"If the Star Palace falls, do you think I can remain safe, Fellow Daoist Han? Besides, I'm not asking you to fight Wan Tianming to the death; I'm simply asking you to hold him off while I lead the Star Palace in a retaliation against the Starfall Coalition. Surely that's within your capabilities, Brother Han," Ling Yuling said in a slow voice as her brows furrowed.
"That is indeed something I'm capable of doing. However, Wan Tianming is a great cultivator as well, and I won't be able to predict whether he'll try to engage me in a battle to the death. If you agree that I can flee the battle should he unleash some type of powerful trump card, I can consider stepping in on this occasion. Then again, the welfare of the Star Palace and your safety are two completely different matters. Even if the Star Palace ceases to exist, I'm confident in my ability to keep you alive, and that'll be enough to fulfill the promise I made to the former palace leaders. Otherwise, it's really not worth it for me to take this risk just for the benefits that the sages offered me in return." Han Li's calm reply highlighted the crux of the matter.
Ling Yuling's expression changed slightly upon hearing this.
Meanwhile, Elder Zhao had read between the lines, and his brows furrowed as he stroked his beard. "Fellow Daoist Han, from what you're saying, it sounds like you won't necessarily refuse to help us, but we have to pay a sufficient price in exchange for your assistance, right?"
"Of course; nothing in this world comes without a price. If your Star Palace offers me sufficiently tempting remuneration, I can consider taking a risk," Han Li admitted with a faint smile.
"What do you want from our Star Palace, Fellow Daoist Han?" It was Elder Ma who had spoken on this occasion.
"It's not a matter of what I want. Instead, it's a matter of what your Star Palace is planning to offer to me," Han Li replied expressionlessly.
Different expressions appeared on the faces of the Star Palace elders, and some of them were beginning to converse through voice transmission.
In reality, none of them were overly surprised by Han Li's rejection. If someone were to ask them to fight a cultivator of the same cultivation base to the death for no reward, they certainly wouldn't agree to do so, either. Furthermore, this was going to be a clash between two great cultivators, beings who stood at the pinnacle of the human world, so the risks involved would undoubtedly be more severe than in a battle between cultivators of a lesser caliber.
However, it wouldn't be an easy task to offer a reward that could tempt Han Li. After all, a great cultivator like him would most likely simply scoff at normal treasures, materials, and cultivation arts.
Ling Yuling sat in the main seat and looked on with a contemplative expression as the elders conversed among themselves.
After a while, she broke the silence, and said, "Your proposal is quite reasonable, Brother Han. However, ordinary items clearly won't be able to catch your eye, so I'm willing to offer the cultivation art of our Star Palace's Divine Essencefused Light and our Divine Essencefused Mountain as a reward; will that be satisfactory to you, Fellow Daoist Han? The Divine Essencefused Light is an extremely powerful cultivation art, and only a man of Brother Han's extraordinary talent deserves to cultivate it."
The reward that Ling Yuling was offering was none other than Han Li's objective for this trip, and this turn of events came as quite a surprise to Han Li. His expression faltered slightly before he appraised Ling Yuling through narrowed eyes and fell into deep thought.
All of the other Star Palace elders were startled to hear this, but after exchanging glances with one another, none of the stated any objections.
The Divine Essencefused Light was indeed an extremely powerful cultivation art that had been used by the late Heavenly Star Sages. However, it was also quite renowned to be very difficult to cultivate, and its disadvantages were also quite apparent. As such, for normal Nascent Soul cultivators, this was certainly a tempting prospect, but it wasn't actually one that held much practical value. As such, no one had any objections to Ling Yuling's proposal. Instead, they were all worried about whether Han Li would actually agree to this deal.
Much to their surprise, Han Li only contemplated the offer for a short while before nodding with a meaningful expression.
"It seems that Fairy Ling already knew what I wanted. I'm not a greedy person, so I won't ask for any more than that. I'm happy to accept this offer. When the time comes, I'll help your Star Palace hold off Wan Tianming. I can't guarantee that I'll be able to kill him, but I'll make sure that he won't be able to attack any of you."
"Alright, our Star Palace has full trust in you, Brother Han. I'll get someone to give you the cultivation art for the Divine Essencefused Light, and once this battle concludes, I'll present the Divine Essencefused Mountain to you." A smile had reappeared on Ling Yuling's beautiful features.
Seeing as he had achieved his objective, Han Li didn't wish to stay here any longer, and he rose to his feet as he said, "In that case, I'll be awaiting further instructions from you on how to proceed, Fellow Daoist Ling. It's been a rather tiring journey for me, so I'm going to take my leave and have some rest."
Ling Yuling immediately nodded as she turned to Elder Zhao with an amicable expression, and instructed, "Of course! Elder Zhao, organize a silent cultivation chamber for Fellow Daoist Han so he can rest and recuperate. Fellow Daoist Han is an esteemed guest of ours, so I'll have to trouble you to look after him, Elder Zhao."
Elder Zhao nodded and extended a bow toward Ling Yuling before leading Han Li out of the hall.
Han Li nodded toward Ling Yuling, but didn't immediately follow Elder Zhao out of the room. Instead, he suddenly turned his gaze to Elder Ximent, upon which a faint blue light shimmered through his eyes, and only then did he make his way out of the hall in an unhurried manner.
