“Hahahaha. Die, die! Now that you’re here, both of you will die, hahahaha!” Qing Hongchen raved on and on between laughter and tears, like he’d been tortured to insanity.
“It seems he’s become one of the tree’s fruits.” Lu Yun halted and looked up with a frown at the young man a dozen yards above them.
“What?” Qing Han stared at his friend in sheer disbelief. “A… a fruit, you say?”
“Yes. Whatever he is, he’s not alive anymore.” Lu Yun scanned the young man with his Spectral Eye, but didn’t see any living beings in front of him. What was ranting and raving wasn’t Qing Hongchen, but something like a type of fruit. There was something odd about it, but given the dense miasma of vitality in the air, Lu Yun couldn’t tell exactly what.
Qing Han shuddered.
“Die, both of you should die! I’ve been praying day and night to see you, and now you’re finally here. Hahahaha!” Qing Hongchen laughed so hard he cried.
“And now you’re finally here...”
“And now you’re finally here...”
“And now you’re finally here...”
Unnerving duplicates of his voice sounded from all directions as copies of Qing Hongchen rustled out from the leaves. They differed in size and color, but all of them could move and speak. Yet they were indubitably fruits of the tree. Some were ripe, some weren’t, but none of them could break away from the branches.
“Come now, the more the merrier!” The biggest of the lot laughed boisterously. Instead of teeth, Lu Yun glimpsed plant-like root stalks growing inside his mouth.
“The tree must’ve eaten Qing Hongchen after the random teleportation formation delivered him here!” The governor started. With a flip of his hand, he attached a lifeforce-concealing talisman on Qing Han, then stuck another one on himself.
Using hellfire consumed his internal energy. Since he’d yet to fully replenish his reserves, it was wiser to rely on external tools before he could determine what sort of existences lurked on this tree.
That said, he looks pretty appetizing.
The sudden thought came unbidden as he took in Qing Hongchen’s condition and the sweet scent wafting from the young man. If he could eat that fruit, he’d gain the young man's strength and cultivation. It’d spare Lu Yun many long years of arduous training!
The more he thought about it, the more convincing the train of thought was, so he approached the nearest humanoid fruit.
“It’s... those strange zombies!” Qing Han suddenly identified a familiar aura from the Qing Hongchens, one that often appeared in his nightmares. It dated back to when he’d seen many of his clansmen turned into zombies right in front of his eyes.
“Don’t!” He grabbed at Lu Yun, but the latter seemed bewitched.
“If I eat this fruit, I’ll immediately break through to the spirit realm… So I have to eat it, I have to eat it….” Lu Yun suddenly rippled with superhuman strength and Qing Han found it impossible to stop him, even when reinforced by his combat arts.
“Let go!” the governor suddenly yelled, stopping cold.
“Out of the question!” Tears welling in his eyes, Qing Han clenched his jaw and desperately clung to his friend.
Purple light shone from Lu Yun’s hand as rays of Violetgrave’s light rested against Qing Han’s neck.
“Will you let go now?” his voice was incomparably malevolent.
“Not in this life!” Qing Han’s figure also shone with a violet-gold radiance that locked Lu Yun’s figure in place.
“Hahaha, kill! Killkillkill!” The Qing Hongchens crowed with laughter. “Kill him, then eat me! Eat me and obtain my all. My strength, my power, my everything will be yours!”
“Hurry up and kill him! Then come eat me!” Gleeful cackles rose from the countless humanoid fruits, the same madness reflected in their faces. Their voices reverberated through the branches of the great tree as their menacing figures swayed left and right in a strange, macabre dance.
With a violent shudder, black flames abruptly ignited in Lu Yun’s eyes.
“W-what happened to me just now?!” Back drenched with sweat, he hastily sheathed Violetgrave.
“There’s a formidable mental power here that almost took control of you.” Qing Han sighed with relief and dispelled the Imperial Star’s power, returning freedom of movement to the governor.
“Don’t! Keep that lock on me!” Lu Yun shouted urgently. The compulsion and desire returned the second the violet-golden light dissipated.
At his urging, Qing Han once again enveloped him with the Imperial Star’s power.
“He’s not a fruit, Qing Hongchen’s become a zombie!” Qing Han quickly explained. “If you eat him, you’ll just take his place on the tree!”
“Wait, like the zombies in the burial mound?” Lu Yun’s eyes widened. “The ones that turn you into them if you touch or kill one?”
“Exactly like those! Only, the vitality here is so strong that zombies are made into living ones! That tree is force feeding them its life force!” Qing Han’s voice was laced with profound shock. 
Lu Yun observed Qing Hongchen more closely this time. The former Qing scion looked indistinguishable from a normal human, so the governor had mistaken him for a fruit, but in fact... the fruits that grew on this tree were zombies!
Forsaken by heaven and earth and untolerated by the three realms, zombies lived outside the normal cycle of life and death. However, the thick amount of vitality in the air had fooled even his Spectral Eye.
Thanks to Qing Han’s much higher cultivation, on top of obtaining Empress Myrtlestar’s legacy, he’d reacted the moment he noticed that something was amiss. Qing Hongchen was already a zombie, but the tree’s force-feeding of life force made him seem alive.
“Does that mean the tree is also undead?” Body frozen by the Imperial Star, Lu Yun’s eyes lit up with the dark, abyssal light of hellfire. He was finally able to see through to the tree’s true form.
It was an enormous, dried up husk exuding a sinister and ghostly atmosphere. Something else was obscuring its genuine appearance with a formidable vitality. But true as they came, the tree was a zombie tree. Apart from Qing Hongchen, other zombie fruits of various shapes and forms also hung on it.
“There’s something terrifying buried underneath the tree.” Lu Yun trembled. “Something that’s drained the tree’s vitality and turned it into a zombie tree. It’s also using its own lifeforce to conceal the tree’s aura. Then the tree transformed Qing Hongchen, and the other living things, into zombie fruit, sending their life essence down to the thing below.” He paused, then whispered, “Ahh, so that’s what hypnotized me earlier.”
The tree shook the moment his voice fell, and an ominous expression blossomed in unison on the Qing Hongchen faces.
Puff! Puff! Puff!
The numerous Qing zombies suddenly opened their mouths and shot clouds of spores that drifted toward Lu Yun and Qing Han.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I felt really bad for this dude for a while, then remembered what a douche he was when he first showed up. Now I have super mixed feelings. This is an awful way to die. @@