’s temples were bulging and throbbing. Life was a bitch. Since there was no way for him to resist such developments, then he was determined to lie there submissively and enjoy it to the fullest. Right now, his heart was filled with a resolve to laugh boisterously as he took things in his stride.
Ah… no… softer, old granny…
“How did a mere mortal like him manage to lay his hands on King Yanluo’s Seal?” Shelving his earlier thoughts for a moment, Qin Ye turned to assess the Yin spirit standing before his very eyes. Then, just as he was about to continue, Qin Ye suddenly paused and blinked vacantly. His gaze was glued onto the Yin spirit’s body.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ve seen him before.” Several seconds later, Qin Ye turned around and knit his brows tightly together, “This is… Wang Chenghao’s father?”
“Are you certain?” The old granny’s gaze immediately turned serious.
“I’m certain!” Qin Ye answered affirmatively, “He’s the richest man in all of Qingxi County, Wang Zemin. I’ve seen him before at the parents-teachers meeting. His son, Wang Chenghao, is in the same class as I am.”
“He’s actually dead? Why didn’t I hear of it…”
He paused mid-sentence for the second time in quick succession, and his eyes gleamed brightly.
Something’s up… something’s not right!
The death of the richest man in Qingxi County would have qualified for headline news, and it would be widely reported all across the county, whether on regular news or social media. Going one step further, even if such news were not reported at all, there would at the very least be some measure of difference in Wang Chenghao’s behaviour.
But there was none.
Wang Chenghao’s behaviour over the last two days was most certainly not reflective of one who had just lost his own father. Most importantly, he was reminded of a particular exchange that they had.
“Qin Ye… do you know of a way to deal with these things?”
“You’re afraid that they’ll come after you again?”
“No. It’s not me… it’s… my family… has been a little bit off lately…”
Things were getting stranger by the minute.
Hell looked like it had ceased operations; King Yanluo’s Seal had shattered and was scattered across the mortal realm; the ferryman had departed for good; and the number of supernatural events within the mortal realm was surging as well… Qin Ye revised his earlier assessment of the matter - Hell...something far worse than mere cessation of operations might have occurred to Hell.
“Let’s go.” Shaking his head, Qin Ye addressed the old granny once more.
“Eh? What happened to your strong desire to live?”
Qin Ye rolled his eyes at her. Since resistance was futile, the next best thing to do was to take immediate action. After all, wasn’t one survival of paramount importance?
Survival. This word didn’t merely mean a continued sustenance of life, like how any other dog would live. Rather it implied a sense of stability in his livelihood, just like how a dog residing within a pagoda finds solace in its shelter.
“That’s what I like most about you. You know your limits.” The old granny took out a talisman and stuck it on Wang Zemin’s forehead, before casually scrunching up the talisman into a ball. Just like that, the Yin spirit became nothing more than a ball sealed with a paper talisman. The old granny placed it within Qin Ye’s pocket.
“... No way. After going through all that trouble to locate him, how could you just handle him so casually?”
“Take good care of it. Your classmate… I’m afraid he might be holding onto the most important ‘key’ to this matter. But now is not the time for such discussions.”
As soon as she finished speaking, she pushed Qin Ye away and took the helm. Then, with one forceful stroke of movement, the ferry’s horn blared authoritatively once again.
“Earlier, didn’t you hazard a guess that Hell has ceased operations?”
“Since you’ve already passed the qualification test, I’ll let you witness for yourself right now the reality that is ten thousand times more horrific than your shallow postulations - the whole truth about Hell.”
Hooooooonk… As soon as the old granny took the helm, the ferry began to travel at unfathomable speeds, passing through the void and into the depths of Hell.
After some time, a massive roar reverberated throughout the rift where the massive abyss was located. Then, ten minutes later, a gargantuan woman’s head slowly surfaced.
It was extremely beautiful, with sharp, striking eyebrows and almond-shaped eyes. Her lips were vermillion like blood, while her skin was as white and smooth as curdled fat.
There was not a single facial feature that could not be described as exquisite. Any more, and it would have been excessive, while any less would have meant imperfection.
However, its entire existence was confined only to the head.
There was absolutely nothing from the neck down! Three thousand strands of green-coloured threads danced in the air behind the head. This gargantuan head was by no means smaller than the ferry that had taken off into the distance. It could almost be likened to the sun - albeit with human features. It was incredibly bizarre.
