“Alright, follow me.” Miao didn’t have much of a choice. He was truly worried that Lu Yun would slit his own throat on an impulse, or even kill Qing Han. Well, the latter was more likely than the former.
“What you’ve seen so far are mostly illusions,” explained the spirit with a grave expression. “If you treat what you see later as illusions, however, you’ll die.”
“I understand.” Lu Yun nodded seriously, then repeated Miao’s words to Qing Han.
The imperial envoy nodded dejectedly. He was too weak to move even a muscle. Whether the threats they encountered were real or not didn’t make a whole lot of difference to him; he could only rely on Lu Yun now. If the Dusk governor abandoned him, he was as good as dead.
“You must hold on, Yueshen,” Lu Yun shouted at the ghost before leaving. “Don’t let that vicious ghost kill you!”
The unresolved grievances powering the ghost of Truewater’s city lord were simply too great and Yueshen was starting to lose ground. “Don’t worry, my lord. My spirit will coalesce in the coffin formation even if she kills me.”
That greatly reassured Lu Yun. He’d already sent her coffins into the Gates of the Abyss and re-established the Ninefilia Specter Fostering layout.
Find Miao’s body and make him my second Envoy of Samsara! That was Lu Yun’s new goal.
Miao was clearly somebody. Truewater City was destroyed five thousand years ago by Myriad Formation Summit, but the spirit recognized the city lord, which meant he’d been buried here for more than five millennia.
His soul still remained strong after all this time, and he could even spin illusions. He must’ve been inordinately powerful when he was alive. More importantly, his experience and memories would be invaluable, allowing Lu Yun to avoid the dangers in the burial mound and go wherever he wished. He’d be able to deal with the city lord’s ghost then, too.
Under Miao’s guidance, Lu Yun ascended a steep cliff with Qing Han on his back and entered another passageway. This one was wide and damp, submerging Lu Yun’s ankles in water that chilled to the bone. The further in he ventured, the deeper the water became.
“This, this isn’t corpsewater, is it?” Lu Yun asked nervously.
“There was once an enormous lake near Truewater City called the Truewater Lake,” Qing Han answered quietly. “This water should be from that lake.”
Lu Yun sighed with relief. “That makes sense. If this were corpsewater, I’d be a zombie already.”
Given the number of hidden rivers and ponds here, Truewater Lake must’ve fractured from the impact of the mountain and become part of the giant zombie within the burial mound.
“Enough chatter,” Miao interrupted them in a grave tone. Before he could say anything else, a piercing tiger’s roar broke through the air, followed by the boisterous racket of percussion.
“Make way for the Tiger Prince! ” Shadowy figures floated across the space in front of Lu Yun and Qing Han.
Qing Han widened his eyes in disbelief. The Tiger Prince?
There was a silhouette of an enormous tiger among the shadows, sprawling on a litter that was being pulled by three dragons and escorted by a myriad of other beasts.
Lu Yun was likewise seized by shock. The shadows seemed unassuming, but they were sentient and they could talk! So that made them real beings, as opposed to illusions. Now he understood Miao’s warning.
“Don’t talk. Don’t even make a sound. If any of the shadows notice you, you’re dead,” Miao said quietly. “Once they consume you, they’ll turn into living souls and escape the burial mound. You’ll be trapped here in their stead.”
Sensing that Qing Han was about to say something, Lu Yun grabbed his butt and gave it a firm twist, repeating his actions from the layout of certain death. The envoy shut his mouth with a tremble and glared angrily at his ride, who stared pensively as the carriage passed and only relaxed after it was out of sight.
“Stop glaring at me. Do you think I like grabbing a man’s ass?” Lu Yun huffed unhappily. Qing Han was on his back, so it was the only way to alert him without talking.
Qing Han’s face turned red, but he knew the governor was right. This was neither the time nor place to dwell on it, anyway.
“What were those?” he asked with a trembling voice instead. “Immortal ghosts?”
“No.” Lu Yun shook his head.
“I don’t know what they are either.” Miao shook his head as well. “They aren’t living beings, since they’re only shadows. But they aren’t ghosts, either, since they don’t have a soul. I can’t put my finger on it.”
“I know what they are,” Lu Yun said, cold sweat beading his forehead. “But I need to confirm my speculations.”
The Tome of Life and Death shifted slightly in his dantian, sending out the shadows of the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers. The nine shadow dragons hovered in the air, bearing a large coffin.
“What the—” Qing Han widened his eyes. “Isn’t this the same as the shadows just now?” To him, Lu Yun’s dragons felt almost identical to the Tiger Prince and the other shadows.
“You’re right. They’re layouts, just like the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers!” A chill spread through Lu Yun’s body. The physical manifestation of the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers was already a big enough shock. In this burial mound, however, feng shui layouts had not only gained physical forms, but also intelligence.
“So this is the Duality of Dragon and Tiger!” An idea struck him like lightning.
“What?” Qing Han asked nervously.
