"I'm a new employee. I'm not familiar with the road. Please show me the way!" Lan He urged the stunned ghost.
Astonished, the wild ghost thought that even if he was not familiar with the way, he would have died before…
He caught a glimpse of the hat and mask on Lan He’s head and recalled that there were rumors in the Netherworld recently of a new "Master Lai" on duty in the capital with a strange temper. Would it be the one in front of him? To avoid trouble, he dared not ask more questions.
"This, this... I am not worthy of HuangQuan road. I only know that it's about three and a half steps away from Chenghuang Temple."
Lan He asked, "Three and a half steps? In which direction?”
The wild ghost said in bewilderment, "In the direction of the Netherworld."
He looked unable to explain clearly. After all, he had never been there. Gradually, he even started to doubt Lan He’s identity. His neck stretched longer and longer, expressing the desire to see Lan He's license.
"What are you looking at? I'm not good with directions." Lan He's voice rose and the ghost immediately retracted his neck, pretending that nothing had happened.
Anyway, he will go to Chenghuang Temple first. Lan He knew the location in the living world. He hooked the old ghost and hurried to Chenghuang Temple.
There were a few idle Chenghuang Temple officials squatting at the temple gate. They can also be considered as Lan He’s colleagues. However, they were usually conscripted ghosts from the local area. Lan He however directly reports to the Taishan Netherly Division.
Lan He knew that Netherword officials were generally lazy and did not dare to entrust the old ghost to them. "Excuse me, do I enter the Huangquan road from here? I'm a newcomer from the Dongyue Netherly Office and I'm not familiar with the road."
The officials nodded slowly, thinking that this was new. This was the first time that a colleague had asked where the headquarters was. Definitely new and green. Subconsciously, they pointed to a certain direction, but the direction pointed out was different for each official.
In principle, it would not be troublesome for Impermanence to go on the Huangquan road, unlike other people and ghosts…
Upon seeing that they pointed in different directions, Lan He pondered before pulling the old ghost towards a random direction, "Follow me to the Netherworld!"
With one step, his vision blanked. He took another two steps quickly, and the surrounding environment began to look shadowy, distorted and blurred. At the last step when his right foot was just lifted up, the surroundings changed. Looking down, he found that his left foot was on a loess road.
It was more yellow mud than loess, always oozing muddy water. The road was rugged and bumpy, a difficult path to walk.
Huangquan road was long and deep. There were many ghosts all moving in one direction on the road. Some of them were still holding cattle and horses in their hands, probably burned for them by their families. Some of them were escorted, likely to have committed crimes.
Lan He dragged the old ghost, running and shouting at the same time, "Yan-ge! Yan-ge!"
Lan He's voice was particularly prominent on the silent Huangquan road. The pale ghosts all turned their heads and looked over slowly. Some of them were colleagues, also with greenish-white faces. Occasionally, a few of them pointed forward, as if to tell him that Yan San was still ahead.
"Thanks a lot!" Lan He placed his palms together haphazardly and rushed forward unthinkingly.
The time in the Netherworld passes longer than that in the living world. In the extended time, Lan He did not know how long he ran before catching up with Yan San in front of a big city.
The city walls were high, and the seal character "Youdu" was carved on the gate. It was the underground Netherworld capital. There were two green clad ghost officials at the gate, with wandering souls entering the city one after another.
Yan San was talking to one of the ghost officials and giving him some ingots. He still reeked of alcohol and seemingly had no idea that he had lost a ghost.
"Yan-ge." Lan He patted Yan San on the shoulder from behind. Yan San was so intoxicated that he did not respond for a while.
Lan He pulled Yan San aside and whispered, "You left a ghost behind."
"Xiao Lai?" Yan San rubbed his eyes and took a moment to digest the words, and was shocked to alertness. He picked up his Soul-hooking Rope and discovered that the rope end had split unknowingly. He muttered, "This is not good. The Soul-hooking Rope is broken and there is only 15 more minutes till I have to report. I will be reprimanded."
He looked at the old ghost hooked by Lan He and smiled angrily. "Well, now I know why you were so attentive. What did you put in the wine and how dare you break the Soul-hooking Rope?"
To be honest, the old ghost was half unconscious after Lan He’s punch and having been dragged in the air while on the road, he was not particularly awake. The old ghost glanced at Yan San and smiled contemptuously, "Ha, ha!"
Yan San was furious, "How dare you giggle!"
Old ghost: "??"
The old ghost looked at Lan He resentfully. He was unable to control his laughter because Lan He had knocked him unconscious!
Lan He raised his fist and the old ghost cowered. He said to Yan San, "Don't waste time teaching him a lesson… Let me try something."
Unsure, he removed the five colored rope gifted by Liu Chunyang from his wrist, took out a piece of paper, rubbed it several times and wrapped it around the rope. He then blackened it with a pen and knotted it at the end of Yan San's Soul-hooking Rope.
After such a mend and repair, it looked complete again in an instant.
Yan San was surprised and happy. He picked it up and said, "This is possible?"
