When the crimson light burst forth, the entire realm within the Gates of the Abyss was dyed the same bloody hue.
“It really is a dragon inside, not a monster!” Lu Yun was appalled by the violent bloodthirst and anger that the light contained; they were so sharp they cut like a blade. He grit his teeth, then dug around in the bronze container.
“Is this it?” He pulled his hand out as soon as he touched something that felt like a scroll, half of his arm stained red by what was inside. The ancient scroll in his hand pulsed faintly with a bright yellow energy.
“That’s it, the Profile of Harmony!” Feinie announced eagerly.
The Panorama of Clarity, Portrait of Emptiness, and Profile of Harmony! They contained the Emerald Mistfire, Lucent Voidfire, and Daevic Skyfire, respectively. These three artworks shared the same origin, each one serving as the sealing vessel for a type of immortal fire.
“Another treasure above ninth rank.” Lu Yun was noticeably enlivened by the discovery. “So, what does this one do?”
He recalled the other two scrolls he had found; specifically, the Panorama of Clarity was so named because it refined and clarified pills and medicines, and could store things and people. The Profile of Harmony, on the other hand... he had no clue as to its functions.
He didn’t dare to simply refine the new painting himself, either. Li Xing’s recklessness and possession by the painting soul were fresh on his mind.
As soon as he had retrieved the painting, he shut the bronze outer-coffin. Its closure made the bloody radiance disappear. Lu Xuan and Lu Huang crumpled to the floor, foaming at the mouth.
“Absolutely useless. What’s the point of runners like these?” Lu Yun put an exasperated hand to his forehead. These ghost servants were worse than the bean soldiers he could summon. Those could at least sense danger and react to it, while these guys were flimsier than paper.
“Ah, yeah. Where did Skyriver’s city lord go?” He had finally remembered a pretty important detail from earlier.
He’d killed the city lord during a previous run-in within the burial mound. As such, the man’s ghost should’ve entered the gates and become one of his soldiers as well. But he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the man since setting foot in his domain.
“My, milord… I’m right here…” A faint voice traveled out from beneath the bronze outer-coffin.
Lu Yun blinked, honing in on the crushed person beneath. The man was sprawled across the ground, immobilized by the weight above him; only his hands and feet were visible.
“Oh, uh, you can stay there for now.” The lord of the Gates of the Abyss finally had a better picture of what these Infernum were useful for.
They were cannon fodder, plain and simple.
Though Lu Yun had disappeared and reappeared, he seemed to have remained still in the eyes of the others.
The realm within the Gates of the Abyss was extraordinary indeed. Its flow of time—and everything else, for that matter—seemed to be cut off from the outside world. No matter how long Lu Yun spent in there, nothing would be changed when he came back out.
He didn’t have Feinie exit with him, however. It’d be too difficult to explain where she’d come from, and her golden immortal cultivation meant there was a risk that the ancient Dusk restriction against golden immortals would be triggered, even though her power was currently repressed.
“Did you put away her corpse?” asked Qing Han. In his eyes, Lu Yun was just turning around after waving his hand.
“Yes,” nodded Lu Yun. “Do you recognize this?” He raised up the Profile of Harmony, drawing his friend’s attention.
“That’s the Profile of Harmony.” Qing Han was a little surprised. “It contains an immortal fire within it as well: the Daevic Skyfire. That’s on the same level as Emerald Mistfire and Lucent Voidfire.”
“Do you need this thing?” Lu Yun had already been rewarded handsomely on this trip with the Formation Orb and his new envoy.
Qing Han bit his lip, then shook his head. “The Portrait of Emptiness is enough for me.”
He was embarrassed, Lu Yun realized, at having obtained the portrait. After all, he hadn’t helped with much of anything in the burial mound. On the contrary—without the Dusk governor to take care of him, he would’ve perished long ago.
He’d taken the Portrait of Emptiness because of how important it was to him, but the Profile of Harmony was no more than a generic, powerful treasure in his eyes.
If these scrolls come from the same source, they might be hiding a truth that can only be revealed after joining them together. Despite thinking that, Lu Yun didn’t force the point. He tucked the painting away into his embrace. The beyond ninth-rank treasure was simply too valuable to ignore.
“How do we get out of here?” Qing Han tensed again.
The annex room was a closed off space. Aside from the slab of dragonseal stone, there didn’t look to be any other exits. Unfortunately, the way they’d come in was barred on the other side by a gargantuan undead hag that made their blood run cold.
Now that they’d both gotten what they were looking for, escape was their most important objective.
“Do you know where I can find some ghostface maggots?” Lu Yun glanced at Miao. Currently, that was the only way to deal with the giant hag.
“I do,” nodded the fox. “There are some in the bloodcorpse’s coffin formation.”
Lu Yun’s face darkened. “I… actually saw two outside, earlier.” He was beginning to feel a little queasy. Even if there were maggots inside the bloodcorpse’s coffin, he was far from brave enough to approach that can of worms.
