“Because, because....” Qing Han’s heartbeat grew erratic.
Lu Yun looked intensely at him, searching his face for an answer. Suddenly, he reached out to grope Qing Han’s chest.
“It’s flat.” Lu Yun scratched his head. “Ah, I’m thinking too much again.”
Qing Han stared at his friend, aggrieved. He’d almost turned into his true form and shown his hand just now, but Lu Yun interrupted him and felt up his chest!
“You were talking to the air!” the disguised girl fumed, tender feelings and guilt vanishing from his heart.
Lu Yun was already so touchy-feely when he saw Qing Han as a man. If he saw her true form, who knew what would happen! Though Qing Yu wouldn’t deny him, there was a poison in her system that even a starstone manifested by the Imperial Star couldn’t cleanse.
If they really did… that, perhaps the poison would travel to Lu Yun as well.
The thought made Qing Han blush.
“Why are you blushing?” Lu Yun looked askance at his friend.
“All thanks to you!” retorted Qing Han. His skin darkened and an ugly scar crawled on his cheek again.
“You—” Lu Yun gaped. “Why do you look like this again?”
“Can’t have you falling in love with me, what will I do then?” Qing Han rolled his eyes. “You keep groping my chest. Makes me wonder if you like men.”
Lu Yun stared dumbly. What was he supposed to say in response to that?
“By the way, where are we?” Qing Han changed the subject to keep the governor distracted. They were in the branches of a gargantuan tree and the thick canopy of leaves around them prevented them from seeing the sky or the ground.
“Didn’t you bring me here?” Lu Yun’s eyes widened. “Why are you asking me?”
Qing Han scratched his head. “I think we’re out of the Skandha Extinction Tomb? I followed your instructions and made my way east, which led us out of the eastern tomb.”
Lu Yun paused. “My instructions?”
“Yeah.” Qing Han sorted through his thoughts. “You said ‘the five tombs are arranged according to east, west, south, north, and center, respectively. Most ancient tombs are built by a mountain. Since the eastern tomb is a mountainous tomb, the Skandha Extinction Tomb must be facing the west. Going east from the eastern tomb will take us out of the Extinction Tomb altogether’.”
“Near the mountain, sitting east and facing west… the influence of mountains and rivers!” Realization dawned on Lu Yun. “That’s it! That explains it! You’re so smart, Qing Han!”
“Eh?” Qing Han was confused in turn.
“I got it!” The governor slapped his forehead. “I was wrong from the very beginning. I’ve been following the records left by my grandmaster, but this tomb is completely different from the one he explored!
“What I called the eastern tomb is indeed that, but it’s not a side tomb, it’s the main one! Built by the mountain, sitting in the east, and facing west…
“The eastern cardinal direction is the position of utmost nobility, and there happens to be an emperor buried there. It all makes sense! The eastern tomb is the main tomb and the most dangerous of the five. If we’d entered the central tomb and unravelled it first, we wouldn’t have ended up like this.”
Lu Yun could barely contain his excitement, which made quite Qing Han nervous.
“Do you… uh, you want to go back in?”
“No, no. Why would I?” He took out a jade slip with a smile and recorded what he’d experienced in the eastern tomb, then appended a conclusion to the summary of the slip. Changes are not to be feared. Ancestral teachings are not to be taken as immutable laws!
All things were constantly in a state of flux. One had to be able to adapt to any situation, rather than blindly apply the old ways without thinking. A veil seemed to have been lifted from Lu Yun’s eyes.
For the longest time, he’d fancied himself the best commandant in all of history, exceeding even the sect grandmaster himself. Only now did he see just how ridiculously wrong he’d been. He was who he was because of the accumulated experience of his seniors, and he’d only been retracing their footsteps without finding his own way.
“What the ancestors have passed down is valuable, but to become the best, I must distill the finest of my experiences and form my own judgements,” muttered Lu Yun. “Their experience is my reference, but not something to put blind faith in.”
Qing Han nodded in agreement. “Do you know where we are now?”
Lu Yun frowned. He recalled a fearsome myth, but he wasn’t sure if it was the truth. “How did we get up here?” he asked instead.
“I don’t know either.” Qing Han shook his head. “As I walked, I realized that the pressure from the tomb had gone away. Then here we were.”
“That’s it then!” Lu Yun took in a deep breath. “This is a tomb realm, a special place unique to the Skandha Extinction Tomb. It’s not inside the tomb, but it’s even more dangerous!”
Tombs were to tomb realms what formations were to feng shui layouts. Tombs influenced their surroundings, and the older the tomb, the stronger the influence. It was said that some extremely ancient tombs could give rise to a strange realm in their vicinity. It was a space neither alive nor dead, neither real nor fake.
“A tomb realm?” Qing Han had never heard the term before.
Lu Yun used the Dragonsearch Invocation and channeled his inner energy into a luopan.
The feng shui compass shattered as soon as it appeared, prompting a deep inhalation. “Looks like my guess is right!”
The luopan was used to find dragon veins and determine feng shui layouts. Though the version he manifested with his internal energy wasn’t real, he could say for sure that a real compass would malfunction here as well. It was an effect that only the fabled tomb realm could achieve.
“Can we still get out?” Qing Han asked softly.
“If we can get in, we can get out. I heard about the tomb realms a long time ago, but never thought I’d be so lucky as to enter one!” A smile tugged at Lu Yun’s lips. “We didn’t find anything valuable in the Skandha Extinction Tomb, so we can’t pass up whatever we find in here.
“Put your hand on my shoulder and follow me.” He directed his friend. “The greater the risk, the greater the reward; maybe there’s incredible treasure to be found here.”
Qing Han followed Lu Yun’s directions with a hand on his shoulder. “Should we have Aoxue and the others come help?” he asked worriedly.
“They can’t.” Lu Yun shook his head. “This place is completely cut off from everything else. It’s up to us now.”
He’d tried to open the doorway between the two realms and summon Yuying and the others when he woke up. However, though he could open the Gates of the Abyss, he couldn’t see the netherworld behind them. That was what had made him think of the tomb realm.
“Hahaha—Qing Han! Lu Yun!!” A grating voice suddenly rang out, thick with venom and edged with insanity. “You two are finally here. Hahaha! Die, die, die! I want you dead!!”
“Qing Hongchen?” Qing Han reflexively looked up and found a young man hanging not far away above them. It was none other than Qing Hongchen, who’d been thrown into a teleportation formation from the burial mound without a set destination.