“That’s the last Emissary of Hell you’ve chosen?” Her eyes gazed deeply in the direction where the ferry had departed. After a long time, she sighed, “If the skin doesn’t exist, the fur has nothing to latch onto.... well said…”
“Then, without Hell, what use is there for our existence now?”
“Yet you’re still willing to put all your eggs in one basket and give it your all. What’s the use of it all?”
“If the mortal realm is going to be chaotic, then so be it! Humans and ghosts are so fundamentally different to begin with, so what makes you think that this is a problem that could be resolved with just a mere human’s strength? Why bother with such trifles?”
Shaking with clear disapprobation, the stunningly beautiful head slowly sank into the depths of the abyss once again.
With the old granny at the helm and Qin Ye at the bow, the ferry moved incredibly quickly. Their surroundings were filled with a dense and pure black fog. Yet as the ferry continued to charge forward at immense speeds, the sea of dense black fog continued to split cleanly in two halves, almost like how Moses parted the red sea.
After some time, the fog finally cleared up, and a massive bridge appeared before their eyes.
It was a limestone bridge, and it was incredibly wide - the width itself must have been at least ten thousand meters, while the end was well out of sight!
The entire bridge was made from neatly laid limestones. However, it appeared to be rather old and worn out, and several pieces had even been tarnished with dirt or cut and scratched. There was even some moss-like growth that seemed to be thriving between the slabs. It was clear that the bridge had seen its fair share of years.
Anyone standing on this bridge would feel as small as an ant. Qin Ye stood there in amazement as he took in the majestic sight of the ten-thousand meter wide bridge. Then, drawing a deep breath, he remarked, “Could this be...the Naraka Bridge? 
The old granny’s gaze was incomparably complex. She loosened her grip on the helm and pointed at the bridge, “Just a hundred years ago, I would have been seated there, dishing out bowl after bowl of soup for the souls seeking to forget their past.”
Qin Ye shifted his gaze to where the old granny was pointing. At the front of the bridge stood a broken three-legged cauldron made of bronze. The cauldron was massive - approximately one hundred meters tall. All sorts of flowers, birds, insects and snakes were carved on the surface of the cauldron, while four bronze dragons were welded onto the cauldron in a manner that made them look like they were crawling out of the cauldron. The mouths of the dragons were no more than half a meter from the ground. Underneath the cauldron sat an ancient, old fashioned square table that could seat eight people. This table was covered with yellow paper.
The cauldron was there; and the table was there. Yet, nobody else was around.
“Legend has it that the Naraka Bridge stood in the midst of the Yellow Springs Road. Anyone who made it here - regardless of who it was - would find themselves crying out in helplessness. The ferryman provided access to the Naraka Bridge, ferrying souls across the Tides of Neglect to the bridge, where they would consume Granny Meng’s soup before they were finally reincarnated.” Qin Ye exclaimed at the sight as he continued with a murmur, “Those who consumed Granny Meng’s soup would forget everything that had happened in the past. If one desires to retain their memories, they would have to leap into the Tides of Neglect and wait for a thousand years to pass.”
“When the ferryman departed, souls no longer had access to the Naraka Bridge, and Granny Meng journeyed to the mortal realm for the very first time. That was when she discovered the millions of spirits trapped on the other side of the Tides of Neglect… Esteemed Granny Meng, what exactly happened to Hell?”
“You don’t seem in the least bit surprised, are you?” Granny Meng could tell from Qin Ye’s expressions that he had already deciphered this much. At this moment, his eyes were only filled with wonder at the magnificence of the Naraka Bridge.
Qin Ye shook his head with a bitter smile, “I’d already guessed your identity when you mentioned that the ferryman sent spirits to your place of residence. After all, the ferryman had only one port of call.”
Why else do you think this young master didn’t put up a stronger resistance?
This young master is a hot-blooded young man! Three days? So what if it’s three days?!
This young master would much rather die in three days standing tall and strong than cower in fear and beg for mercy.
And the key was on this qualification.
But I just don’t have the ability to do it. This esteemed old granny possesses the power to reduce me to a pile of minced meat with a simple flick of the wrist. Would there really be a point in putting up any form of resistance?
If not, it may well be wiser to change my attitude from stubbornness to a harmonious one… and that’s how this young master would deal with the situation so flawlessly...
1. The term 奈何桥 refers to a bridge where Granny Meng resides as she dishes out the soup of forgetfulness to souls preparing for reincarnation. Literally translated, it should be the Bridge of Forgetfulness. However, I’ve decided to adapt the Sanskrit loanword Narakade, and its transliteration to Naraka.