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Chapter 36: The Portrait of Emptiness

Necropolis Immortal
     Grand steps led up to a magnificent square altar, which was framed by a collection of lofty terraces. As soon as the group set foot on the steps, they felt they’d departed from this world and entered a different one.

    “That’s…!” A flush colored Qing Han’s face the moment he reached the peak, the relic at the center prompting his trembling. A painting scroll radiated a faint blue aura as it floated silently above the ground. This was the objective of his trip!

    “The Portrait of Emptiness!” Yuying was also affected by the sight. The ultimate goal of her exploration more than a thousand years ago was to find this artifact, but her attempt had proved fruitless.

    How curious for it to appear now upon this strange altar—almost like it was suppressing the altar beneath it. Much like her own Panorama of Clarity, the Portrait of Emptiness was an immortal treasure that surpassed ninth rank.

    Shoom!

    A crimson shadow blurred past. In the next moment, the painting had a new owner.

    “Li Xing!” Qing Han colored when he saw who it was.

    “Hehehe. Did you really take me for your servant, you piece of trash?” The respect on Li Xing’s face had completely evaporated, replaced by a vicious depravity. “I am the grand steward of the Qing Clan’s inner circle, every bit equal to one of the outer circle elders. You’re just one of the clan’s discarded pawns, how dare you order me to and fro!”

    Now that he’d obtained the Portrait, he had no reason to maintain a front.

    “You…” Qing Han wavered and almost fell over. “You’re a servant! Do you intend to rebel against your masters?”

    “Rebel?” Li Xing roared with laughter. “As long as all of you die here, who’s going to know what I’ve done?”

    A blue haze emanated from his body. He’d poured his energy into the portrait, and the tiniest bit of the treasure’s channeled power could crush any immortal, to say nothing of cultivators. Moreover, a mysterious force seemed to be guiding him in refining the painting.

    “Stop him!” Qing Han shrieked.

    “Yueshen!” Lu Yun knew that if Li Xing succeeded, he’d be the first one to die.

    “Son of a… stealing my treasure from under my nose! I don’t think so!” Under Yueshen’s control, Li Youcai once again pulled out his Seal of Mountains and Rivers, slamming it toward Li Xing.

    “Well met!” A reddish flame burned in Li Xing’s eyes and he suddenly produced a copper coin between his fingers. “The Seal is mine! I order you to fall!”

    Clang!

    The palm-sized coin drifted across the air, light trailing behind it like two gossamer wings. It began emanating a golden glow.

    Bang!

    The power dissipated from Li Youcai’s seal. It crashed to the ground, refusing to budge any more no matter how much its owner tried to manipulate it.

    “After my Seal too, are you?! Come at me, you pathetic excuse of a man!” Seeing his seal struck down by the strange coin had completely riled up Li Youcai. His waddling form charged Li Xing.

    “The Treasurefall Coin! That’s Qing Hongchen’s! Why do you have it!” Qing Han demanded loudly in surprise. The coin was an item that could strike down any treasure, but the frenzied Li Xing was deaf to this question. He only had eyes for Li Youcai.

    “Piss off!” he exclaimed. A stifling blue light flared out of the painting and shunted the fatty aside.

    Blood trickled out of Li Youcai’s mouth. He made another pass at Li Xing with a resentful look. Alas, the true immortal that he should’ve easily beaten was bolstered beyond belief by the Portrait of Emptiness.

    “He… he’s controlled by that scroll! I can’t touch him!” Yueshen wanted to help, but the portrait’s light repelled her. In fact, she was nearly forced into visibility. Her eight specters went up in smoke upon exposure to the eerie radiance.

    Yuying stood at Lu Yun’s side, firmly shielding him with her body.

    “All powerful paintings have their own souls,” she remarked quietly. “When I first won the Panorama of Clarity, I, too, nearly fell under its influence. Li Xing’s mind is no more. His soul and consciousness have been crushed, and the soul of the painting is now in charge of his body.”

    “Hahahahaha!” roared Li Xing. He rushed at Lu Yun in a blue blur. “Die!” The cry echoed the decisive sentiment in his eyes; he was hellbent on killing the Dusk governor.

