Granny Meng led Qin Ye onto the Naraka Bridge.
Everything was still and silent. Standing before such a magnificent bridge completely redefined his perspective of heavenly worship. How incredible would the sight have been when the Naraka Bridge were filled with souls, while the guardians of the netherworld, the Ox-Head and the Horse-Face, stood watch over them all, brandishing their weapons?
As they walked along the bridge, Granny Meng gently ran her finger along the bridge’s railing. After a long time, she sighed wistfully once more, “Kid, look down.”
Qin Ye cautiously stretched out his head - he couldn’t help but wish that his neck were a meter long right now.
“... Where’s the fearlessness accompanying a revered official of Hell?” Granny Meng chided.
“I’m afraid of heights.” Qin Ye responded innocently.
Granny Meng was stupefied. What kind of official has she appointed on Hell’s behalf?
Fear of death, fear of heights, and a spirit of cunning. Couldn’t you just balance these traits with a few more merits?
With his hands grasping the railing tightly, Qin Ye took a quick glance below, and he immediately drew a breath of cold air.
Beneath them was...a completely destitute wasteland.
It had not been this way all this while. Rather, there were dilapidated huts and houses built in a haphazard manner, and there were red, already-extinguished lanterns scattered all over the place. At the same time, countless boulders continuously rained down on the destitute lands below like meteors. Qin Ye even noticed a massive corpse lying in the distance!
He couldn’t tell what exactly this corpse was, or how large it was. That said, he could tell that it was a serpent-like creature whose vertebrae extended out from the depths of the thick, dense fog and stretched out into the distant horizon. Everything below… looked almost as though a bustling city had been ravaged by a massive serpent.
Granny Meng’s claw-like fingers wrapped around the railing on the Naraka Bridge as she spoke hoarsely, “Once upon a time… the Tides of Neglect flowed underneath this bridge as well. It was also known as the Yellow Springs.”
“But there’s nothing left now. Do you know what that serpent-like creature is called?” She shut her eyes, before continuing as though in pain, “It’s called the Aurogon or the Torch Dragon. If you go back in time five hundred years, you’ll see a single burning candle - the Torch Dragon’s light - illuminating the entire place. This also happens to be Hell’s only source of light. However, it’s departed since then, and the light has also been snuffed out...Hell has since become what you see now…”
Was that why everything was enshrouded in thick, black fog when we first arrived?
Qin Ye opened his mouth slightly, staring in astonishment at the roiling fog around him. The ferryman had departed, and Granny Meng had personally made the trip to the mortal realm. Even the Torch Dragon has departed Hell as well!
As the winds of desolation swept throughout the lands, it carried with it faint echoes of grieving spirits and traces of destruction.
What in the world has happened to Hell?
“You must be wondering what happened to Hell, aren’t you?” Granny Meng remarked as though she knew his thoughts, “The truth is… it’s not just the Torch Dragon. All of Hell… has been emptied out since a hundred years ago…”
She waved her hands lightly, and the fog in front of her began to disperse slowly. Fainter… and fainter… Several minutes later, Qin Ye’s mouth widened, and he took a step back in astonishment as he stared at the other side of the Naraka Bridge with absolute disbelief.
“That’s where the Fengdu Necropolis is located. It’s also known as the center of Hell. Naturally, that was in the past.” Granny Meng stooped over and explained with trembling in her voice.
Qin Ye simply couldn’t believe what he saw.
After all, he was staring at the exact location where the Fengdu Necropolis originally stood. However, all he could see was the source of a Bodhi aura radiating brightly in all directions! A Golden Buddha rose authoritatively from the ground!
It was unclear exactly how large it was or how tall it stood. There was a lotus flower imprinted between its brows, and it wielded a massive two-ringed Buddhist staff. It stood as tall as the sky, and it was wide as the earth. Countless golden lotuses were sprouting up in the surroundings before perishing quickly. These were all signs evincing a Buddhist kingdom establishing itself right in the midst of Hell!
How could the Fengdu Necropolis be forcibly transformed into a towering statue of Buddha?
This is ridiculous!
The fog in the surrounding began to roil and stir once more, slowly enshrouding and concealing the statue of Buddha. It was only when the ridiculous sight was obscured from his vision that Qin Ye slowly recovered from the shock of what he had just seen. Suddenly, as though struck by an epiphany, he exclaimed, “‘I vow to save all souls before gaining enlightenment’?”
“This is… a statue of the Bodhisattva of the Great Vow?”
If Hell ever had a Bodhisattva, it would have to be Ksitigarbha - one of the Four Great Bodhisattvas.
“It is none other than the revered Ksitigarbha.” Granny Meng’s hair began to hover about on its own as she looked at Qin Ye with a grave expression, “You’re right. He’d vowed to save all souls before gaining enlightenment… but… the existence of the statue of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva means he’s already attained enlightenment. You… do you understand the meaning of this?”