“The Duality of Dragon and Tiger is a layout of conflicts. It prompts two opposing forces to clash endlessly, so that whoever is buried here will never have peace! The dragon bears claws and scales, while the tiger gives rise to hundreds of beasts. The various other major and minor feng shui layouts scattered around here came to life because of their energy and joined the fray.” Lu Yun turned to Miao. “There must be some mysterious power at play to make that a reality. No wonder you’ve been keeping me away from this place.”
Miao nodded, half understanding. “They weren’t in the burial mound until five thousand years ago when the mountain dropped down from the sky.”
Lu Yun frowned deeply and searched for an explanation, but came up with nothing.
“Forget it!” he breathed out. “The answers will come to us once we reach the center of the burial mound and see the truth of the Duality of Dragon and Tiger! Let’s keep going!” His eyes shone with excitement. There was nothing more exhilarating than uncovering the unknown.
The further they went, the more living feng shui layouts they found. As long as Lu Yun and Qing Han remained silent, though, the layouts couldn’t sense them.
“Whoa!” Lu Yun dodged a living layout, only to be greeted by a piercing scream. An undead hag lunged viciously at the Dusk governor from the waist-deep water.
“Shit!” Caught off guard, he hurriedly dodged the attack and cut down the undead hag with Violetgrave.
Its head thudded to the ground. However, its headless body still charged at him as ferociously as before.
Lu Yun decisively cut the hag into pieces with shadowy sword copies. Violetgrave was a ninth-rank treasure, sharp enough to cut through the undead hag like butter. However, every piece of the creature’s flesh and bones were still alive, and they continued to lunge at Lu Yun.
Violetgrave shone brightly, knocking the pieces away as Lu Yun made a sudden dash forward.
“Who dares intrude upon the territory of King Tiger!!” A voice suddenly boomed as a giant shadow dropped from above, targeting Lu Yun. The human felt as though the air around him had thickened, greatly slowing his movements.
“Living souls!” The giant shadow cheered. “Eating one of you will allow me to join the living and escape this place!”
“Out of my way!” Lu Yun shouted and thrust outward with his hand, deploying the nine dragons at the shadow.
“Dragons!” it screamed in panic. The Enneawyrm Coffinbearers tore the shadow to pieces and devoured it.
“Huh, that works too?” Lu Yun stared at his feasting dragon shadows, dumbfounded. He’d thought that the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers had become his combat art after entering his body, but a combat art coming to life and... devouring another feng shui layout?
“Let’s go,” Qing Han cautioned weakly. “Undead hags are coming!”
Lu Yun turned and saw a dozen undead hags shooting toward them underwater. Startled, he hurriedly retracted the shadowy dragons and ran ahead. However, the ruckus had attracted the attention of other shadows and they swarmed into the tunnel, darkening the already dim environment.
A tiger roar exploded in the air, heralding the arrival of the Tiger Prince and driving away all of the other shadows.
“Two living souls!” Its deep, raspy voice was thick with excitement. “I’ll eat your souls and take your bodies. Then my royal father and I can escape this place and stop fighting that old dragon!”
Its heavy body descended upon Lu Yun and Qing Han as it spoke.
“Put me down and run,” Qing Han urged. “Don’t mind me!” He tried to wriggle off Lu Yun’s back as he spoke, but was too weak to lift even a finger.
He knew the current him was only a burden. The only chance for Lu Yun to survive was to use him as bait and summon the nine dragons, buying himself time to escape. Otherwise, they’d both die here.
This Tiger Prince was a more than formidable foe; his presence alone was enough to overwhelm both young men.
“Shut it!” growled Lu Yun and slapped Qing Han hard on the butt. The envoy ground his teeth from the pain, his eyes brimming with tears.
“I told you that men shouldn’t cry.” Lu Yun’s chest heaved violently and he summoned the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers, but they were ripped apart like paper by the tiger’s presence as soon as they emerged. Black flames blazed in his eyes as his mind raced for options.
A sudden rumble echoed through Lu Yun’s body. Under the tremendous pressure of the situation, he broke through in the face of an overwhelming threat and ascended to the qi transformation realm. Another death art came to him.
Spectral Eye. Identify living from dead, yin from yang. See through all life and death within five hundred kilometers!
A painting slowly unfolded in the air, showing a panorama of a mountainous landscape surrounding bodies of water. The scene came alive with the sound of birdsong and the scent of flowers.
Lu Yun and Qing Han felt an instantaneous easing of the pressure. The giant tiger was instantly absorbed into the Panorama, and turned into a cub frolicking about the landscape.
Yuying slowly walked out from thin air.
“Yuying has arrived late. I await my punishment, sir.” She stood in the water and bowed slightly.
“You’ve come, and that’s all that matters,” Lu Yun sighed with relief. He’d made a breakthrough in the heat of the moment, allowing Yuying to be resurrected ahead of schedule.
More importantly, due to his improved cultivation level when activating the book, she had now recovered to peak true immortal!