He looked at Lan He in surprise. He was not only a money printer, but also an arsenal!
He could not help asking, "Do you want to change your job? No, I should say transfer to the capital city. Dongyue Netherly Office is just an office. To put it bluntly, it is one of the ten halls. In terms of progression, it cannot compare to the capital."
Unexpectedly, it seemed that Yan-ge and Old Bai were only superficial brothers, seeing that there was poaching happening…
But Lan He did not even want to do his current job, let alone change jobs.
Lan He said with a smile, "That is not very nice?"
Yan San was not ashamed at all. "Work is work."
Was that how the sentence should be used? Lan He ignored the reply and said, "I borrowed this paper from a living world police. It should be able to hold for a while. It's also the first time I've made this. You can go ahead and report first."
Yan San said happily. "Good, good. Xiao Lai, you saved me today. Otherwise, the judge may punish me."
Lan He hesitated and said, "San-ge, you should pay more attention. If someone can get you drunk once, they can get you drunk again."
But you may not meet a kind-hearted person like me every time.
"Yes... I’ll remember," Yan San smiled bashfully and tied the escaped old ghost to his mended rope. He wiped his face, "I cannot be more grateful. Drinks are on me next time."
"Go." Relieved, Lan He watched him enter the city.
Yan San's figure disappeared into the ghostly shadows. Lan He turned back, but felt the corner of his clothes get caught.
He looked down... Well, there shouldn't be many crippled paper donkeys in the Netherworld.
"Why are you here?" Lan He was quite surprised. He immediately raised his head and looked around. Since the little crippled donkey was here, then that person —
Among the innumerable ghostly shadows in the city, there was a particularly conspicuous tall man in black walking against the ghosts entering the city. He also happened to look across and their eyes met from afar.
Was it really him?
Lan He did not expect to meet Song Futan again here. He was just a separated soul for the first two times. This time, he was unlucky enough to be brought to Youdu. Did he really die this time?
Lan He led the little crippled donkey into the city gate. When he neared, Song Futan stared at him and the first words said was, "I'm not dead."
Lan He: “...”
"Hahaha." Lan He laughed out loud. "This is the third time we have met. Why do I want to ask you every time if you are dead?"
Song Futan looked at him helplessly.
To think about it, nearly two months have passed since they last met, from spring to summer. At first sight, he seemed to have come back to life - but the truth was, he was currently on the verge of dying.
"Tell me, why did you come to Youdu this time? This place is only half a step away from death." Lan He asked.
Song Futan was not the first living soul to come here. Some living souls will come here if they were wrongly hooked. Impermanence were not 100% correct all the time.
Some were lucky enough to meet the City God, the judge and so on and clear up the mistake quickly. If the soul was returned in time, the person can come back to life. Those unlucky to complete the procedures in time can only go to the Death-In-Vain City. After all, the soul had been out of the body for too long and there was no way to recover.
"I was tricked." Song Futan explained briefly.
It was common for him to be surrounded by ghosts. But this time, he encountered a particularly cunning evil soul. Although unable to confuse or touch him, he managed to secretly tie Song Futan behind a ghost official's Soul-hooking Rope, and he was dragged all the way to the Netherworld.
Song Futan could not escape, but fortunately, the little crippled donkey held on to him all the way and created a disturbance in front of the ghost officials, which allowed him to get away. However, either anxious to report or just plain lazy, the ghost official left the living soul whom he mistakenly dragged back alone in the city.
Song Futan touched the rosary beads under his clothes. When he arrived in Youdu, the rosary beads started to glow dimly. He said, "I did not manage to meet the City God or the judge, so I was about to break out by force. It's better to be punished by the Netherworld later than to go to the Death-In-Vain City."
"You sure are confident in your skills!" Lan He said, listening to his words. Although Song Futan’s tone was calm, Lan He knew how dangerous it was.
Moreover, it was not the first time that he had encountered such a situation. He has been constantly harassed to the point that his life would be endangered if he was even a little careless. He was literally wandering on the edge of life and death.
It was no wonder that he was so calm even at Huangquan.
"There's still a risk in using force to escape. Why not try coming with me." Lan He pondered and said. He was at least an Imperanance. He might be able to get away with it.
Song Futan agreed without hesitance.
Lan He wanted to ask Yan San what he could do, but Yan San had left to report for work. He wrote to Lao Bai, who was similarly busy again. Song Futan had been wandering here for a long time, seeing that he was going to try to escape by force. In view of the urgency, Lan He decided to just go ahead.
He wrapped the Soul-hooking Rope around Song Futan and walked out of the city with the little crippled donkey following behind.
It was easier to get into the city than to get out. As Lan He walked out from another angle, he noticed that the way he came from looked completely different now. Although it was still a yellow mud road, the direction was completely different. It was likely to prevent ghosts from escaping mid-way.
At the gate, two green-clad ghost officials who looked lackluster stopped them. More people were entering the city than leaving and most were on official duties. Hence, Song Futan was particularly conspicuous. They pointed at Song Futan and said, "Souls must not leave the city!"