Qin Ye blinked his eyes. His back was drenched with cold sweat in that instant.
He’s already saved all souls and emptied Hell. That’s why he’s gained enlightenment…
Then, who’s in charge of the netherworld?!
Almost as though she knew Qin Ye’s thoughts, Granny Meng laughed huskily, “No one, kid… it’s been like this for the last hundred years. And now, there’s no longer any state or order of Hell in existence anymore.”
This statement was like a bolt of lightning that blasted away the dense fog in his mind. The puzzle pieces in Qin Ye’s mind suddenly fit together all at once.
Ksitigarbha gained enlightenment, and Hell is emptied - even legendary existences such as the Candle Dragon and the ferryman have all departed. Having nowhere else to turn to, the ghosts and spirits naturally began to seek refuge within the mortal realm. This was naturally the cause for the surge in supernatural activities there as well.
Qin Ye was unable to fathom the grandeur of the spectacle in that moment when Ksitigarbha first attained enlightenment. However, it was clear that the impact of the upheaval in hell must have shattered King Yanluo’s Seal and sent it scattering throughout the mortal realm.
His mind buzzed. Granny Meng gazed back at the empty Naraka Bridge as she added softly, “You should be thankful for this. When Ksitigarbha gained enlightenment, he also granted deliverance on innumerable evil ghosts residing in the depths of Hell. The truly formidable ones have already been whisked away by that old man. However… King Yanluo, the Infernal Judges, the Abyssal Prefects and the Soul Hunters have all ended up with the same fate as well. As a result, the number of spirits surged. Without the support of Hell and its emissaries, most of these spirits ended up becoming natural, benign spirits. However, under the confluence of particular factors, there remains a minority which became truly malicious, evil ghosts.”
“That said, these evil ghosts know better than to move about on their own. They know fear, and they naturally fear that the Soul Hunters, the Hellguards, and the other Emissaries of Hell would return and reestablish Hell once more. However… nothing can withstand the effluxion of time. After one hundred long years, these spirits can no longer hold themselves back.”
Granny Meng looked straight at Qin Ye, “I’ve spent decades looking for you. Having consumed the taisui fungus, you’re an existence that is rejected by both the mortal realm and the netherworld even though you coexist in both planes of existence at the same time. In other words, your starting point is much higher than others, such as those who possess the gift of Yin-Yang Eyes . Naturally, that makes you the best candidate for the job.”
Qin Ye was about to interject when Granny Meng shook her head and continued, “You can’t refuse. Once I depart for good, there will no longer be any other clergy within Hell, and existences such as yourself that straddle both planes of mortal realm and the netherworld are bound to perish. And if you don’t care about such matters… let’s just say that the emergence of evil ghosts just like Sadako and Churenmei is only a matter of time (TL: Of The Ring and another Chinese horror film/story respectively).”
“Hell has been emptied, and evil ghosts roam the mortal realm.”
Qin Ye had never expected his conclusion to be so far off the mark. This wasn’t anything like a mere cessation of operations. Right now, Hell didn’t even exist any longer!
But I don’t even live there…
Look, you had such an enormous wealth of land, yet you still chose to place a ticking time bomb right smack in the center of your house. Aren’t you simply courting your own doom?
Well, it’s finally exploded now… No, it doesn’t matter whether it has exploded or not. What matters is that it’s now affecting the course of my life. I was just sitting there, minding my own business when I was somehow drawn into the epicenter of this entire calamity - do you think I can still live happily and peacefully?!
Especially now that I’ve got to wipe your ass and clean up your mess.
“Ahem… what if I tell you that I don’t really know too much about civil engineering to begin with…”
Granny Meng plastered a look of compassion on her face as her face darkened, “That’s fine, Dogballs. You’ve got three days left in the mortal realm.”
With much resignation, Qin Ye sighed, “So? What should I do? You’ll help me, won’t you?”
Granny Meng chuckled bitterly, “I’ve held on so long precisely so that I could wait for the appearance of a person who possesses the capacity to rebuild Hell. Now that you’ve come… I will soon be departing as well…”
Qin Ye’s gaze was instantly filled with a begrudging attitude as he glared daggers at Granny Meng. Yet, Granny Meng’s expression caused Qin Ye to suppress his wrath and swallow his anger. Granny Meng adjusted her expression as she added, “Don’t you worry… escorting people to Hell is a job for the grunt workers. You’re Hell’s last official after all. As long as you tread carefully and refrain from stepping on the toes of those who are well above your weight class, the natural orders of Hell will automatically kick back into operation as soon as you locate the first piece of the primordial treasures. At that time, the foundation would have been laid, and everything would be stable once more.”