    Why does he want to kill me so badly?! Lu Yun was chilled to the bone. He wasn’t scared of dying, per se, but the sheer hatred he perceived from this Qing servant was visceral. Since Li Xing was no more, this murderous impulse could only be a lingering obsession. The painting’s spirit would naturally gravitate toward accomplishing such things for its host.

    “Go!” Yuying raised a hand, summoning her seven swords. They hurtled toward Li Xing in an unbroken chain.

    “Out of my way!” howled the man who was little more than instinct. He slammed his sleeves into the swords, scattering them to the ground. Yuying’s attack had only served to push him a few steps back.

    Blood welled up in Yuying’s mouth. Nevertheless, the ashen-faced envoy stood resolutely in front of her master.

    “Die, die, die!” Cracks appeared all over Li Xing’s body. His robes were soaked through with fresh blood, but the cerulean flames in his eyes spurred him on. Power welled up within him, propelling him from a peak true immortal to the empyrean immortal realm.

    A long trill from Yuying heralded her scroll’s unfurling in midair. She was finally unleashing her strongest trump card: the Panorama of Clarity. Her blazing Emerald Mistfire dyed the entire altar a verdant green.

    “The Pano… rama!” Li Xing growled like a savage animal. “D…d…die!” He conjured a mystical blue flame that warded off its green counterpart.

    “Lucent Voidfire!” Qing Han was utterly fixated upon the fire between Li Xing’s fingers. He called out its name through tightly clenched teeth.

    There were three legendary fires in the world of immortals: Emerald Mistfire, Lucent Voidfire, and Daevic Skyfire. Each was sealed within a painting scroll that surpassed the ninth rank. [1]

    The Emerald Mistfire had been sealed within the Panorama of Clarity, and the Lucent Voidfire's vessel was the Portrait of Emptiness before them.

    The three fires were largely equal, but the one who wielded the Voidfire was the painting’s soul. Its conduit, Li Xing, had just reached empyrean immortal realm. Post-rebirth, Yuying was only in the spirit realm, and thus was at a considerable disadvantage.

    The Voidfire’s explosive fury dispelled the Mistfire, sending Yuying and her Panorama flying.

    “DIE!” Li Xing cackled with great pleasure. Killing Lu Yun would resolve the Qing servant’s obsession, allowing the painting soul to truly become a living creature.

    Lu Yun ground his teeth together. Nine faint, draconic shadows manifested around him. Alas, the art was as flimsy as paper under an empyrean immortal’s assault and the coffinbearers were destroyed the instant they were summoned.

    Death’s shadow loomed over him.

    “Ho!” A tinkling cry intervened. The altar was enveloped in a misty violet light.

    Hum!

    A powerful blade light burst forth from Qing Han’s form, slashing bitingly toward Li Xing.

    “Violetgrave!” The blue flames in Li Xing’s eyes faded, replaced with overwhelming terror. Violetgrave, a ninth-rank sword!

    The weapon’s unleashed energies instantly quelled the awakening portrait. A white figure seemed to hover within the violet light, pressing a hand down to dampen the energies unleashed by the painting scroll .

    Boom.

    A violent quake rocked the altar. Li Xing’s body was cleanly hewn in half, then shattered by the sword’s lingering trail.

    Thump!

    Qing Han collapsed onto the ground and fainted from overexertion. A curious shortsword glimmered a brilliant amethyst next to his body—a new addition.

    Lu Yun dumbly froze where he was, dripping with cold sweat. If Qing Han hadn’t helped him just now, he really would’ve died once again. His trump cards were as fragile as glass before the threat of absolute strength. He dropped down to the ground, panting with exhaustion.

    “It looked like there was someone in the sword’s light just now.” Lu Yun rubbed his eyes and looked in the sword’s direction again, but nothing was there. “A hallucination, maybe?” He turned his eyes toward the others on the altar.

    Li Youcai was grievously injured and completely unconscious. Yueshen’s eight copies had been destroyed, and she was quite hurt herself. Yuying had been knocked off the altar, her status unknown.