From what he’d figured out earlier, the bloodcorpse had probably been intended to be an immortal body for the newly risen Yueshen, once upon a time.
Said body had only become a bloodcorpse under very unusual circumstances. In fact, he had a pretty good hunch that the corpse coffin had been zombified due to the bloodcorpse’s influence… and probably another’s.
It was a stroke of tremendous fortune that someone had collected the fragments of Yueshen’s soul beforehand. Otherwise, even that would’ve awakened the zombified corpse coffin and an absolutely enormous zombie would’ve devastated the rest of the world long ago.
“I think the two I saw that weren’t hatched yet are the only ones in the mound that are accessible.” Miao shrugged helplessly. “The ghostface maggots and corpse flies all come from the bloodcorpse’s coffin.”
Lu Yun furrowed his brow, trying to figure out a solution.
“The hag just left!” Yuying’s voice cut across his thoughts. She’d noted the departure of the giant eye on the other side of the mistfire veil. Its corpulent body had lumbered away in a different direction.
“There’s someone there!” Through the hole, Lu Yun’s envoy could see what was on the other side of the corpsewater pond. Qing Hongchen was present, along with someone else.
Formation Thirteenth! He’d finally shown up once more. Right now, he was busy dashing toward a passage in the cliffs above the pond, a firm grasp on the Qing scion. His movement had attracted the giant undead hag’s attention, and the creature was now giving chase.
“Formation Thirteenth? Wait a sec. That’s not him, that’s not even alive!” Lu Yun’s brows furrowed even further in thought.
There was a strange formation on the other side of the pond that prevented immortal-level strength from being used. It also served the dual purpose of summoning the monsters within the pond to feed on whatever source it suppressed.
However, Formation Thirteenth’s immortal-level strength didn’t trigger it at all.
The only explanation was that he was one of the dead within the mound, disguised as the formation master. Only the mound’s native inhabitants could be so uninhibited by the formations here.
“We need to hurry while the hag is distracted!” Galvanized, Lu Yun put Qing Han onto his back again, then crawled out through the hole in the door.
Qing Han seemed to have finally gotten used to his ride and obediently remained very still.
“Just what is going on here?? Why can I still see so much treasure?! I just want to live! Aieeee!” Li Youcai was crying again, to which Yueshen could only shake her head. The fatty had had quite enough excitement for one day, to the point where his mental state was starting to crack from all the strain. Yueshen could delude his senses, but her control over his mind was slipping.
“Shut up and follow me!” bellowed Lu Yun.
Li Youcai trembled violently, but stuck to the young man like glue. Yueshen hung out right behind him, as usual.
“We can circle around the corpsewater pond this way,” said Miao.
The giant undead hag had just swum across the pond and wasn’t entirely out of it yet, so that route was obviously blocked off. Thankfully, the fox spirit knew the ins and outs of the entire mound.
He’d dreamed in this place for thousands of years, after all.
“Lead the way,” said Lu Yun.
Miao flitted ahead, diligently guiding the rest through a honeycomb of cliff and cave.
“This way.” He dove into a particularly wide passage. Lu Yun and the others followed suit. The passage was very damp, and stagnant, bone-chilling water came up to their knees.
Large swathes of corpsefish wove to and fro in the water, their arm-like tentacles incessantly casting formation after formation toward the group. Yuying formed a sword seal, sending her seven swords to slaughter the fish as quickly as she could.
“Careful! Big guy up ahead!” Miao yelled hysterically.
In front of them was a corpsefish more than thirty-six yards long, its maroon eyes fixed unblinkingly on Lu Yun.
“We’ll cut our way through!” shouted the Dusk governor.
Yuying’s expression was beautiful in its coolness. Her white robes fluttered out behind her, heralding the flight of her seven swords in rays of rainbow light. They arrayed themselves into a sword formation in midair, then tore the giant corpsefish to ribbons in the next instant.
The fish’s head fell into the water, stirring up a bloody ripple. Its white arms twirled and twisted, clutching at empty air.
“Ah…” Yueshen sighed with disappointment. She’d wanted to eat the fish, but Lu Yun’s increased cultivation level gave him enough additional authority to inhibit some of her ghostly instincts. She could already hang onto her reason quite a bit better.
The passage seemed to stretch on forever. More and more water filled the way forward, until there was no air left at all. The corpse flies had all disappeared, replaced with nothing but endless darkness.
The light of the Formation Orb should’ve illuminated their path, but it was inside the Gates of the Abyss right now. Thankfully, Lu Yun’s cultivation allowed him to hold his breath for much longer than a normal person. After who knew how long, a maroon light appeared once more.
“Oh, no…” Miao’s terrified tone sounded. At a wide-open space near the passage’s end, a pallid pair of eyes stared right at them.
It was the giant hag.
It’d been waiting here for them all along!