Chapter 41: The Ancient Ruins

By the time Ning Chen arrived at the golden pillar, the heavenly phenomenon had already begun to recede; which was to be expected after all. This was a phenomenon, not a sun; it would be strange if it lasted for days.

Ning Chen stared at the giant crevice in the ground and frowned, any interest in exploring vanished as he did so. This must be the “ruins” that golden light came out of.

However, with such a deep crevice, there was no telling if he could even make it back alive after going down. He was here to look for treasure not get himself killed.

Ning Chen turned to leave, and yet as he did so, the white foal bit down on his sleeves and refused to budge.

“Exactly why is a horse like you so interested in such things?” Ning Chen’s brows furrowed even more as he complained. This fellow was becoming more and more humanlike, but at the end of the day, you’re a horse…what’s the use of becoming more human.

Yet no matter how unwilling he was, the white foal didn’t let go of his sleeves, and even tried to drag him towards to the crevice.

Have you ever seen someone bully a handicapped person? Ning Chen had seen his fair share of such people, but this was the first time he saw a horse that bullied a cripple!

“You want to go down that badly!?” He raised his voice in frustration.

“Neighh!!”

The white foal neighed to show his approval.

“Fine, we’ll go then.” If even a horse like this wasn’t afraid, why should he be?

The crevice was deep, with a sheer cliff face that had no roads leading downwards. Ning Chen took out his Ink Sword, and without any hesitation, stuck it into the frozen soil before promptly tying a rope around his and the foal’s waist, securing them both to the wheelchair.

Retrieving the Ink Sword once more, the pair then rolled off the cliff and into the crevice.

What kind of people were the scariest in the world? Not the violent ones nor the scary ones, instead it’s those that didn’t care about their own lives!

At this very moment, man and beast had surpassed the first two and skipped right into the suicidal territory.

As they free falled, Ning Chen readied the sword in his hand. Roughly three meters later, he violently stabbed its inky black body into the cliff face.

*crack crack*

The sword carved a fan shaped crack into the wall before finally stabilizing amidst a cloud of dust and falling rubble.

Below him, the white foal hung precariously off the rope attached to him as if it was riding a swing. Around it, blood was beginning to drip into the abyss below as the rope bit into its hide.

“It’s time for you to lose some weight!”

He quipped with a hint of frustration in his voice. To think he was actually joking around with a horse, what was wrong with his head.

The white foal gave him an offended look, yet even with the tight binding around its waist, it refused to let out a cry of pain. Looking at its stubbornness, he was suddenly reminded of a certain person who was even more stubborn than a donkey given the right situation.

Ning Chen drew out his sword once more causing his body to jerk violently as it fell. A few meters later, a machete stabbed into the icy cold cliff face. However, he had made a severe miscalculation this time.

The machete had been previously dented by the old eunuch, and even though he had straightened it right after, this weakness reared its ugly head once more as the blade buckled under the tremendous force.

And then they fell.

“Sigh, you really do get what you pay for.”

Ning Chen tossed away the machete as he bemoaned the stinginess of the academy, after which he promptly drew out the Ink Sword once more and stabbed it into the cliff face.

Thus, after an unknown length of time, man and horse finally reached the bottom of the crevice; the pair looked worse for wear with their dust covered appearances. The horse’s waist had a noticeable rope burn mark where its fur used to be.

As the saying goes, a phoenix without its feathers was worse than a chicken; a horse without its mane was worse than a donkey. What was once a valiant looking young horse now looked like a bald, cooked horse.

“So exactly what are we doing down here again?”

Amidst the all-consuming darkness, Ning Chen threw the white foal a dissatisfied glare.

“Neighh….”

The white foal gave a discontented neigh before turning around to leave. Yet before it could take another step further, it banged into the wall and let out a pained cry.

“Hah serves you right!”

Ning Chen took out a fire inch-stick (ancient chinese matchstick) and ignited it with a quick strike, after which he blew at it with short rapid breaths of air. In an instant, the rod-like matchstick lit up and filled the dark cavern with a warm incandescent light. Ignoring the young horse, he took the only path open before him.

It was a long path, a really long path, an extremely long path that seemed almost endless. As Ning Chen rolled around, he grew even more irritated with the animal who got him into this mess in the first place.

Feeling wronged yet not daring to oppose him, the young horse would neigh from time to time in protest, but these neighs were swiftly swallowed up by the raging winds within the tunnel.

Roughly an hour later, the fire inch-stick was about to run out, and it was then that Ning Chen finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

Feeling excited, man and beast rolled/galloped towards the light with renewed vigor. With a swift chop of his Ink Sword, Ning Chen broke the earthen wall before him, widening the luminescent crack as he did so.

