“So you finally show yourself.” Lu Yun wasn’t at all surprised to hear the voice.
It didn’t appear often, but every time it did, an illusion led Lu Yun and the others astray at a critical juncture. Thankfully, he’d seen through the illusions every time.
When the owner of the voice finally showed itself, the visage that appeared took his breath away. His heart skipped a beat upon seeing a face worthy of launching a thousand ships.
Silver hair ran down to a shapely waist and hip, framing perfect features that stirred the soul. A long, loose robe of silver silk covered a lanky, limber body. The arresting sight fulfilled all standards of beauty in the world. There were no words worthy of describing this being. Even Yuying and Mo Yi paled in comparison. Flawless, second to none, unequaled...
But damn, it’s a man, sighed Lu Yun.
Indeed. This mesmerizing, sublime creature who could seduce all living souls was a man.
“Has it shown itself, sir?” asked Yuying. She knew there was something in the burial mound that could create illusions, but it had stayed hidden until now.
“You can't see it?” Lu Yun asked after collecting himself.
Yuying shook her head slightly, her delicate eyebrows knitted together.
“No one other than you can see me, not even the immortal ghost. But why are you an exception?” His voice was a soft murmur straight out of one’s dreams.
“You’re not a ghost, so what are you?” Lu Yun asked without much thought.
“Me?” The man paused and shook his head with a lost expression. “I don’t know what I am. And why am I here?” He frowned, struggling to find an answer.
“What’s your name?” Lu Yun reached out to touch the man, but his hand went straight through the other body. The man seemed more like a shadow than a living soul.
“My name? It seems to be Miao.” He continued with uncertainty, “It’s been too long since anyone called me by name, but I think it’s Miao.”
“Do either of you know someone called Miao?” Lu Yun asked Yuying and Yueshen. The woman and ghost shook their heads.
“Go back,” Miao said abruptly. “You’ve obtained what you want. Go back the way you came.” The air around him rippled, painting a faint path leading to heaven in front of Lu Yun.
“Stop it with the illusions!” hectored the Dusk governor.
Miao trembled, and the illusion disappeared.
Lu Yun’s expression lightened. “That’s the only thing you can do, isn’t it?”
Miao smiled wryly. His illusions were almost flawless. Many had entered the burial mound throughout the course of history, but all of them had ended up disoriented by his tricks. They either turned back and left, or were trapped in here forever.
This freak called Lu Yun, however, wasn’t affected at all.
“Go back,” Miao cautioned seriously as he watched Lu Yun. “If you go in any further, you’ll die, and you’ll drag me down with you.”
“I want the Formation Orb,” responded Lu Yun. “I’ll leave after I get it.”
The response elicited a pause, then a smile. “That’s fine enough. The thing called the Formation Orb isn’t stored in that most dangerous place. I’ll lead the way,” volunteered Miao.
Lu Yun cast a suspicious look at the newcomer.
Miao knew he was being overeager. He awkwardly explained, “Your current path leads to the center of the burial mound. Only death awaits if you go there. Things won’t end well for me then, either.”
Lu Yun nodded. “Lead the way. If you pull any tricks, I know a hundred ways to take you out.”
A paper talisman appeared in his hand. It didn’t belong to the world of immortals; it was an exorcism talisman from his world. He’d drawn it with the black flame in his dantian, and it could suppress any evil spirits or beings of yin.
Miao shuddered at the talisman. He didn’t know why he was afraid of it, but he was.
Tunnels clustered along the cliff, bringing to mind the notion of an ants’ nest covered in holes. Miao picked one out and entered it.
“Do you know who’s buried here?” asked Lu Yun. He trailed after the man with Yuying on high alert. Yueshen controlled Li Youcai’s body and brought up the rear.
Miao shook his head. “This place is a hodgepodge of creatures and monsters. Fights break out every single day. Whenever one batch dies, another enters and takes its place. Who knows who was the one first buried here?”
“How did you get in here?” Lu Yun was surprised. There were fights all the time? That was likely due to the Duality of Dragon and Tiger.
Lost, Miao shook his head. “I don’t know. What a strange person you are.” Self-infatuation flooded his voice as he stroked his face. “You’re not enthralled by my looks.”
“No matter how beautiful you are, you’re still a man,” Lu Yun huffed.
“Who—who are you talking to?” A weak voice came from Lu Yun’s back; Qing Han had regained consciousness.
“You’re awake.” Lu Yun turned to smile at him.
Face flushed, Qing Han said in a panicked tone, “Put me down!”
“Oh? You can walk on your own now?” Lu Yun stopped to drop the envoy from his back.
As soon as Qing Han’s feet touched the ground, however, his knees gave out. Only Lu Yun’s quick reflexes saved him from planting his face onto the ground.
“Don’t touch me!” yelled Qing Han.
An irritated Lu Yun pulled away and called out for Yueshen, “Fatty, you carry him!”
Under Yueshen’s control, Li Youcai waddled toward Qing Han.