    “Why did he hate me so much?” Lu Yun flicked a glance at the pieces of Li Xing on the ground. “How many awful things did this Lu Yun guy do before I came along?” he muttered with some lingering fear.

    Earth’s Lu Yun hadn’t made any enemies since arriving in the world of immortals. Therefore, the only possible explanation was that these grudges were debts unpaid by the previous owner of this body.

    After resting for a few moments, Lu Yun breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Yuying climbing back up the stairs to the altar. Not that he was worried that she’d actually die, since as long as he lived, she could be revived through the Tome of Life and Death.

    “The altar is about to activate very soon, sir. We need to leave as quickly as possible, or we really will become sacrifices.” The Panorama of Clarity had shielded Yuying from almost all damage. “The Portrait of Emptiness was placed here as a seal.”

    Lu Yun nodded in affirmation. “Are you alright, Yueshen?”

    “I’m fine, my lord. I’ve only lost my specters.” Yueshen drifted aloft once more. The flight restriction formation had no effect on her.

    “Can you control the fatty?” Lu Yun pointed at Li Youcai.

    “He’s an empyrean immortal. If he was awake, I’d only be able to hoodwink his senses, but I can completely possess him now that he’s out cold,” answered Yueshen.

    “Good!” Lu Yun breathed another sigh of relief. He wouldn’t have known what to do if it weren’t for her help.

    Yueshen’s assistance in Li Youcai’s body would make the road ahead considerably easier. There were many more dangers within the burial mound, and a meat shield like the fat immortal was invaluable.

    The Dusk governor picked up the Seal of Mountains and Rivers and tossed it back to the fatty, then pocketed the golden coin. “This bad boy is mine now,” he chuckled.

    “What should we do with him, sir?” Yuying glanced doubtfully at Qing Han. The young man was still crumpled on the ground in a listless heap.

    “He saved me just now, didn’t he?” sighed Lu Yun. “I really didn’t expect that from someone who tried to kill me earlier.”

    Qing Han could’ve cut down Lu Yun along with Li Xing, but had only killed the latter in the end. Furthermore, he’d protected Lu Yun by using the violet sword to shield the Dusk governor from harm.

    “This Portrait of Emptiness is what he came here to find, right…” Lu Yun plucked the scroll off the ground as well. Without energy to fuel it, the painting rested quietly in his hand, pulsing with an eerie blue light.

    He hesitated a moment, then helped the unconscious Qing Han up. Shoving the Portrait of Emptiness into the noble scion’s embrace, he gathered up Violetgrave for safekeeping. Finally, he put the other youth on his back.

    “Let’s go.” Lu Yun wasn’t going to take the painting that Qing Han had come for.

    There was an unspoken rule among tomb raiders that if someone found what they were searching for, they had the right of first claim. This rule applied universally, whether the other raiders were friend or foe.

    This kid is skinny and heavily tanned, but he’s surprisingly soft. A fleeting thought flickered through Lu Yun’s mind.

    The altar was completely empty now. Freed from the grip of the Portrait of Emptiness, the altar was slowly stirring to wakefulness. Runes on its foundation were lighting up, readying for actuation. If the group dawdled any longer, they really would be sacrificed.

    The undead hags were scared off by the disturbance, fleeing in every direction. Lu Yun and the others took this opportunity to flee unhindered through the ancient city. It only took a few moments before they scaled the opposite cliffs.

    As soon as they reached the top, a black sphere of energy enveloped the city behind them. Everything disappeared in a burst of lightlessness, including countless hags that shrieked with anguish. Only imprints remained on the ground afterward.

    Lu Yun traded a terrified look with Yuying. If they’d stayed any longer, they would’ve been consumed as well.

    “Ah…” A soft sigh sounded at Lu Yun’s ear. “All of you need to stop walking forward. It doesn’t matter if you die, but you’ll get me in trouble too.”

    


    1. Daevic is derived from deva—the heavenly realms in Buddhism. The third legendary fire literally translates to Tushita, the fourth realm.