“What the hell are those things?!” Qing Han’s skin crawled at the sight of the oncoming spores. With his sharp eyesight, he could easily pick out the human faces on each one of the floating spores, all of them belonging to Qing Hongchen.
“Let go of me first,” Lu Yun said urgently, also fixated on the spores. Struggle flashed through his eyes the moment Qing Han dismissed the Imperial Star, but hellfire ignited in his irises once again to defy the mental force in the area.
“Don’t use your energy to touch those things!” he wheezed.
A cultivator’s realms were divided into the qi, core, and spirit realms, with different personal energies found at each stage. There was qi at the qi realm, internal energy at the core realm, and mystic force at the spirit realm. And once one broke through to the immortal realm, their mystic force would morph into immortal force.
The Tome of Life and Death trembled slightly as Lu Yun circulated his internal energy, disgorging Emerald Mistfire and reducing the airborne particles to dust.
“We have to leave at once,” he urged, his voice weak and face wan.
With the tomb realm disrupting the connection between the Gates of the Abyss and the netherworld, his only option was to forcibly extract power from the Tome of Life and Death in order to control the Emerald Mistfire.
But with his paltry cultivation, merely summoning the book was already an enormous burden, not to mention the hellfire he was sustaining to combat the dreadful compulsion. Deploying the immortal fire almost completely depleted his internal reserves, yet he was in no danger, thanks to Qing Han’s Imperial Star. Though the mental compulsion was domineering, it couldn’t rattle the Imperial Star.
“I’ll carry you!” Qing Han grabbed Lu Yun and swung him to the back, then turned into a violet-gold whirlwind and shot forward with a surge of mystic force. One of Empress Myrtlestar’s skills, this physical combat art more than tripled his speed.
“You have to be careful when you refine the legacy item,” Lu Yun suddenly murmured against his ear.
Qing Han’s heart pounded painfully at the feel of the governor’s breath against his cheek. He forced himself to calm down before replying, “Why?”
“An empress’ lofty aspirations won’t so easily capitulate. She can’t have simply resigned herself to death.” Lu Yun swallowed a pill to regain some lost energy. “She’s certainly hidden traps within her legacy. You might unwittingly be possessed by her.”
Qing Han shuddered.
“But that’s just human nature. Do almighty masters not yearn to dazzle as bright as the sun and stars, or live as long as the universe? Devising contingency plans to come back from the dead is just par for the course.” Lu Yun coughed. “In fact, some ancient oddities from a hundred thousand years ago have probably already come back to life through possessing someone else’s body.”
“I understand.” Qing Han compressed his lips and nodded. Tiny beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he dodged the oncoming spores with exceptional agility, while still turning an attentive ear to the governor’s exhortations.
“Find a safe spot and show me whatever you got. I’ll help you erase the hidden dangers,” Lu Yun added after thinking it over.
“Alright,” Qing Han agreed without a shred of hesitation, then promptly stopped cold and looked solemnly ahead. They’d reached the end of this particular branch. Ahead of them, the tree trunk loomed like a wall with a giant cavity in which two faint crimson lights glowed.
Behind them, the seemingly boundless cloud of spores was already upon them, the Qing Hongchen faces set in a cruel smile.
A black head unexpectedly shot out of the tree hole and opened wide to bite the two humans.
“Get lost!” Qing Han shouted, white sword light suddenly shining from his hand.
Sparks flew as the sword light crashed down on the creature’s head. Even though it was larger than Qing Han’s entire frame, the head hissed in pain and fled back to its hole.
“What a big snake!” Qing Han hastily fell back and stared warily at the tree cavity, his arm numb from the impact.
“It’s not a snake, it’s a larva!” Lu Yun corrected him.
“What? A larva?” Qing Han’s eyes widened as his eyes snapped back to the dark opening. Inside, the pinpricks of red still glared at them, unblinking. Could such an enormous insect even exist?
“Ghostface maggots!” Lu Yun’s expression turned grave. “It’s a giant ghostface maggot. Do, do they grow on zombie trees?”
Qing Han’s blood ran cold. He knew of these creatures, they could devour undead hags! All of a sudden, a scorching heat rose at his back.
The next moment, Emerald Mistfire condensed into a blazing vortex that reduced the cloud of spores to ashes. Lu Yun’s complexion grew even paler.
“We need to leave right this second. Since there are ghostface maggots here, there’ll certainly be corpse flies as well,” he panted, still trying to catch his breath.
Once bitten, the gruesome poison within a corpse fly’s body was almost guaranteed to turn its prey into a zombie. But in this place, the flies were more likely to simply gnaw them to the bone instead.
Those they’d previously run into were either too weak, or too deep in slumber to manifest their full potential, but he’d be a fool to disregard creatures that only millennia-old zombies could foster.
Qing Han nodded. With a leap, he avoided the tree cavity and hopped onto another branch. Lu Yun tapped his shoulder in the next moment.
“Ah?” Turning back reflexively, his lips almost crashed into Lu Yun’s face.
“You, you can ride your sword instead,” the governor reminded.
“I can’t!” Qing Han shook his head. “I tried it on the way here, but there’s something in the air that blocks me from doing so.”
With a frown, Lu Yun lifted his head and looked up. A dense network of branches filled his vision, making it impossible to see what lay beyond.
“Hahahaha, you’re dead, you’re dead! You ran inside their territory! You’re dead meat, dead meat, hahahaha….” The spores had regathered, but they kept their distance and set up a perimeter around the two humans, faces full of schadenfreude.
“Come on, come on, hurry up! The living are knocking on your door, hurry up and eat them!” the spores yelled emphatically.
Soon after, the commotion of vibrating wings reached Lu Yun’s ears as the emerald-green of the foliage gave way to a bloody scarlet.