The luminous talisman was as blue as the ocean waves, throwing off a radiance that instantly brightened the surroundings. Lu Yun and Qing Han found a monstrous dragon’s head peering at them through vicious, blood-red eyes.
The Dusk River God hung upon its chin like a meat pie, her link to the black dragon the only thing keeping it alive.
“Got it!” Qing Han swiftly leapt into action. Crossing both arms over his chest, he cast a barrage of pristine light through the Scroll of Shepherding Immortals.
“Roaaaaaaaar!!” The inky dragon head frothed with rage; that human was trying to take away its Dusk River God! Held fast by Xuanxi’s talisman, it could only watch in frustration as the mythical scroll absorbed its prize.
A burst of strength from the black dragon cracked the talisman on its head.
“Didn’t you say ten breaths?! It’s only been three!” yelped Lu Yun, positively frightened that the dragon was already breaking free.
“You fool! That’s not Her Highness!” Xuanxi realized what was happening when she noted the madness in the dragonguard’s eyes. Because of its title, the Dusk River God carried a very similar aura to the dragon princess of yesteryear and the dragonguard had mistaken it for its former mistress!
After all, this black dragon had been the North Sea princess’ guard before. Qing Han and Mo Yi had both guessed incorrectly in this regard: the dragon hadn’t linked itself together with the Dusk River God in order to use her as bait, but rather to forcibly sustain her existence.
The river god’s tail had been eaten by the other denizens in the darkness, not the dragon. If the dragonguard hadn’t saved her, she would’ve died long ago.
Tremendous wrath increased the dragon’s strength by a third. The talisman that should’ve been good for ten breaths lasted only three before being shattered. Its humongous form slowly crawled out from the floor of the abyss.
“Back! Back, I say!” Amid Xuanxi’s frenzied cries, the envoy bit her tongue and spat out a small mouthful of blue lifeblood.
An even larger talisman materialized in the void, affixing itself to the black dragon’s head once more. Its emerging body suddenly retracted, pressured by the power of the talisman.
“Hurt… princess… traitor!” Its words were laboriously slow and hoarse, its crimson eyes glaring venom at Xuanxi.
“That’s not the princess!” Xuanxi gritted her teeth before firing back.
Boom, crack, rumble.
The ground trembled and shook. The dragonguard fell into an even deeper frenzy, breaking free of Xuanxi’s second talisman in the next instant.
Every pore of the watery envoy’s body exuded rivulets of blood. She frantically waved both hands in the air, casting talisman after talisman on the black dragon in a futile attempt to beat it back. She had no time or energy to do anything else. And alas, her efforts were getting weaker by the moment.
Lu Yun was astounded. He hadn’t imagined there could be such ferocity from the dragon! He hurtled backward, retreating to Qing Han’s side. His friend protectively opened the scroll around both of them.
“Master! Capture that dragon!” An urgent voice from the scroll sounded in Qing Han’s mind.
“Who is this?” gasped the young man.
“It is I, the Dragon Prince!” the voice answered hurriedly before continuing. “That black dragon isn’t pure-blooded. It’s a scaled wyrm! If you send it into this scroll, the Tiger Prince and I can subdue it for you!”
The Tiger and Dragon Princes had come to live inside the Panorama of Clarity back inside the great burial mound: the former had been captured, but the latter had entered of his own volition.
After the three paintings had combined into the Scroll of Shepherding Immortals, the dynamic duo had only grown stronger inside their new home. They’d been forced to fight each other only because of the Duality of Dragon and Tiger, but were now freed from that.
“Fine… but if you two say anything unnecessary, I’ll destroy you both!” Qing Han messaged back through clenched teeth.
He hadn’t paid attention to the two beasts within the scroll, before. If they could see what was going on outside, they must know about his true identity and form.
“No, no, master! We won’t tell a soul anything about you!” the Tiger Prince anxiously replied.
“Lu Yun! Hold the black dragon still for three more breaths!” Qing Han yelled loudly.
“Xuanxi, you heard him!” Lu Yun scrunched up his face. Two black flames shot out of his eyes as the power of the Tome of Life and Death roared to life within his dantian, reinforcing Xuanxi with its potency.
“Understood!” The watery envoy could feel newfound vitality surging through her. The black flames that Lu Yun had manifested appeared in her own eyes as well. Though she hadn’t gotten any stronger, her stamina and spirit were fully restored.
She opened her arms, singing aloud a melodic verse. The song siphoned every bit of energy it could from the surroundings—heaven, earth, and even the darkness beneath the abyss—in order to form a giant talisman that was a full three hundred meters wide.
As soon as it had come into being, the giant talisman slammed itself on the black dragon’s body. Under its influence, the dragon became as still as a statue. In fact, its very vitality was sealed away.
Xuanxi’s body crumpled to the ground like a leaf. That last act had drained every ounce of strength she’d had.
“Hah!” Qing Han forcefully expelled the air in his lungs. Floating in midair, he radiated a piercingly brilliant starlight that dimmed even the talisman’s glow.
“That isn’t the power of the scroll!” The starlight was oddly familiar to Lu Yun. He turned away instinctively from the blinding light, as it was too bright to look at directly. The zombie girl and Mo Yi shared his sentiment, closing their eyes in turn to avoid the dazzling glare.
