Han Li transformed into a streak of azure light and soon descended on a plateau halfway up a small mountain. He looked at the seemingly mundane and nondescript rock face in front of him before sweeping his sleeve through the air, sending a burst of azure light sweeping toward it.
A loud thump erupted as the azure light struck the rock face, following which a burst of light appeared over the mountain's rocky surface.
The rock face began to blur as if it were an illusion, following which a massive stone door several tens of feet tall appeared before Han Li. White spiritual light was flashing incessantly over the stone door, and it seemed that a restriction had been cast onto it.
Han Li surveyed the stone door for a while before releasing a burst of flames from his hand, which immediately disappeared into the door.
Moments later, an elated female voice was transmitted to him from the other side.
"Senior Han! We're so glad you're here! Please wait for a moment, my Dao Companion will come out to welcome you right away."
A few seconds later, the white light on the stone door flashed violently a few times before dimming completely. A loud rumbling sound then rang out as the stone door was slowly opened, while two women and one man emerged from the cave abode within.
They were none other than Wen Siyue's couple and their young daughter.
Han Li turned his attention to the young girl, and was slightly taken aback by what he saw.
The young girl had been stickly thin with a sickly yellow pallor on their previous encounter but since then, she had grown into a gorgeous young woman who bore more than a hint of resemblance to her beautiful mother.
It appeared that she had recovered quite well after the poison had been expelled from her body. This was what her appearance should have been like had she not been afflicted by her conditions.
Wen Siyue was the most familiar with Han Li among the three, so she came forward with a captivating smile on her face and extended a respectful curtsey as she said, "We pay our respects to Senior Han! We didn't think that you would arrive so quickly, so we made no preparations in advance; please forgive us for our oversight, Senior!"
"My trip went relatively smoothly, so I arrived here a little earlier than I planned." Han Li waved a hand, indicating for them to skip the formalities.
"We've been eagerly awaiting your arrival, Senior. Please come in and have a seat in our humble cave abode." Wen Siyue stepped aside with a dainty smile to allow Han Li passage into the cave abode.
"Sure. I also want to see the level of mastery your daughter has achieved in the formation spell book I left her. If she's reached a satisfactory level of mastery, then I'll take her under my wing." Han Li nodded in response before taking a glance at the young woman again.
A blush appeared on Tian Qin'er's face from Han Li's gaze, and she immediately ducked her head.
In contrast, Wen Siyue and her Dao Companion were ecstatic to hear this, and they hurriedly led Han Li into their cave abode.
Han Li spent a day and a night inside the cave abode. During this time, Wen Siyue and her Dao Companion, as well as their Foundation Establishment disciples, had all come to pay their respects to Han Li at different points. The elderly man from earlier had brought along a young body who appeared to be around seven or eight years old to see Han Li, and they also entered the cave abode, but they didn't immediately come out.
Another day later, a streak of silver light shot forth into the air from the small mountain, within which the figures of a man and a woman could be indistinctly identified. A few flashes later, the azure streak of light had disappeared from view.
A month later, within the Heavenly South Region, which was countless kilometers away from the Scattered Star Seas. Within a massive barren valley, several black-robed cultivators were flying through their air on their respective treasures. They all appeared to be quite graceful in flight, but they were absurdly slow and it was quite apparent that none of them were high-grade cultivators.
After flying for a while, the black-robed cultivators suddenly flew toward the rock face beside them and disappeared into an extremely well-concealed cave.
They traveled over 100 feet into the cave, upon which they arrived at a stone door that was shimmering with spiritual light, indicating the presence of a restriction.
The group was led by an intimidating and brawny black-robed man and he strode over to the stone door before making a hand seal and chanting something at the same time. After a long while, he raised a hand and cast an incantation seal, which disappeared into the stone door in a flash, sending ripples running through the flashing spiritual light as a result.
The stone door wobbled slightly before slowly rising into the air.
"Which Junior Martial Brother is it?" Before the group had passed through the entrance, a lazy voice sounded from within. A ball of black Qi then flew out from the cave and reached the brawny man in a flash, following which the Yin Qi dissipated to reveal an elderly man with pale features.
"Oh? If it isn't Junior Martial Brother Meng. Are you here to take over from me?" The elderly man initially wore a dark expression on his face, but he faltered slightly upon seeing the brawny man before immediately putting on a smile.
The brawny man was a mid-Foundation Establishment cultivator while the elderly man was only an early-Foundation Establishment cultivator, so he naturally didn't dare to treat this junior martial brother of his with disdain.
"That's right, Senior Martial Brother Fan! I've been deployed here to guard this spirit mine in your place. Is this cave the entrance of the mine?" the brawny man asked expressionlessly.
"Haha, you sure do have a straightforward personality, Junior Martial Brother Meng. Indeed, the entrance to the spirit mine is in here. However, is this all the people that you have with you? It doesn't appear to be enough." The elderly man was rather perplexed by the lack of numbers in this small group.
"Our Ghost Spirit Sect isn't as powerful as it once was. Most of our disciples have to contribute to the effort to ward off the Controlling Spirit Sect and Devil Flame Sect; I had to work very hard just to gather this group of people. Thankfully, this is the core region of our sect and we're only overseeing some mortals, so this should be enough," the brawny man harrumphed in response, seemingly also very displeased with the current situation.
"That makes sense. You'll just have to work slightly harder, Junior Martial Brother Meng." The elderly man could only nod with a resigned expression upon hearing this.
