Empress Myrtlestar calmly took a position in midair, violet-golden light shimmering around her and the same hue reflected from her originally jet-black locks.
“As I thought, it is you, Azure Dragon King.” Soft and gentle, her voice nevertheless carried a hint of supreme majesty.
“Impossible, that’s impossible!” the dragon bellowed. Violent agitation of emotions burst his wound open anew, spraying dark azure blood across the void. “Empress Myrtlestar is dead, destroyed together with her race! How are you still alive?!”
“Nothing is impossible.” The indifferent empress coalesced the faint shadow of a sword in her hand.
“So that’s Empress Myrtlestar?” Lu Yun floated to a slow landing beside Qing Han, grasping a black seed in his hand. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” Qing Han shook his head with a wry smile. Judging from Lu Yun’s vigor and liveliness, there was no need to worry about the governor’s condition. In fact, he seemed to have chanced upon a tremendous opportunity.
“What you said before, was all that meant for her ears?” The disguised girl suddenly recalled Lu Yun’s words back on the zombie tree.
It’s just human nature—of all living things, really—to want to live on. Isn’t the very goal of cultivation to obtain greater strength in order to live a longer life?
“Yeah.” Lu Yun nodded gently. “Alright, this is a good opportunity. Watch over me while I refine the seed.”
He waved the black seed in front of Qing Han’s eyes. This was all that was left of the Sal Tree of Life and Death after it’d reentered the cycle of rebirth.
As an existence that’d once shouldered the entire netherworld, Lu Yun might be able to rebuild hell by growing it anew, but he hadn’t the foggiest clue as to where exactly to begin. It was a goal for the future; for now, refining it and making it his was the only thing he could do.
The special structure of this tomb realm could conceal all auras. If he were to bring the tree’s seed into the outside world, who knew what might happen?
“Alright!” Qing Han gripped his sword and took a stance by Lu Yun’s side, shielding his friend from the formidable flows of energy in the surroundings.
Apart from the sal tree and the zombie tree, the tomb realm was also populated by numerous other horrifying zombies and other dead spirits. However, the three immortal fires had laid waste to all these dangers.
They rampaged still through the surroundings, but their energies also counteracted much of the clash between the divine dragon and Empress Myrtlestar, safeguarding the realm from the devastating fallout.
The seed of the sal tree landed in Lu Yun’s dantian, glowing brilliantly with the hue of a black pearl. He could sense a lifeforce inside of it, but no matter what he tried, he couldn’t rouse or make it germinate.
“Once we leave this realm, I’ll have to see if the soil of hell can help it take root.” Lu Yun finally opened his eyes after an indeterminate period of time.
“Hahaha—Empress Myrtlestar, at the end of the day, you’re just a dead soul while I live on. That’s why you’re not my match, even if I only have half of my body left!” In the sky, the divine dragon king guffawed with self-satisfaction.
“Is that so?” retorted the empress in her soft, yet imposing voice.
Moments ago, the dragon had smashed her body with its claws, scattering the energy she’d summoned and forcing a return to her incorporeal appearance. After all, she wasn’t even a soul fragment, merely a strong remnant of thought—an obsession.
“Scroll.” Her lips curved into a smile as she looked down and motioned to Qing Han. He quickly grasped the empress’ intentions and floated the Scroll of Shepherding Immortals to her hand with a wave of his.
“You would have been safe from the scroll, had you refrained from fighting so desperately against me. Fortunately, now that I have exhausted the last vestiges of the tree's energy in you, this painting is sufficient to subdue you.” She gently unfurled the scroll.
“The Scroll of Shepherding Immortals! Why is it here?! Wasn’t it separated into three paintings, each sealed by an immortal flame?” Intense fear flashed through the dragon’s eyes. As the name, Divine Azure Dragon King, might indicate, he was a divine! This scroll that illustrated the divines’ origins was also his race’s worst enemy!
“Ah yes, the three uniquely-colored fires you see around here happen to be the immortal fires you speak of!”
Despair filled the dragon’s eyes.
Pointing languidly with her finger, Empress Myrtlestar bathed the tomb realm in the milky white light from the fully unfurled scroll. The radiance inexorably dragged the dragon’s five-thousand-kilometer long body into the scroll, a process marked by ghastly screams of misery.