*Boom* *crumble*

The rocks crumbled to the ground with a loud boom. As the dust settled, the sight that greeted the pair left their eyes wide open in shock.

What stood before them was an indescribable set of winding paths that almost seemed like a circulatory system of a human being. Scattered throughout were a bunch of cloisters paved with blood red soil that almost had a sinister, scary feel to it.

Ning Chen eyed the dark red world in front, before he turned to the white foal next to him and said. “Don’t tell me we stumbled into hell?”

“Neiggghh.” The white foal neighed as unintelligibly as before. However, judging by the look on its face, it was just as shocked as he was.

“Let’s keep moving,” said Ning Chen as gritted his teeth; they were already down here after all, there’s no point in being afraid. You only live once and all that.

Laid out before him were a myriad of paths and yet he ignored all of them, arbitrarily choosing the biggest, widest and brightest path he could find. It’s not like he knew anything about these paths so picking any one of them was the same.

As for the white foal, it naturally had no opinion on this matter and merely followed its master.

Several minutes later, man and beast came back to the same junction once more. That path was a dead end with nothing along it…

“Which path….you choose.” Ning Chen swept his eyes over the remaining paths as he said through gritted teeth.

The white foal hesitated for a moment, pacing back and forth between each path before finally settling on the smallest, narrowest, and darkest one.

“You’re sure about this?” Ning Chen asked in a hesitant tone.

“Neigh!” The young horse answered instantly.

“I’ll listen to you just this once.”

With that, he rolled along the tiny cloister.

A minute later, man and beast came back once more to the junction.

Ning Chen’s face had darkened considerably. In his mind, he almost wished to barbecue this horse right there and then.

There was now 7 more paths to go. With still no clue as to which path to take, he glanced at the Ink sword in his hands and then held it above the ground.

*clang*

He let go of the sword, allowing to tumble freely.

“This path.”

Ning Chen pointed at the direction the sword’s hilt was pointing at.

At the side, the white foal softly neighed as if it was expressing its disapproval of his method.

“If you’re that smart, don’t follow me then.” Ning Chen retorted while throwing him a scornful look.

The white foal promptly shut its mouth and obediently followed him.

The facts proved Ning Chen right in this instance, as roughly an hour of travelling later, the scenery underwent another drastic change.

What laid before him was a river, an extremely wide river that had a dark yellow tinge to it. From time to time, the river water would bubble and give off a slight fishy smell.

Ning Chen’s eyes narrowed as he suddenly recalled a legend from his previous world. In it was a river very similar to this.

According to legends, the underworld had a river that stretches horizontally across, separating the Underworld Court and the Yellow Springs Road (Underworld Road). Its name was Ruoshui. (TL: It’s not. It’s the Wangchuan River (River of Forgetfulness). Also, the Ruoshui you’re thinking of is an adjective.)

*insert self made-up poem about Ruoshi* (TL: Once again, no no no.)

“We’ve got trouble…”

Ning Chen plucked a random strand of hair and threw it into the river. The nearly invisible strand of hair floated gently to the river surface and began sinking gradually into its yellow waters. (TL: Now you’re talking about the Sanzu River (Santu River)? no no no.)

Seeing this, the white foal recoiled in fear, taking a couple of steps away from the deadly waters.

Ning Chen on other hand wasn’t deterred by this, going so far as to turn his nose to it. There must be a way to cross this river…he just had not thought of it yet.

According to legends, the only way to cross this river was to ride a bottomless boat across it. Whether or not this was true here, he was about to find out. (TL: Journey to the West? Wrong river dammit, that’s the fourth river you referenced in this chapter.)(ED: I’m scared, potato is upset) [1]

Ever since he embarked on this journey northward, he noticed a number of Earth’s legends taking form in this world: Ox-head, Horse-face, Black and White and now this river. If someone were to tell him that he needed a bottomless boat to cross this river, he wouldn’t even be surprised.

As he continued rolling his wheelchair along the riverside, his hands suddenly halted as he spotted another object of legends.

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The Underworld Flower.

It’s said that this strange flow grew at bottom of the river and could grant immortality to anyone who ate it. However, once you did so, your body would begin to decompose leaving you in a state that was neither alive nor dead. That was why this flower was also known as a poisonous flower.

He stared at the legendary flower for a long while, not daring to pluck it. With the legendary river right before his eyes, there was no telling if doing so might cost him his life. While he wasn’t afraid of dying, he wasn’t going to throw his life away either.

“Neighh.”