Lan He said calmly, "Excuse me, this is a living soul that I brought here. I made a mistake and am going to send him back."
The ghost official looked at Lan He. This was a ghost official. One of them asked, "Did you go through the procedures and obtain the approved road token?"
Sure enough, even if Lan He was a ghost official, the due procedures needed to be completed, and it was very cumbersome. The standard road token would have an engraved impression of Yan Luo, with three seals affixed below of the Yan Luo King, the City God of Youdu and the County Government.
Song Futan could not afford to wait.
Lan He did not panic either. He showed his license and said, "Sorry, I'm an Impermanence from the Dongyue Netherly Office. I came here to find Impermanence Yan San. I only brought this soul along by mistake. He was originally told to wait outside but entered the city by accident. For any mistakes, I would report back to Dongyue. I noticed both of you talking to Yan San-ge earlier. We are all colleagues. Please be flexible."
Lan He shoved some ingots over. Fortunately, he had prepared some for his unfilial ‘son’.
One of the ghost officials took them and was delighted at the quality. "I see, you are an Impermanence from Dongyue Netherly Office. It seems that your office had good returns recently. We usually have to work very hard..."
Lan He had been generous, but the ghost official suddenly became greedy and felt that the ingots were not enough.
He stood unmoving at the gateway while he spoke, hinting Lan He for more.
Lan He was momentarily speechless. "Actually, we did not do very well. In this case, I will just let him wait in the city."
He silently stretched out his hand to retrieve the ingots from the greedy official’s hand.
Ghost official: “...”
Lan He: "...”
Let go... Why are you holding on to the money if you are not going to help? Lan He increased his strength and continue to dig…
The greedy official shouted: "Dad, wait!"
Lan He: "???"
The greedy ghost official sneakily laughed and took advantage of Lan He’s distraction to quickly keep the ingots.
Lan He: "..."
The greedy ghost official said laughingly, "We all belong to the Netherworld government. No need to be so jumpy. You’ve only brought the wrong soul. You just need to leave a declaration, so that we can find you if there is any trouble in the future."
"That sounds good." Lan He’s spirit was revived. There was no issue to write a declaration. Song Futan was a living soul after all.
At this moment, the other ghost official who had been silent said, "Wait a minute, how can he be the soul of your Dongyue Netherly Office when he has rosary beads?"
The rosary beads were glowing faintly despite being in the Netherworld, looking out of place in the yin-filled Youdou, and cannot be hidden.
Lan He was lost for words. It was true. Although everyone was under the same conglomerate now, the unspoken rule was that souls with clear religious beliefs are hooked by their respective offices.
How should he explain this…
"These are not rosary beads, it's my bracelet." Out of the blue, Song Futan said. He raised his chin slightly, tone unquestionable.
"..." Lan He slowly turned his head to look at him, feeling the urge to laugh.
The ghost official was shocked and said, "What? It is still scattering divine light. It must have been held by an eminent monk with profound Buddhist dharma, to have become a dharma tool!"
"I don't know. I bought it." Song Futan had one hand at his back. With his distant eyebrows and quiet tone, it was hard for people to think of refuting him. "Is this divine light? I thought it was the shine from coating gloss."
The ghost official: "..."
Lan He held in wild laughter and said, "Yes, he is a fan of bracelets. This has nothing to do with religion. Brother, you have accepted the money. I can provide you with the declaration. Can you let me go back to report?"
The greedy official scratched his head and felt that he could not refute, "This... Okay, go ahead."
The other ghost official glared at them fiercely and said, "Is Dongyue Netherly Office just giving such a small amount of money to step on Huangquan road? Do you know what is Huangquan road? Nine out of ten people would not return after entering."
The more Lan He thought about it, the more he felt that this ghost official was different from the other. His aim was not money.
In addition, many ghosts have gathered nearby while they were unaware, to watch what was going on. There were whispers about the Netherly Office and the underworld government.
Although the two offices were merged a long time ago, and ghost officials have established relationships between offices, there would still be friction. Every ghost would have different opinions.
After the realization, Lan He immediately said, "I can't represent Dongyue Netherly Office, but why can't I go on Huangquan road?"
He had not been in the job for a long time, and did not have any sense of belonging. But even though Old Bai was unfilial, he can't go behind Old Bai’s back and let the ghost official take the opportunity to criticize Dongyue Netherly Office. Besides, he has a temper too.
Therefore, Lan He continued, "I don't have anything but money. Since there is a shortage of funds, I can donate money to help build Huangquan road - your road is really in bad condition, full of mud and water. Have you ever heard of the saying, amassing wealth starts with building roads?"
Ghost official: "???"
All the little ghosts looking on burst out laughing. The Huangquan road has been difficult to walk for much more than a hundred or two hundred years. The state of disrepair was intentional. This Dongyue Impermanence was so sly to twist the meaning!
Not finished yet, Lan He said with a wicked smile, "Now, I should be qualified to go on the road. But according to the naming right for donations, should this Huangquan road be renamed Laoye road to show appreciation?"
Ghost official: "............"