Reaching out his right hand, Lu Yun pointed a finger at the akasha ghost in midair.
A fierce black flame swirled atop his fingertip, circulating into a huge vortex.
“What is this… how is this?!” The ghost howled in despair, cowed by the crushing aura that emanated from the youth below.
At this moment, Lu Yun seemed like a lord of creation. The fate of every being was at his whim.
“You sin-steeped thing dares approach me? Heh… hehehe… die.” Nevertheless, it was a struggle for him to force out these words.
The Judgment of Life and Death took full effect.
The ghost shrieked once more, this time in pain; its body caught on fire and disintegrated into ash in the blink of an eye. An ominous force rose from the afterimage of its charred shadow, blasting into Lu Yun with vicious spite.
The Tome of Life and Death rose to block this harrowing attack, a last gasp before its master slumped to the ground.
“Lu Yun…” Qing Yu stumbled to her feet with great difficulty and hobbled her way over to pull her friend into her arms. “Y-you can’t die, can’t die....”
Lu Yun’s face was deathly pale, even transparent. The flame of life in his body flickered like a candle in the wind, ready to be snuffed out at any minute. Qing Yu poured every ounce of energy she could extract from the Scroll of Shepherding Immortals into his body, trying to stabilize him as best she could.
Despite his damaged soul, Lu Yun had expended every bit of his qi in order to force out the Judgment of Life and Death. There were even cracks on his golden core. The parting blow the akasha ghost had dealt him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although the Tome of Life and Death had shielded him from the worst of it, he was nevertheless grievously injured.
“This is all my fault, all my fault!” Tears trickled down her cheeks. If she didn’t have so many reservations about telling him the truth, he would’ve never been deceived by the layout of certain death. He wouldn’t have fallen into the trap and the akasha ghost wouldn’t have come.
It was too late to change the past, there was only a deep-seated regret that threatened to consume her.
A milky light emanated from the scroll, enveloping Lu Yun’s body. Unfortunately, it seemed to have little effect on him. Death’s shadow was already creeping over his nearly translucent face.
Qing Yu bit her teeth together with almost painful force, coming to a resolution. The silver starstone on her chest began to grow in radiance.
“Do you want to save him?” a gentle voice suddenly sounded at the girl’s ear. Instinctively raising her head, Qing Yu saw a carmine figure before her.
It was a woman of such unspeakable nobility that nothing could further enhance her. A violet-gold crown sat atop her head and red robes flared around her like brilliant flames. Her bearing was defined by regal elegance, and an aura of magnificent dignity wreathed about her movements. She loomed like the center of this local world, all life circulating around her to bow down in worship.
“Can you save him?” Qing Yu wiped away just enough of her tears to address the woman.
“I can,” responded the incomparable empress.
“But why should I believe you?” Qing Yu shook her head. “You’re the person buried in that imperial coffin, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” the woman nodded, “but I can indeed save him. Whether or not you believe me… is up to you.”
“Then I’d rather not, thanks.” Qing Yu’s response was surprisingly adamant.
“You wish for him to die?” The empress blinked in surprise.
“I can save him myself.” The girl stood up with Lu Yun in her arms, easing her friend onto her back before turning around to leave.
However, the woman with crown and mantle appeared in her way again.
The starstone and scroll unleashed their energies at the same time, rays of silvery radiance cascading over Qing Yu’s petite frame. At the same time, her black clothes morphed into her customary downy-yellow silk dress. Barefoot once more, she slowly drifted into the air.
“Such a potent spirit. You wield the power of a dao immortal as a mere cultivator. You must have a prestigious background.” The fiery empress was a little startled, but quickly smiled in approval. “You were wise not to return to this form earlier. The akasha ghost would have swallowed you whole, and the strange arts of the boy on your back would not have been able to do much either.”
“What do you want?” Qing Yu’s voice turned chilly, but she didn’t dare do anything reckless for fear that she’d accidentally hurt Lu Yun.
“I want to save him so that you will owe me a favor.” The woman smiled. “Ah, my name is Myrtlestar. Long ago, many called me Empress Myrtlestar.”
“You want someone not long for this world to owe you a favor?” Qing Yu found this rather unconvincing. The akasha ghost had just demonstrated one thing: Lu Yun possessed an incredibly valuable treasure that it wanted to possess at any cost.
Empress Myrtlestar was likely no different.
The girl’s aura continued increasing in strength; even her long tresses sparkled with glistening starlight now.
“Enough!” Empress Myrtlestar interjected, releasing an enormous violet-gold star from between her brows that kept Qing Yu down.
The latter grit her teeth in defiance of the star’s power. It was plain to see that the violet-gold star between the empress’ brows was also a starstone, but much more perfect in shape than Qing Yu’s was.
“If you increase your power any more, even the Scroll of Shepherding Immortals will not be able to save you!” Empress Myrtlestar’s crimson royal robes suddenly morphed into violet shot through with a golden hue. A sovereign presence poured out from her form as she reigned over all.
“I’m willing to exchange my life for his!” Qing Yu smiled grimly. Though the violet-gold star restrained a portion of her power, her energy continued flowing. Her starstone was now the color of purest silver.
Unbridled vitality flooded into Lu Yun’s body from her own. After all, it’d been her starstone that’d saved her from the rimesnake poison in her youth.
“Foolish girl!” The empress waved a hand, conjuring a swell of vast, overwhelming power that forcibly cut off Qing Yu’s link to her starstone.
A deep helplessness overcame the girl as she gently descended back onto the ground.
“Your starstone was formed from the energy of the Red Star. It can save your life, but it can also bring you disaster. Ah, never mind,” sighed Myrtlestar. “I am already dead. What use have I for a junior’s treasure? Be at ease. I don’t seek whatever he has anymore.”
Qing Yu continued staring down the empress from sheer stubbornness. She hadn’t believed a word from start to finish. From the very beginning, she’d noticed the very faint air of malice the woman held toward Lu Yun. Saying that she could save Lu Yun was only an excuse she’d used in order to search him.
“Isn’t your body inside that imperial coffin? Why are you appearing over here?” The girl refused to budge an inch.
“Do not go over there, lest you disturb my corpse.” The empress turned abruptly serious. “My body has already transformed into a dread zombie. If you open the coffin, you and that boy will die at its hand.
“As for myself… I have long faded from this world. What you see here is only a shadow, born from an obsession that is unwilling to die.” The woman sighed once more. “An obsession that does not wish for the end of my people and will not disappear until the bloodline is carried on once more.”