It was then that the white foal trotted up to him and neighed. It bit down on the back of his clothes and began tugging him towards a certain garbage heap 30m away from the riverside.

Ning Chen squinted at that direction for a second before rolling towards it.

As for why it was called a garbage heap, that was because it was a tiny mountain made up of bones, driftwood, torn clothes etc. Within this pile of junk was a dilapidated boat. More importantly, it was a boat without a bottom.

He stared silently at the boat for a moment before finally deciding to test out his theory. He pulled out the boat and slowly tugged it towards the river.

A moment later, he fell silent once more.

The boat actually floated!

This scene had long left the boundaries of his common sense. Having come from an atheist background, he could hardly believe his eyes right now.

Having verified that theory, he went back to the garbage heap once more and scrounged up a few pieces of driftwood, and created a makeshift platform on the bottomless boat with which he and the white foal could stand on.

With the last piece of driftwood in hand, he turned it into an oar and began rowing the boat to the other side. As they silently drifted along the deathly waters, the young horse shivered uncontrollably causing the boat itself to vibrate.

Ning Chen’s eyebrows furrowed as he chided the animal, “What are you so afraid of? It’s not like I’m asking you to jump down into the river.”

The white foal gave a low neigh in response, gradually calming itself down as it did so. Even so, his hooves never once stopped trembling. Clearly this boat ride had spooked it significantly.

Ignoring the frightened horse, Ning Chen went back to his rowing, his eyes fixed squarely on the other side in case of any danger.

If this were a horror movie, now would be the time for some random bull or snake demon to ambush him. He simply didn’t believe that this place did not have any hidden dangers lurking around.

With the little horse in its current state, there was no point looking to it for assistance. He was just thankful that it didn’t jump off in fright.

It turned out that he was merely overthinking things. Having reached the other side, there was still no signs of any bull demon or snake god and definitely no signs of a ghost. In fact, the ubiquitous skeleton was nowhere to be seen,

However, this river was surprisingly wider than he had imagined. The entire ride took him a whole minute before he finally reached the other end.

Staring at the boat for a second, he decided to pull it up onto the shore to prevent the river from washing it away. Who knows, this boat might just come in handy later on.

Having stepped back onto solid ground, the young horse was noticeably calmer, its body no longer shivering as it focused its gaze towards the front as if something was wrong.

Ning Chen felt that something was amiss as well. It was as if they were being watched.

“Let’s go.” He steadied his nerves and rolled off in that direction. Whether or not this was the underworld court didn’t matter anymore. He was already here so he might as well check it out.

The white foal quickly trotted up to him, its hooves stomping into the ground as it did so.

Half a minute later, his revolving wheels came to an abrupt stop in front of a giant gate. Hanging right above the gate was a wooden banner that immediately caused his eyes to narrow. Carved in large letters were the words “Underworld Court”.

The words were carved with bone-piercing clarity that seemed almost demonic in the way it grabbed one’s attention.

The shock in his heart at this moment was indescribable. Had it been any other person, they would’ve probably reacted the same way as well. If this wasn’t a prank by the Eternal Night Cult, then pigs could fly.

If the Underworld Court existed, then what about King Yama? What about Dizang Bodhisattva?

If the Underworld is real, what about Hades?!

With a myriad of thoughts racing through his head, he rolled forward and gave the giant gate a mighty push. Let’s see what lies before the door to the Underworld!

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Footnotes:

[1] – Wangchuan River (River of Forgetfulness): A yellow river separating the underworld road (yellow spring road) from the Underworld Court. This is where you’ll find Granny Meng(Meng Po) and her waters of oblivion and the Naihe Bridge. Her job is to ensure the souls who cross the bridge into reincarnation do not remember their past lives.

Sanzu (Santu) River: Something like the River Styx. The only way to cross this toxic river is by taking the ferry across it as that is the only object that wouldn’t sink. Souls who cannot pay the toll are thrown overboard where the other river ghosts borne of such souls lie in wait to drag them down into the river.

Some legends say that the “Three (san)” part of its name refers to the fact that the river splits into three ways depending on one’s sins. Each path varied in speed.

Another legend say that the Three refers to the three paths the souls have to undergo depending on their sins: Fire, Blood and Blades.

Some legends say that Wangchuan River and Santu (Sanzu) River are one and the same with the former being the name used in China while others state that Wangchuan is the longest path of Santu River.

Along the coast of Wangchuan and the underworld road is said to be a field of blood red flowers known as Manjusaka.

Ruo Shui River: A river in China. Ruo Shui is also used to describe waters with very little buoyancy.

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