“...You’re certain that I would be safe?”
“...You’re a person who has consumed the taisui fungus in any event. Can’t you show some of the courage and valor that an official of Hell should possess?”
“...Is boldness really as important as survival?”
I’ll ignore that comment… there’s no other choice now… Granny Meng drew a few deep breaths to regulate her emotions, before she forcibly changed the topic, “Don’t worry… Right now, Wang Chenghao’s father is your most important clue. That said, you must also proceed with caution. Each shard of King Yanluo’s Seal contains an agglomeration of thousands of years’ worth of Hell’s boundless Yin energy. In other words, any spiritual existence with such a shard would definitely be comparable to a powerful malicious ghost. They might fear me, but they will most certainly not shun you.”
Carefully choosing her words, she continued, “And when the first shard points at the second shard, the second… will similarly be able to see you.”
Qin Ye felt his eyes twitch uncontrollably. Didn’t you say that we were going to gank together? When did this become a full 5v5? (TL: Seems to be a MOBA reference)
His expression of distress was all too evident. After pausing for some moments, Granny Meng grasped in the air, and a golden scroll appeared straight out of the void. This scroll was bound up tightly by a red rope, and the Yin energy emanating from within was as majestic as the sea. Qin Ye felt his hair stand on end after just a slight brush with the scroll.
“Sixfold Ghost King Summoning Scroll.” Granny Meng held tightly onto the scroll with her bony fingers, “The order of the netherworld is briefly described as such - one emperor, ten palaces, eighteen Hells, and the Sixfold Ghost Kings. These are all the renowned existences within the netherworld, and the mention of their names itself can cause most ghosts to shudder and flee. This summoning scroll allows you to summon one of the Sixfold Ghost Kings once.”
That’s easy enough to understand.
“I had no intentions of giving this to you earlier.” Granny Meng glared at him resentfully, “Remember, you’ve only got one chance to summon a Sixfold Ghost King to take possession of your body. Apart from that, everything you need to know about Hell, including the different types of ghosts, ranks of Hell’s officials, rewards for your merits, and the like, are all set out in a manuscript that I’ve placed under your pillow.”
Qin Ye gingerly received the precious scroll. As soon as he laid hands upon it, he saw a brilliant golden light glowing from within Granny Meng’s body before fading away quickly.
The golden light was a mark of the Bodhi. Granny Meng’s expressions were filled with a transcendent peace and tranquility. As she glanced at her own corporeal body, she sighed softly, “It’s finally time…”
Almost as though he understood everything, Qin Ye quipped, “You…”
“Mortals have their ways, and ghosts have the Naraka Bridge. People and ghosts have different paths. I’ve dallied in the mortal realm for far too long now.” Granny Meng’s expression was finally filled with some measure of kindness, “Little one… don’t hide behind your various disguises anymore. Those who have consumed the taisui fungus and lived as monstrosities in the mortal realm for such a long time should never present themselves the way you do. The conferment of the title of Hell’s last official is also a form of security for you to truly find release and be yourself…”
“Go… return to your world. The mortal realm is on the brink of a great upheaval. Don’t disappoint me. The search for King Yanluo’s Seal is not just for Hell… it is also for yourself…”
Before she could finish speaking, she transformed into a black butterfly and wrapped her wings around Qin Ye’s body, and soared into the skies.
Whoosh… A netherworldly gust began to blow against Qin Ye’s forehead. He grabbed tightly onto the Sixfold Ghost King Summoning Scroll as he glanced back at Hell. The golden statue of Ksitigarbha stood tall as the skies, while the rest of the lands appeared completely desolate, engulfed in roiling black fog.
Am I finally leaving this place…
“I… hate troublesome things the most.” His expressions appeared somewhat indifferent as he glanced at the scroll in his hands and chuckled bitterly, “It’s been tough… I’ve led a pretty stable life for the past few decades while training and cultivating my body. Why did this damn old hag have to prick my butt like this?”
“Can’t you just let me live in peace?”
Qin Ye shook his head with resignation. The black butterfly continued to rise up. As Qin Ye rose higher and higher into the sky, his vision expanded wider and wider. He looked at the Fengdu Necropolis, and then the Naraka Bridge. Then, as soon as he shifted his gaze to the head of the skeletal bridge, he suddenly trembled in fright.
Flowing hair that was so voluminous it could fill the skies and sea began to surge from the depths of the abyss in the very same moment that Granny Meng vanished. And the hair was charging straight towards the Naraka Bridge!
1. The Aurogon is a mythological god with a human face and a snake’s body. It possesses red skin, and it lives in the north. When it opens its eyes, the sky turns to day; and when he closes them, it becomes night. When he breathes out, it becomes winter; and when it breathes in, the weather becomes summer. It also has the powers to control the wind and the rain.