Little by little, the image of a half-body azure dragon materialized in the painting, baring its fangs and brandishing its claws.
At the same time, the Dragon Prince, Tiger Prince, and black dragonguard that were initially part of the scroll pictured vanished from sight, leaving behind only half of a dragon’s body and an empress in all her resplendent glory.
She, too, faded away from the tomb realm, becoming a violet shadow that filed into the scroll and fell silent as the painting gently settled back into Qing Han’s hand.
“Damn it, we have to run!” With a sudden shout, Lu Yun grabbed Qing Han and pelted off in the opposite direction as the tomb realm began collapsing.
Thunder and lightning streaked across the Skandha Range, echoing the desolate willow’s painful screams as sections of his body exploded one by one, his inky, jade-like leaves scattering in every direction. As for the juba, it tucked its head and limbs inside its shell, too afraid to expose itself.
What’s happening, what’s happening? What in the heavens is happening?! Countless thoughts whirled in the horror-stricken juba’s mind. Is it the rage of Skandha Range’s mistress? Did that so-called mistress find out about my betrayal?
Chaotic energies tore through the mountain range; lightning and thunder vied for supremacy while cracks and fissure opened up in the earth. Yet despite all of the commotion inside the mountain range, just a single step away from was a picture of utter calmness and serenity, fully undisturbed by all the pandemonium.
An explosion suddenly shook the heavens, marking the immediate collapse of half the mountain range. An enormous dark hole slowly yawned open in the middle of the sky, ejecting two miserable figures from it.
“Aoxue!” Sensing the realms of yin and yang connect the second they tumbled out, Lu Yun hurriedly sent for the dragon princess. Without her, he and Qing Han would certainly be beset by the legions of otherkind inhabiting these mountains.
In answer to his summons, the dragon princess materialized and caught Lu Yun and Qing Han, then brought them safely to the ground.
A droning sound came from mid-air as the giant hole rippled shut with a black flash and vanished without a trace, signaling the demise of the tomb realm born from the Skandha Range. Its fate had been sealed the moment the sal tree perished.
As peace returned to the mountain range, countless pairs of eyes from speechless otherkind swivelled to the three of them.
“M-mistress,” the startled Old Willow stuttered as he watched Aoxue descend from the sky.
The dragon princess ignored him, instead fixing a frosty look on the turtle. “Juba, do you know your crime?”
“This old servant knows, this old servant knows!” The juba stuck its head out of its shell and crashed it against the ground, desperately begging for forgiveness. It’d truly been scared out of its wits by the strange phenomena just now.
It’d arrived in these mountains almost ten thousand years ago, but this was its first time witnessing such a terrifying occurrence. Therefore, it immediately associated this event with its plotting against Aoxue.
The desolate willow stared in disbelief, still confused by the strange turn of events. How would the juba dare plot against the mistress of the Skandha Range?!
Aoxue’s eyes smoldered crimson as she approached the juba, her murderous aura intensifying with each step. Echoing her rage, the mountains shook once more, filling the air with a somber, oppressive atmosphere.
“Aoxue,” Lu Yun called out all of a sudden. “Spare its life. I can still use it.”
The juba’s true strength was that of a peerless immortal. He would gain a formidable fighter, if he could bring it to heel. Even if it remained too afraid to call upon its actual cultivation level, ordinary august immortals still wouldn’t be its match. Most importantly, the fact that the cultivators in these mountains could seal their cultivation meant that immortals from around the world could do the same to enter Dusk Province....
Lu Yun needed more helpers.
“As you command.” Aoxue came to a halt and warned coldly, “I will spare your life for the time being, but do not hope for the same leniency next time.”
“Of course, of course! Many thanks for your mercy, Your Highness. Thank you for sparing me, Lord Governor!” The juba smashed its head repeatedly into the ground, eyes filled with terror.
“Hm?” Lu Yun suddenly blinked as a strange, yet prodigious energy flowed from the juba into his body, whereupon it was absorbed by the seed of the Sal Tree of Life and Death. Soon after, an emerald brilliance bathed his dantian in lush green as a thin, tender shoot extended from the black seed, releasing limitless energy that merged with Lu Yun’s own in the process.
The “Method of Life and Death” began frantically circulating by itself.
A tremendous explosive note rang from Lu Yun’s figure as his cultivation suddenly broke through the golden core realm and entered the life core realm.