“You stay away from me as well!!” Qing Han just about lost his mind. He turned to Yuying, “Help me up.”
“So you’re after my house servant!” Furious, Lu Yun grabbed Qing Han and wrestled the envoy on his back. “It’s me or the fatty. Pick one.”
Take advantage of Yuying? Dream on!
Qing Han lay bonelessly on Lu Yun’s back, so desperate that he wanted to cry. Of course he would pick Lu Yun when given the two options.
Lu Yun had wanted to leave the imperial envoy with the possessed Li Youcai, but the prefect’s mission was to fall back and deal with any unexpected developments. That left only Lu Yun, and he wasn’t going to just leave Qing Han behind when the young man had saved his life.
The Portrait of Emptiness fell from Qing Han’s arms due to his earlier dramatics. Lu Yun picked it up and returned it without hesitation.
“You—you’re giving it to me?” The envoy stared at the back of Lu Yun’s head in disbelief.
“You wanted it,” Lu Yun said matter-of-factly, “so it’s yours.”
“This is an immortal treasure beyond the ninth-rank!” Qing Han couldn’t believe his ears. Even arcane and peerless immortals would bitterly fight over such a treasure.
“Cut the crap and take it,” Lu Yun grumbled. “Do you want me to have it so badly?”
Qing Han shut his mouth and tried to put away the painting, but he was too weak to even properly lift his arms.
“I don’t think you can use this sword right now. Let me borrow it for the moment.” Lu Yun drew Violetgrave from his waist and waved it at its owner. The latter nodded.
“Did you eat something sweet?” Lu Yun asked suddenly.
The envoy paused. “What?”
“Good thing your breath doesn’t stink,” Lu Yun grumbled.
Qing Han’s face was almost flush with Lu Yun’s ear; each of his exhalations hit Lu Yun’s ear and cheek. There was a faint sweetness to his breath, and though Lu Yun had never wanted a man to breathe on him, at least it wasn’t foul.
“Ai.” Miao looked at the two of them and rubbed his forehead.
“What’s that sigh for?” Lu Yun glanced at Miao.
Already reddened by Lu Yun’s words, the sudden question befuddled Qing Han. “I didn’t.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Lu Yun responded casually. “There’s another guy you can’t see.”
Qing Han shuddered.
“By the way, you should really work out more, Sir Qing Han,” Lu Yun commented suddenly.
“Work out?” Qing Han didn’t understand what the Dusk governor was trying to say.
“Men should have a body of iron muscles and strong bones. Look at you. You’re all soft skin and tender flesh. It’s all flab, where’s the muscle? Your chest, especially—ow! Why are you biting me?!” Lu Yun abruptly yelped as Qing Han bit his ear. “Let go, let go! Stop it!” He shook his head violently.
Qing Han didn’t let go until much later, then spat a few times for good measure.
“You talk like you have any muscle yourself!” he growled.
Lu Yun blushed. He hadn’t had the chance to properly work out since inheriting this body. Though he was more toned than Qing Han, he still wasn’t all that muscular. If it weren’t for reaching the condensed qi realm, he wouldn’t even be able to carry Qing Han. The young man wasn’t heavy, but even a forty kilogram burden was too much for the past Lu Yun to bear.
“I know a weight training regimen. Once we get out of here, let’s train together and see who succeeds in getting pecs first,” Lu Yun snickered.
Qing Han tightened his jaw and scoffed, “Train together? You agreed to serve Qing Hongchen, my archenemy. Aren’t you afraid he’ll kill you?”
“Qing Hongchen?” Lu Yun snorted. “He even looks like a rat. His tongue is barbed silver and he changes his mind at the drop of a hat. Why would I serve him? I was just putting up a front.”
Qing Han fell silent.
“Why are you carrying that ugly thing?” Miao asked faintly once they’d stopped talking. “He’s nothing but a burden.”
After a moment of silence, Lu Yun responded, “He saved me. I’m not going to just forget that and leave him behind.”
“I don’t understand you people,” Miao complained, befuddled. “He saved you once, but he may get you killed now with him dragging you down.”
“That’s why we’re human,” Lu Yun said easily, “while you don’t even know what you are,”
Miao’s expression turned awkward.
Emotions flashed through Qing Han’s eyes as he listened to Lu Yun’s response. “You’re talking to that invisible thing again?”
“My name is Miao,” the man corrected.
“He said his name is Miao,” Lu Yun relayed. “And he called you an ugly thing.”
The further they went, the more water there was. Toward the end, Lu Yun’s ankles were submerged.
“You should think about how you’re going to deal with those strange creatures up ahead.” Turning solemn, Miao abruptly stopped in his tracks and re-emphasized, “You mustn’t die here, or I’m doomed!”
“Undead hags?” Lu Yun narrowed his eyes. “Wait, they’re dead. Those are ghostface maggots!!”
Panic overtook his face. He’d finally encountered what he least wanted to see.