"That's enough of this depressing conversation. Senior Martial Brother, please take me to the mines and show me around first," the brawny man said as he cast his gaze into the cave.
"Of course. Please come with me, Junior Martial Brother." The elderly man nodded and made a hand seal to close the stone door again before leading the group of black-robed cultivators deeper into the cave.
After a few twists and turns, the group appeared in front of a massive fissure in the ground that several tens of feet wide. There was faint light flashing within the rift and it appeared to be leading to the underground.
There were two black-robed Qi Condensation cultivators sitting with their legs crossed on either side of the entrance to the rift. The two of them hurriedly rose to their feet and extended respectful salutes at the sight of their approaching Foundation Establishment martial brothers.
The elderly man waved a hand in a calm manner before leading the brawny man and his group directly into the rift.
15 minutes later, the elderly man had led the brawny man on a tour of almost the entire mine. There were many passageways within the mine that were rather complex and convoluted, within which there were many young and fit mortal men that had been hired to mine for spirit stones. The elderly man led the way while providing an introduction like a tour guide, seemingly very familiar with every single inch of this place.
It was no wonder that this was the case; if anyone were to stay in this place for over 10 consecutive years, they would most likely be able to navigate the passageways even with their eyes closed.
The brawny man and his group listened carefully, but didn't say much.
After the group made another turn, another passageway appeared before them, this one leading downward, seemingly reaching even deeper underground.
The elderly man's brows furrowed slightly upon seeing this passageway and he shook his head to himself. Instead of leading the group down that passageway, he turned and prepared to lead them back in the way that they had come.
"Senior Martial Brother Fan, where does this lead to? Why aren't you taking us down there to have a look?" The brawny turned to his senior martial brother with a perplexed look.
"Many years ago, this was once a restricted area and the sect had deployed a few disciples solely to guard this place, but it's been abandoned long ago and all of the guards have been withdrawn," the elderly man replied in a casual manner.
"A restricted area? What's in there? And why was it abandoned in the end?" The brawny man was intrigued to hear this.
The elderly man hesitated momentarily before deciding that this was an inconsequential matter, and explained, "Nothing much; there's only an ancient teleportation formation in there, but it's been in disuse for a long time and isn't functional anymore. As for why this place was once a restricted area and why it was abandoned later on, I'm afraid I do not know. However, it seemed to have something to do with Martial Uncle Wang Chan."
"Martial Uncle Wang? So it's..." The brawny man was startled to hear this, and his voice abruptly cut off mid-sentence, as if he were extremely wary of something.
"Keep it to yourself, Junior Martial Brother. Martial Uncle Wang is not someone that the likes of us can express our opinion on," the elderly man said with a meaningful look.
The brawny man was silent for a moment before suddenly asking, "In that case, would you be able to take me down there, Senior Martial Brother? Truth be told, I've been studying the way of formation spells in the past few years, and I'm very curious about this ancient teleportation formation."
"You're learning about formation spells? Hmm, that place is rather far away and it'll be quite time-consuming to get there." The elderly man faltered slightly upon hearing this before a peculiar look appeared on his face.
"There's no need to be concerned, Senior Martial Brother Fan. I know the dangers of becoming a jack of all trades, yet a master none. However, I've encountered a bottleneck in my cultivation and can only try some different methods to stimulate myself for improvement. Perhaps I'll be able to glean something useful by studying formation spells," the brawny man sighed.
Seeing as the brawny man was being quite insistent, the elderly man could only agree. "If that's the case, then I'll be happy to lead the way. However, if you actually want to carefully examine the teleportation formation, it's best to do it at another time."
A smile appeared on the brawny man's face upon hearing this.
Thus, the group continued down this passageway.
In the blink of an eye, they had reached an even deeper underground level.
After passing through many twists and turns, they arrived in a limestone cave with passageways leading in all directions.
This place was like a small maze, but there were pronounced symbols along the way to guide them, so they were able to find their way to a small limestone cave eventually.
Within this cave, there was an ancient hexagonal teleportation formation.
"This is it, Junior Martial Brother," the elderly man said as he pointed to the teleportation formation.
"Tsk tsk, so this is an ancient teleportation formation. I've seen some basic descriptions of these formations in some tomes in the past, but I've never actually seen one in person." The brawny man's eyes were shimmering as he looked at the teleportation formation. He made his way over to the formation before walking in a few circles around it, staring at it with rapt focus the entire time.
The elderly man stroked his beard and looked on with a smile in silence.
As for the Qi Condensation disciples with them, they were also quite curious about the teleportation formation, but they didn't dare to stand next to their Foundation Establishment seniors, and could only stand guard by the entrance of the cave.
"I heard that this teleportation formation is actually in perfect condition. It's most likely only dysfunctional because there's something wrong with the teleportation formation on the other side. Otherwise, I'd also really like to teleport to the other side just to see where it leads to. In any case, you'll be guarding this place for many years from now, so you'll have plenty of time to study this formation. Let's go back for now." After a while, the elderly man felt as if they had spent enough time here, so he urged the brawny man to go back with him.
The brawny man still had his back to the elderly man, yet he said something that was very strange and unsettling. "Go back? There's no need for that. This is such a peaceful place; you should just stay here forever, Senior Martial Brother."
A chill immediately ran down the elderly man's spine upon hearing this, yet before he had a chance to react, he felt a cool sensation flash past his neck.
A sword had flashed through, decapitating him in one lightning-fast motion.
The headless body of the elderly man fell straight to the ground!