A chill ran down Elder Ximen's spine at the sight of Han Li's cold gaze and at the same time, he felt a sharp pain in his spiritual sense, which almost made him jump up from his seat.
However, after Han Li turned and left, the sharp pain in his spiritual sense completely disappeared, as if it had just been a figment of his imagination.
Elder Ximen was naturally very alarmed and he hurriedly conducted a thorough examination of his own body with his spiritual sense, only to find that nothing was amiss. Elder Ximen was greatly relieved after making that discovery. It appeared that he had been excessively paranoid.
After all, they were situated in the Star Palace right now, and even a great cultivator wouldn't dare to attack him. However, at the same time, he had made up his mind; as soon as this conference was over, he was going to find an obscure location to hide in and only emerge when the battle began. During this time, he was going to take extra care not to bump into Han Li in order to ensure his own safety.
After all, that attack he had unleashed in the Heavenvoid Hall all those years ago had almost taken Han Li's life, and now that Han Li was far more powerful than he was, it was very unlikely that he would simply be willing to let bygones be bygones.
If he had known that Han Li would become so powerful, he would've either refrained from attacking him or made absolute sure that he was dead.
Elder Ximen's heart was filled with remorse as he heaved an internal sigh.
As soon as Han Li and Elder Zhao had left, Elder Ma turned to Ling Yuling with a skeptical expression, and asked, "Palace Master, is that Han Li really going to be able to hold off Wan Tianming? And are we sure that he can be trusted? What if this man is actually allied with the Starfall Coalition, and he lends his assistance to them during the battle instead? If that happens, we'll be completely lost. Wouldn't it be safer to continue to guard Heavenly Star City through the use of our restriction?"
"Don't worry, Elder Ma; I've known Fellow Daoist Han even before he made the deal with my late parents. Even though we're not close friends, I know that he has a lot of bad blood with the Starfall Coalition due to the incidents surrounding the Heavenvoid Cauldron many years ago, so there's no way that he would pledge his allegiance to them. As for whether he can actually hold off Wan Tianming, I'm confident in his ability to do so. After all, Fellow Daoist Han reached the late-Nascent Soul Stage even earlier than Wan Tianming did, and he also has the Heavenvoid Cauldron to assist him, so he should be the more powerful of the two great cultivators no matter how we look at it. Besides, do any of you have any better ideas? The restriction around our Heavenly Star City is indeed quite powerful, but it definitely won't be able to last for too long under the constant bombardment from the Heavenly Windfire Formation. We can't just take a passive approach and hope for the best. A decisive result has to be reached, and either the Starfall Coalition has to fall or our Star Palace will cease to exist," Ling Yuling replied in a firm voice.
Elder Ma contemplated the situation for a while but was unable to provide any alternative tactics, so he could only reluctantly concede, "If that's the case, then it seems we can only rely on that man."
Elder Ma was the most disobedient and uncouth Star Palace elder by far, so Ling Yuling was quite pleased that even he had no objections to her proposed course of action. As such, she continued, "Let's discuss how we're going to attack the Starfall Coalition, and also how we're going to break their Heavenly Windfire Formation..."
Within a peaceful silent cultivation chamber, Han Li sat with his knees crossed and his eyes closed as he made a strange hand seal.
After a long while, he suddenly stirred as he slowly opened his eyes.
"Are you going to find that Elder Ximen now?" The Endless Sky Beast's tender voice sounded beside his ears.
"You know what I'm up to?" Han Li remained expressionless, but his voice had become more grim.
"I don't know exactly what secret technique you used, but you clearly used your spiritual sense to place a spiritual marker on that man before you left the hall. Even though that secret technique was nothing special, the power of your spiritual sense ensures that none of the cultivators in the palace would've been able to detect what you were doing. I'm assuming you didn't place the spiritual marker on that man so you could invite him out for a meal, right?" the demon beast chuckled.
"Seeing as you already know everything, then there's nothing for me to deny. That man almost took my life in the Heavenvoid Hall. I'm not a petty person, but I can't just forgive a man who tried to kill me. It would've been difficult for me to kill him in that stone palace, but he's left the palace now, so it's time for me to strike," Han Li admitted with a cold smile. He patted the storage pouch hanging from his waist and silver light flashed as the humanoid puppet soundlessly appeared. It then hovered toward a nearby wall before disappearing in a flash.
After that, Han Li rose to his feet and pushed open the door of the silent cultivation chamber before making his way outside.
After passing through a short corridor, Han Li arrived in a large hall. Elder Zhao was seated and sipping on some tea, and he was rather surprised to Han Li emerge from the chamber.
A faint smile appeared on Han Li's face as he said, "Elder Zhao, you're using a wood-attribute cultivation art as well, right? If you don't mind, would you be willing to discuss cultivation experiences and insights with me?"
Half a day later, a certain soul lamp in a restricted area of the Star Palace was suddenly snuffed out. The Star Palace disciple looking after the lamps was given a massive fright and he hurriedly reported this matter to the higher-ups of the sect.
The entire Star Palace plunged into turmoil, and not long after that, several Star Palace elders broke into a secret chamber in Elder Ximen's cave abode.
Several hours ago, there were disciples who had personally witnessed Elder Ximen entering that secret chamber.
However, the chamber was now completely empty.
Even if he had actually passed away, as the dimming of the soul lamp suggested, there was no body to be found.