In the silver light, Qing Han once more transformed into the girl of Lu Yun’s dreams. However, her sable locks had turned the same shade of silver as the stars. The pale yellow dress she had previously worn now shone with unearthly brilliance, concealing her form more delicately than ever. Silver tresses were whipped up by the power of the scroll, which was unfurled and on the offense toward the scaled wyrm.
“How dare you resist!” the girl trilled. “Come!”
The silver radiance of the starstone shone even brighter, reinforcing the scroll with its lustrous beams, and the scaled dragon was instantly sucked up into the painting.
A moment later, the scroll began trembling. A wisp of black smoke escaped, heralding the attempts of a draconic shadow to break free. The roaring of a dragon and a tiger quickly shut it up, bringing peace and quiet back to both the scroll and the depths.
In the dusky void, the hovering girl enveloped in silvery starlight became the center of attention.
“It’s her! How can she possibly be here?!” Lu Yun looked at the girl suspended in midair, awed and mystified by what he had just seen. The starry girl slowly descended, landing softly in front of him.
“W-what just happened?” The young man could scarcely believe his eyes. She was here again, but what about Qing Han? Where had his friend gone?
“Who are you, really?” he hastily blurted out.
“My name is Qing Yu.” The girl opened up in a sunlit smile. “Remember that.”
She waved a hand, opening the scroll once more and ejecting the unconscious Qing Han and Dusk River God; after which her body dissipated into a million motes of light.
Lu Yun reached out a hand, but there was nothing for him to grasp.
“You saved me again, Qing Yu…” he muttered, still transfixed by the place she’d disappeared. It took awhile for him to recover his wits and dash to his friend’s side. “You alright, Qing Han?”
He extended both arms to help Qing Han up, whose pallid face was just beginning to stir. Although he had a million questions, he knew now wasn’t the time.
A pill supplied from his storage ring brought a bit of color back to Qing Han’s cheeks.
Lu Yun was well prepared this time. Upon leaving the burial mound, he’d asked Yuying to refine some pills. By now, he had plenty of the kind that restored stamina and healed injuries.
The depths enjoyed a rare moment of peace and tranquility, the creatures in the darkness having been scared off by the Scroll of Shepherding Immortals. Xuanxi forced herself to stand and approached the Dusk River God’s body, then forcefully took the god’s position.
“I think the girl just now was someone’s spirit given form,” the envoy helpfully supplied, noticing Lu Yun’s perplexity.
“Someone’s spirit?” Lu Yun blinked.
A cultivator could form a nascent spirit upon reaching the spirit realm. After sending it out from the body, one’s spirit could take on a thousand forms and deploy a smattering of different arts.
Leaning on Lu Yun’s arm, the recovering Qing Han immediately tensed.
“It seemed like it, but that spirit was also unreasonably strong,” Xuanxi said, hesitant.
Lu Yun glanced at his friend, who closed his eyes straight away.
“Qing Han, is there a girl in your clan called Qing Yu?” Expectation shone on the young governor’s face.
“No!” Qing Han was beginning to regret his actions. Although he’d used his spirit to hide his identity, telling Lu Yun his real name had been completely unnecessary. Surely, saving the governor was enough. The number of people in the world who knew that secret could be counted on one hand!
“Sir!” Xuanxi interrupted his train of thought. “The position of the river god is mine once more. I should be able to bring down the Dusk River and have it transport us out.”
“Take a break to recover a bit more,” Lu Yun disagreed. “It’s fairly safe here, for now. We’re not in a hurry.”
Xuanxi had used her very essence to create the absurdly powerful talisman that had immobilized the dragonguard, and her lifeforce was on the brink of exhaustion. If she pushed herself any more, she would very likely die.
Although the Tome of Life and Death could revive her, Lu Yun needed her more immediate assistance with his planned rescue of Wanfeng. He couldn’t afford to wait a week for her to be reborn.
Xuanxi silently inclined her head. She curled up her fishy tail closer to herself, focusing on healing her own injuries. Straightening himself up, Qing Han began doing the same.
“Hey~ Qing Han,” Lu Yun singsonged and sidled up to the youth, a simpering smile plastered across his face.
“What?” his friend coolly shot back.
“See, you know a lot of my secrets...” Lu Yun’s expression was a bit awkward.
The Scroll of Shepherding Immortals was one of the divine race’s crowning treasures, far more precious than the Formation Orbs. However, Lu Yun had handed it over to save his friend’s life without batting an eye. And now, he’d shown the revival of the previous Dusk River God too.
Qing Han had liked being shown these things because it was a sign of Lu Yun’s trust in him, and trust to these depths was a luxurious feeling.
“I won’t tell anyone about all this,” he replied seriously.
“That’s not what I meant!” Lu Yun corrected hurriedly. “Is there really no one named Qing Yu in your family?”
“What, you want to ask for her hand in marriage??” Qing Han tilted his head with an amused half-smile.
“Eh, that’s not… well, I…. Look, she saved me twice. I should at least thank her face to face, r-right?”
If Qing Yu hadn’t appeared just now and tamed the black dragon, everyone here would’ve died. Lu Yun was only a core realm cultivator; a stiff breeze from the dragon’s general direction would’ve been enough to send him through the cycle of reincarnation again.
The girl’s repeated appearances during times of great danger meant that Qing Han had to be related to her somehow. In fact, he must know her very well!
“Sure,” Qing Han nodded. “She’s a couple thousand years old, though. And a scary crone.”